Since pride month’s official declaration in 1999, we’re reminded every June of how far America has come following New York City’s violent Stonewall Uprising. While some other nations still criminalize homosexuality, fortunately the U.S. embraces June with all things loud and proud from fabulously extra pride floats to eclectic rainbow pride outfits.
Pride advocacy is gaining traction throughout the U.S. so much so that LGBT identification jumped to 7.1% of adults in 2021, revealing an uptick of 1.5% since 2020, according to global analytics company Gallup. It’s also predicted that this identifying percentage will soon increase to double digits in the coming years predominantly due to growing acceptance rates amongst millennials and even more so by Gen Z.
Likewise, LGBT purchasing power has now escalated to roughly $1 trillion dollars, cited in ANA’s LGBTQ+ Marketing Inclusion Report, causing the LGBT demographic to become targeted for pride-ally pay-per-click ads and fast-fashion pride apparel.
While commercialized support is rarely discouraged, it’s also argued that America’s top chain retailers are pushing those trendy rainbow pride outfits to capitalize on rising demand, also known as rainbow washing.
For anyone new to the term, the definition of rainbow washing, as explained by This is Gendered, is the “act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ+ equality (and earn consumer credibility)–but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.”
Ultimately, using the rainbow symbol as a temporary marketing tool to prove solidarity defeats the purpose of pride month, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look forward to shopping for new pride clothes anymore.
HOW CAN I AVOID RAINBOW WASHING?
Even the smallest choices, like being mindful of what clothing brands you’re supporting, can make a difference. Here are some easy tips on how you, as a consumer, can avoid falling into the rainbow-washing cycle this year.
- Supporting gay stores automatically supports the LGBTQ community
After all, it’s pride season so why not shop for pride clothing at (actually) gay stores instead of mainstream chain retailers? Since rainbow washing isn’t always black and white, this ensures that your funds aren’t supporting a brand with a hidden agenda while also supporting gay-owned businesses. It’s a win-win.
New to LGBTQ retailers? It’s time to give your Prime membership a break and support queer multi-brand shops instead. There are so many different pride shops and independent gay designers out now that carry trendy pride outfits for both LGBTQ members and allies from gay clothing store Differio to sexy underwear label Modus Vivendi. You can also browse what top gay clothing brands are trending on TikTok and Instagram to get more of the in-the-know scoop.
Best of all, LGBTQ retailers prioritize providing trendy clothing styles that actually resonate with queer fashion beyond the generic rainbow design (something still lacking at mainstream shops).
- Do your research behind the brand
Next time you’re shopping for any kind of gay pride clothing or rainbow-flag gear, think twice before hitting that add-to-cart button. It’s worth researching a brand’s past and present LGBTQ initiatives.
Ask yourself questions like: Is their support genuine or a one-month marketing gig? Are they funding anti-LGBTQ legislators while also running pride campaigns? Are they actively using LGBTQ models to promote their pride outfits?
You can actually find investigative data online revealing which major brands have sponsored anti-LGBTQ legislations. You can also use the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool, to gain insight on LGBTQ workplace equality, including Fortune 500 companies.
- Recognize LGBTQ support beyond donations
Every pride season we’re bombarded with campaigns that promise to donate part or all of their proceeds to an LGBTQ charity of their choice. Although this is a great way for any brand to get involved, the meaning of pride can also get minimized by brands using this marketing tactic to buy consumer trust.
It’s also important to keep in mind that smaller businesses don’t always have the means to donate a hefty percentage, especially in the midst of inflation.
Nonetheless, brand support can also be displayed in other ways that aren’t necessarily monetary but just as impactful, such as continuously using LGBTQ groups in year-round campaigns, creating a safe and inclusive work environment, and proactively supporting other gay-owned businesses.
More importantly, the best way to spread awareness is by simply speaking up and sharing your own opinions, whether that be posting an informative TikTok or wearing gay pride apparel to an event.