Just last week, Target began rolling out their annual pride line, featuring apparel with phrases such as “Live, Laugh, Lesbian”, “Not a phase”, and “Come as you are”, to name a few. Though they’re earlier than most stores, we’ve just about come to the time of year when stores everywhere are revealing their rainbow-covered pride lines in support of the LGBTQ+ community. With these numerous pride lines (some cheeky and cute, others… to be desired…) resurfaces the ongoing debate of how genuine these chains are in their support of the LGBTQ+ community. While this rainbow capitalism has numerous perks, the biggest one being accessibility and visibility, many view these attempts at allyship as superficial, a corporate scheme to capitalize off the queer community. Let’s dive into it a bit more, shall we?
One thing about pride gear is that most of the time, it’s pretty easy to spot. Pride flags are typically defined by their vibrant stripes of color, standing out in any setting. So when a store puts out their pride merchandise for the season, it’s fairly hard to miss all the rainbows everywhere. This presence demands visibility not just for the merch itself, but for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Having this visible and accessible representation is really important for youth who are in the closet or aren’t exposed to the community in their home lives. The access to this merch for queer kids, being able to buy the pride gear with cash and hide it away before a homophobic parent or guardian sees, is another really important benefit to having these major chains offering a pride line. Additionally, some stores such as Target collaborate with queer artists in their products, which provides incredible platforming to individual artists. Other stores even go so far as to donate a percentage of the profits from the pride lines to LGBTQ+ organizations, such as the Trevor Project.
Criticisms of these mainstream stores offering a pride line are as numerous as their benefits. Major chains like Walmart and Michaels only have these pride displays up for a few weeks out of the year, and then clearance it off starting July 1st. They’re so quick to roll out the rainbow-covered products, using the month of June to capitalize off the queer community, yet show no other signs of support for the other months of the year. Some brands and stores will even offer pride merch or will turn their logo rainbow during June, while continuing to donate to harmful anti-LGBTQ+ politicians the rest of the year, such as Comcast and CVS. There is also the fact that even if the company is donating a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ+ organizations, it is still a small fraction of their overall profit on the products. It’s more impactful to donate directly to the organizations, or to buy from independent artists or small businesses who are a part of or directly supporting the community.
Personally, I believe that stores should only sell pride merchandise if they’re actually doing something to help the community, such as donating to local or national LGBTQ+ organizations. As nice as it would be to see pride stuff year-round, I don’t think that’s feasible for many stores. But if they were to utilize the month in which they sell rainbow everything to help support and uplift the community, that would shift their allyship from an inconsequential money-grab to real support. All of this is to say, while it’s sometimes disheartening to see massive corporations attempting to capitalize off my identity, I understand the importance and significance of this mainstream representation of pride and equality. I try not to take for granted that not too many years ago, this kind of representation was inconceivable. I appreciate the incredible and important visibility this brings to the LGBTQ+ community, while also hoping that the future will bring forth more positive change in this commercialization.