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Rainbow Washing: How to Spot It & 3 Ways You Can Avoid It

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There is a form of corporate trickery used by businesses worldwide called rainbow washing. Rainbow washing is a term used to describe the deceptive practice of companies that present themselves as being LGBTQIA-friendly to boost their image and appeal to consumers without actually doing anything to improve the lives of LGBTQIA individuals. A cynical marketing ploy to target LGBTQIA consumers and their allies through advertising, public relations campaigns, corporate policies, or workplace culture.

How can we spot rainbow washing so we can avoid it? Read below to find out.

Rainbow Washing In Action

The rainbow signifies the symbol of pride. It represents inclusivity, diversity, and hope. Rainbow washing is all about using the language and symbols of inclusivity without actually supporting the cause with advocacy, policies, funding, etc. With the growing importance of the pride and equality movements, it's no surprise that companies want to jump in and make some commercial gains out of it.

During June, the official Pride month, some companies engage in "rainbow washing" to make profits. However, the companies do not attempt to support the LGBTQIA community beyond this superficial level.

For example, a company might run ads featuring gay and lesbian couples during the Pride season, but it focuses on heterosexual couples for the rest of the year. Or, a company might release a special Pride-themed product, but the internal policies discriminate against LGBTQIA employees.

But what are the hidden negative consequences of rainbow washing? Further marginalization. Marginalization alienates the LGBTQIA community because they're used as a marketing tool without their consent.

Lastly, it undermines the progress the LGBTQIA community has made in recent years. If people believe that companies support LGBTQIA rights simply because they see a rainbow flag, they may be less likely to support real initiatives that positively impact the community.

How to Avoid Rainbow Washing

Educate yourself and be critical.

Educate yourself about the LGBTQIA community and its challenges. You can do this by reading articles, watching documentaries, or attending workshops and events. When you see a company using the rainbow flag or other symbols of the LGBTQIA community, be critical. Ask yourself whether they are actually doing anything to support the community or just trying to make a quick buck. If you think they are rainbow washing, avoid giving them your business.

Do your research.

When considering supporting a company, do your research to see if they have a history of rainbow washing. You can also look for companies actively supporting the LGBTQIA community, such as those that have signed on to the Business Coalition for Equality. This organization is a group of leading U.S. employers that stands with LGBTQIA individuals to demand equal rights under federal law. Companies that support LGBTQIA businesses beyond Pride month are those who are genuinely committed to the cause.

Make your voice heard.

If you see a company engaging in rainbow washing, raise awareness about it. You can do this by boycotting their products or services, writing to the company to express your disappointment, or speaking out against them on social media. You can also write articles, make videos, or talk to friends and family about it. The more people are aware of the issue, the less likely companies will get away with it.

Make your voice heard by asking questions. If you're unsure about a company's stance on LGBTQIA rights, don't be afraid to ask them directly. You can contact their customer service department or look for company leadership statements on the movement.

Now that you know what rainbow washing is and its negative consequences, here are 3 ways to spot it.

3 Ways To Spot It

1. Check for inclusivity.

Instead of limiting yourself to the marketing material, see if the company is inclusive in other ways. For example:

  • Are there policies in place to support LGBTQIA employees?

  • Is the business queer-owned?

  • What does their leadership team look like?

2. Look beyond Pride month.

Look at the company's practices and policies outside of Pride month. Ask these three questions:

  • Do they have an LGBTQIA employee resource group or affinity group?

  • Do they offer benefits to LGBTQIA couples?

  • Do they have inclusive non-discrimination policies?

3. Evaluate their track record.

Look at a company's track record regarding LGBTQIA rights. For example:

  • Have they been involved in lawsuits involving LGBTQIA discrimination?

  • Do they have a history of making homophobic or transphobic statements?

  • Have they donated to anti-LGBTQIA causes?

You can also look at the company's rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index.

Rainbow washing is a form of covert, institutionalized discrimination against the LGBTQIA community. It is not an issue that only affects businesses, but it has the power to impact their brand reputation and influence their future success. Consumers should be mindful of this practice when purchasing products or services.

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