Poyer: Let’s talk rainbow washing and performative allyship

Columnist Sarah Poyer discusses rainbow washing and performative allyship as it affects the LGBTQIA+ community, especially during Pride Month. 

Sarah Poyer

During the month of June, you see rainbows in almost every store you walk into. I walked into Target at the end of May, and they had a Pride display set up in the front of the store right when you walked in. There were clothes for children and adults, bags, mugs, stickers and buttons. You get the idea: a section full of rainbow-themed things for everyone and anyone who could want one. 

So, what is the big deal? Target is being supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community; how is that an issue? I would love to tell you it isn’t, and that Target has the purest intentions to be supportive and be an ally to the community. Unfortunately, this hope may not be the truth. 

Seeing stores littered with rainbow-themed items at the end of May and June during Pride is not a coincidence. Money is a driving force. Greed makes people and corporations do whatever they can to make the most money possible. Unfortunately, this greed leads to what we will discuss today: rainbow washing, which is a type of performative allyship. 

Performative allyship is not just reserved for the LGBTQIA+ community. It is seen in other faucets in our society, specifically with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

Performative allyship is defined as when an individual or group of power or privilege loudly exclaims their actions while actively causing harm to, taking focus from and being unhelpful toward the group they are claiming to support. The definition also clearly states the group in power or privilege often receives praise for their actions but are not taking steps to help dismantle the harm being caused to the group they are “supporting.”

Performative allyship seems nice and pure on the surface, but deep down, the group being “allies” are not really helping the group they claim to be. As I said earlier, we do not just see performative allyship in terms of the LGBTQIA+ community; it is seen in many oppressed groups, such as BLM. Blackout Tuesday is an excellent example of performative allyship because many people just posted a black square on Instagram. They did not actually invoke changes in their own lives or take action to support BLM otherwise. 

Rainbow washing, which we commonly see during the month of June, is a category of performative allyship. Rainbow washing is defined as using the rainbow symbol or its colors to indicate solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, whether or not the policies and actions of the brand or company actually benefit the community or not. So, when you see the stores littered with rainbows, are they actually doing some good? 

I personally would love to believe that Target, Bath and Body Works, Hot Topic and CVS Health choose to make rainbow-themed things more available during Pride to show support, but unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. In the case of CVS Health, the company has changed its logos to include the LGBTQIA+ flag on social media accounts. This would make us think they are supportive. Wrong. 

The company has given thousands of dollars to politicians who have supported or proposed anti-trans laws. Not very ally-like, is it? In Texas, CVS Health gave money to co-sponsors of a bill that would make it so parents could not legally allow their children to get gender-affirming medical care. This is sickening in itself, but unfortunately, CVS Health did not stop there. In North Carolina, the company gave money to a sponsor of a bill that would make it so those under 21 years of age could not receive gender-affirming care.

Now, seeing the Pride flag on their social media accounts may make you angry. Big corporations are “allies” when it is convenient for them, and they can milk it for money — milking a community for money that has already been ostracized by society since forever is genuinely awful. So, let’s say you want to get yourself some Pride merch, but you want to avoid these big corporations. 

That is 100 percent the way to go this Pride Month and every Pride Month going forward. Small businesses have had a challenging year and a half because of COVID-19 and are feeling pretty down anyway. Please support them in buying your Pride merch from now on. Search up small business Pride merch on your internet browser. You will find some fantastic small businesses selling Pride merch! I did just that and found a pretty cool website, Greenmatters.com, which has links to some small businesses selling Pride merch. In your search for some awesome rainbow gear, support small businesses that are more likely actually to be allies. 

The LGBTQIA+ community has been oppressed and used as a pawn for too long in our society. During Pride, make sure to look at where the businesses you are purchasing your rainbow gear spend their money. You want to support a company supporting and advocating for you, your community and your LGBTQIA+ family and friends. So, open your internet browser, find some rainbow merchandise from an ally and wear it proudly.