In recent years, many of us may have noticed how big brands have started selling Pride merchandises, including rainbow-painted t-shirts and ‘love is love’ badges. While initially I was more than happy to buy and wear them with pride, recently I came across a term that changed my perspective towards these fashion trends. The term was pink capitalism. Now pink capitalism, also known as rainbow capitalism, or homocapitalism, or gay capitalism is the incorporation of the LGBTQ+ movement into capitalism and market economy.
Products are pinkwashed to appear gay-friendly, which in turn showcases progressiveness and tolerance of the companies to get LGBTQ+ consumers. Many people, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, have taken this inclusion as a sign of progress and acceptance. But many others are critical of the way big brands, mainstream media and pop culture are now monetising on the LGBTQ+ culture. So on one hand, there is a growing queer visibility and acceptance that has been made possible by different companies pinkwashing their products, and on the other hand, Pride is on the verge of being reduced to become capitalism with a pink hue. Where one has to pay to march, where city authorities extort vast charges from the Pride organisers and where one is encouraged to buy rainbow-branded merchandise to express his/her/their sexual and gender identity.
Origins of Pink Capitalism
In the US, discrimination against the gay community gradually started to diminish during the 1990s, broadening queer people’s access to formerly heteronormative jobs. As a result, it increased purchasing power for the LGBTQ+ community, also marking the creation of ‘pink money’. In India on the contrary, it was only with the decriminalisation of Article 377 in 2018, that the Indian queer community found a certain level of economic autonomy.
The last two years in India saw an increase in the visibility and acceptance of queer people in urban spaces. As a result, there was an increase in employment options as well, especially in self-employment and freelance ventures. Consequently, the purchasing power of these people i.e. pink money increased in the country. And where there are potential consumers, the market economy inadvertently looks for ways to make profit. Hence today we stand at a point where due to the rise of pink capitalism, the rise in consumption expenditure of the LGBTQ+ community in India is estimated to account for almost 0.4 to 1.6 percent of the GDP.
Many liberal cis-gendered people who want to show their allegiance to the queer movement also buy pinkwashed products. Even in our country, it’s not unusual to see a person who identifies as a heterosexual wearing a ‘love has no gender’ shirt or putting a rainbow badge on their bag.
Is Pink Capitalism Doing More Harm Than Good?
Today there is almost a pervasive use of the Pride symbols in marketing and advertising campaigns. An example would be how every year in June there is a noticeable rise in rainbow-themed items from big corporations. Suddenly everybody starts wearing rainbow shirts, using rainbow mugs, and posting about rainbow-themed items that are being sold by international companies. Many stores also conduct big ‘Pride sales’ to garner the attention of the public and attract possible consumers from the community.
While all this may seem to stem out of good intentions, the reality is not as breezy as it seems. Pink capitalism, like all other forms of capitalism, is inherently exploitative, and the truth is that companies try far less to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community than they do to gain their support. Not to forget that most of this show of support vanishes as soon as Pride month ends. In the end, such brands and companies do little towards championing equality, acceptance and inclusivity they preach. They fail to invest their time and money into understanding and in turn fighting the oppression still faced by the queer community. So if you really think about it, is it really a stance for human rights if all a company does is purchase a rainbow filter or stamp ‘love is love’ on a t-shirt?
In all honesty, I too love seeing positive portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community on adverts and company campaigns. Undeniably, there is immense symbolic power in having the experiences and embodiments of oppressed groups represented on big posters and screens. But their significance may be short-lived, or even illusory if the representation is not backed up by genuine corporate commitments to LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality at workplaces. Steps should be taken to introduce policies and practices that protect queer people, to promote more queer people to senior positions; and, importantly, to improve the pay, contracts, and rights of the most precarious and exploited workers, many of whom, as LGBTQ+ rights statistics suggest, are queer, trans and/or people of colour. And until these measures are taken, pink capitalism will remain a hollow ideology that merely exploits queer people. After all, we need to remember that we cannot consume our way to queer liberation.
Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.