Rainbow Capitalism: In This Economy?

Rainbow Capitalism: In This Economy?

By: Nicole Damron

June 27th, 2023

Rainbow Capitalism? In this economy? On May 24, 2023, Target issued a statement regarding the backlash against the company’s now-annual Pride collection:

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Considering that Target has produced and displayed Pride inspired merchandise for “more than a decade,” one would likely come to the conclusion that Target would stand its ground and double down on its support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

This year, they’d be wrong.

As videos of ultra-conservative, “MAGA” obsessed individuals destroying Pride displays began to flood the internet in the lead up to Pride Month many were left wondering if public LGBTQ+ supporting corporations like Target would condemn the behavior and continue to sell the merchandise despite these destructive efforts. Instead, many Target stores have elected to move displays from the front of their stores, and some locations have begun to pull products off their shelves altogether. 

This choice, along with the choices of other “inclusive” corporations, only serves to raise questions about the performative activism of these companies, more creatively known as “Rainbow Capitalism”. 

Rainbow Capitalism refers to actions taken by companies that use Pride for profit while simultaneously failing to support the LGBTQ+ community in practice. This comes in the form of limited time Pride collections, changing of social media profiles to rainbow and/or Pride themed advertising during the month of June. For many companies, slapping rainbows on merchandise for one month of the year is an easy money-grab, and capitalizes on a lack of acceptance and representation during the other 11 months of the year. 

Let’s take Target, for example. The retailer has curated and sold many Pride collections over the years, making them some of the most popular and notable to date. Since the recent uptick in anti-LGBTQ antics and rhetoric Target has been noticeably passive in their response to the growing amount of hateful incidents in their stores. 

Rather than publicly denounce and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of behavior, the corporation has instead encouraged stores to move Pride displays to the back or remove them altogether. They’ve also pulled pieces of trans-inclusive swimwear from their website and stores and declined to comment on their intentions to increase security in their stores. 

Not only is this a betrayal of the LGBTQ+ community, it allows and placates extremists to continue to carry out these violent attacks. 

Another recent example of aforementioned performative activism can be found in Anheuser-Busch’s response to public backlash over their partnership with trans activist Dylan Mulvaney. In early April, Mulvaney announced on their social media a commemorative partnership with the beer brand: a can featuring their likeness in celebration of her “365 Days of Girlhood” series. Almost immediately, the influencer was subjected to heaps of abusive and hateful comments online, and a handful of outspoken conservative celebrities like Kid Rock went even further to express their outrage. 

A video posted to Kid Rock’s social media showed the singer opening fire on a tower of Bud Light cans — his response to the company’s decision to partner with the influencer. He ends the video by flipping off the camera saying “f*ck you Bud Light, and f*ck you Anheuser-Busch.”

As celebrity conservatives like Kid Rock influenced and urged a boycott of the well-loved beer, sales of Bud Light declined for six consecutive weeks following the launch of the collaboration with Mulvaney. Unfortunately, this seemed to be one of the main motivations behind Anheuser-Busch’s backtrack on the endorsement. 

Much like the responses from Target, the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, Brendan Whitworth, released a statement following the controversy and conservative-led boycott of the brand: 

“As the CEO of a company founded in America’s heartland more than 165 years ago, I am responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew. We’re honored to be part of the fabric of this country. Anheuser-Busch employs more than 18,000 people and our independent distributors employ an additional 47,000 valued colleagues. We have thousands of partners, millions of fans and a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere. We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer. My time serving this country taught me the importance of accountability and the values upon which America was founded: freedom, hard work and respect for one another. As CEO of Anheuser-Busch, I am focused on building and protecting our remarkable history and heritage. I care deeply about this country, this company, our brands and our partners. I spend much of my time traveling across America, listening to and learning from our customers, distributors and others. Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation.”

The statement, which is riddled with right-wing political dog whistles, says nothing in support of Dylan Mulvaney, the brand’s decision to partner with the influencer or even the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Rather, Whitworth chose to validate the aggressive conservative discourse — using verbiage like “freedom,” “values” and “heritage” to describe the brand’s dedication to supporting Americans and producing “great beers.” 

Nowhere in the statement does the brand mention Mulvaney, nor does it denounce the harassment she’s suffered at the hands of their clientele. In essence, the statement reads as an apology for partnering with the influencer at all. The beer company’s response is yet another example of companies that use Pride month and LGBTQ+ people to promote their products as long as it profits them — and only until it ceases to do so. 

With anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on the rise in 2023, it is important that we hold companies accountable for their actions as they regard the LGBTQ+ community. When major corporations like Target and Anheuser-Busch bend to the will of right-wing extremists, it creates a culture of complacency and inaction not just during Pride Month, but all the time. 

Selling rainbow-colored clothing and changing profile pictures during the month of June is worth nothing when the same companies will actively donate to politicians that spearhead anti-gay legislation. As we move forward in the fight for equality and safety for LGBTQ+ people, it is important to support companies that uplift with policy and action, not just exploitative merchandise production and advertising. 

The Federal Election Commission has a tool that can track corporate donations, and OpenSource provides a tool that makes tracking the political donations of organizations easy and accessible. Using tools like these can help make us more informed about where our money is going, and hopefully urge major corporations like Target and Anheuser-Busch to use their platforms to implement and encourage real change and inclusion in the corporate sphere.  

Nicole Damron is a senior majoring in Arts and Humanities and Professional and Public Writing with a minor in Spanish. She aspires to work as a culture and entertainment writer, potentially freelance. In her leisure time Nicole enjoys playing guitar and trumpet, true crime, listening to music, and sleeping in concerningly late.