Last week, a client asked me to create a rainbow version of their logo to use during Pride Month. My first thought, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, was to ask “What is your company doing to support the queer community this year?” It initially seemed like a fair question, especially given how much chatter I’ve seen around the web about “rainbow washing,” but I began to question the validity of the assumption that a business has to donate time or resources to a cause to make a difference. This blog covers the logic behind that conclusion.
First, let’s start with some definitions.
This is a surprisingly simple answer: they want to be allowed to exist, unmolested, as they are.
That’s it. Every other target they set is in service of this goal. They want to be allowed to go about their business, have basic human rights, access to medical care, job opportunities, and a general feeling of safety in their day-to-day lives.
In short, Rainbow Washing is a form of virtue signaling in which a company panders to the LGBTQ+ community to win their trust and/or business without actually being an ally.
The most commonly used example of this is when a company updates its social media profile picture to a rainbow version of its logo, only to change it back after the end of the month.
This is another simple one: you have to support the cause of the LGBTQ+ community.
Taken with the goal discussed above, it means a business has to support the rights of the queer community in order to be considered an ally.
In 2023, alone, there have been over 540 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures, 45 of which have been enacted. This is all indicative of the larger culture war at play across the country. The current status quo does not allow members of the queer community to exist, unmolested, as they are. Clearly, additional support is needed to protect the community. But what can a business do to provide that support?
This is the first one most people think of. Many people can’t think of another one past this.
While there are many great causes that could put donations to use where they are really needed, I would argue that the biggest impact would come from a negative contribution: not donating to politicians running on an anti-LGBTQ+ platform.
Last year, corporate lobbying totaled more than $4 billion. If that money exclusively went to politicians who are in support of LGBTQ+ rights, it is safe to assume that there would not have been 540 bills attacking those rights this year.
So yes, you should donate to causes to help queer communities (especially LGBTQ+ youth, nearly half of whom experience suicidal ideations), but doing so means very little if you are also supporting politicians who are eroding rights.
This is where a lot of employers will give themselves a pass: of course, they would hire a queer employee. But how often is that only because they are legally obligated to avoid discrimination in their hiring process?
Employers have to maintain a non-toxic work environment for the LGBTQ+, at the bare minimum, if they are going to consider themselves allies. This is where I think many elements of what some might consider rainbow washing can actually be valuable. When a company updates its brand imagery for the month, it is indicating most loudly to its employees that it wants to be an ally.
This is a message that needs to be heard by all management, at every level of the organization, if it is going to ring true. Something that should also accompany temporary adjustments to brand imagery is a company-wide notice of the company’s stance on Pride Month. It needs to be communicated to every member of the organization that the company is in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
If your company
then your company is not an ally. In this case, it is rainbow washing.
This is another area where I think a rainbow logo actually does make a bit of a difference. Just a small one, though.
Every heterosexual person at your company feels they can casually mention a story involving the spouse. Do queer people have the same freedom? Or is it suggested that they are being too in-your-face about their sexual orientation?
Obviously, normalization isn’t something that can happen in a month, but spending a month focusing on whether or not you have a space conducive to it can go a long way. The biggest benefit of a dedicated effort to normalization is that the employees who feel strongly that their fellow teammates shouldn’t have human rights are likely toxic in a multitude of ways. Spend Pride Month clearing out some toxicity and see how much better everyone feels at the company cookout in July.
I briefly worried about publishing this post. “What if one of my clients is uncomfortable with our stance?” But that would, by the definition I just outlined, make our efforts actually just rainbow washing. Human rights are a moral issue, and if you can’t take a firm stance on it then you’re complicit at best and craven at worst.
Happy Pride Month, and remember to love each other.
In his 11 years in digital marketing, Todd Brown has not only served as a digital marketer but as an operations manager for 6 separate marketing agencies where he oversaw radical overhauls of fulfillment processes. Todd built custom tools, systems, and internal processes for these agencies, skills he has been able to leverage to ensure Adroit can deliver high-quality work at a cost-effective price. Todd has the rare talents in marketing of managing and analyzing large amounts of data, implementing marketing attribution automation, and developing real-time marketing reporting.