The first summer after I came out, I passed by a Target, its storefront filled to the brim with rainbows.
It was June. Pride month. And this Target was feeling itself. On display in the window, loud and proud, was a collection of rainbow-themed summerwear: swim trunks, tank tops, bras, running shorts, flip flops. Each barbarically loud color erupted in a cacophony of beautifully disjointed rainbows.
I couldn’t help by pausing by the window — something, not just the rainbows, but something just grabbed my attention.
Did it look tacky? Yes. Was the rainbow spread a bit garish? Hell yeah. Were they probably doing it just to make a quick buck on nearby yuppie twinks? Of course.
But did I walk inside and buy myself a tacky rainbow swimsuit? You bet my gay ass I did.
As I slid my credit card across the counter, I began to put on my finger on why this impulse buy mattered to me. These cheesy, silly pieces of merchandise made me feel seen.
Corporate Pride Has Its Benefits
It’s June, Pride Month. Normally we’d be marching in Pride Parades and spreading our queer love far and wide. But, due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and BLM activism, we have (very rightfully) entered a more subdued form of pride.
In recent years, big corporations have been co-opting on all of the money-making possibilities of Pride month. Oreos release a rainbow cookie; Disney creates a colorful Mickey-ears hat; Nordstrom sells limited-edition Pride shirts.
It also extends to social media. I’m sure we all remember the short-lived tenure of the Facebook Pride react. And the endless stream of companies changing their profile pictures to include a rainbow.
Many call this a form of pandering, or a form of performative allyship or meaningless virtue-signaling. And it absolutely is.
Of course, these companies would never be changing their profile pictures if it wasn’t profitable to do so. They wouldn’t have specialty Pride line-ups if there wasn’t a market for them. “Corporate Pride” is another tentacle in the unending capitalism machine.
But, for the life of me, I can’t quite hate it.
Changing a profile picture to include a rainbow background isn’t going to enact legislation forbidding housing discrimination against LBGTQ+ members. A rainbow-colored Starbucks drink won’t end hate crimes. A Banana Republic gay tee isn’t going to stop trans people from being misgendered constantly. Of course not.
But they fix another problem, one of the largest problems facing queer people historically: visibility.
Queer people, more than other marginalized groups, thrive on visibility. We grow up alone and divided. We face isolation, self-hatred, and internalized homophobia. We’re told, implicitly or explicitly, that the way we think, act, and fuck is demented. That our emotions are tainted. Evil.
Corporate pride is one way to heal this division.
Rainbows, flags, celebrities, and symbols are all weapons against heteronormativity. If Pride Parades are our way of screaming “we exist!” into the heavens, Corporate pride is our way of normalizing that existence. It allows young people everywhere to see that being straight and cis isn’t always the path forward.
Corporate pride also has the advantage of reach. Corporations and their products are usually distinct from politics or upbringing; young queer Democrats and older straight cis Republicans are both likely to be found shopping at a local Target. If that Target happens to be draped in Pride colors, well, it might reach more people than “It gets better” youtube videos.
Of course, this is no replacement for companies committing to pro-LGBTQ hiring practices, or to stop funding anti-LGBTQ organizations. It won’t replace further legislation protecting our rights. It doesn’t solve all of our problems.
But I still want Wendy’s, fucking Wendy’s, changing their Twitter profile to rainbows. I want kitschy rainbow merch. I want to use rainbow Instagram stickers, and I want to click Pride reacts on Facebook, and I want to wear rainbow Adidas shoes.
Give me the rainbow sidewalks and rainbow busses and rainbow street signs. Give me storefronts that look like a unicorn fucking vomited all over it. Give me Alyssa Edwards selling me bottles of Pepsi for no other than reason than the fact that she’s Alyssa fucking Edwards.
It’s corporate and capitalistic and cringe-y but goddam if it doesn’t set my heart aflutter.
If these symbols had been around when I was a child, when I was unsure of what to make of the scary feelings I had, I might have skipped years of self-hatred and internalized homophobia. It warms my heart to think that maybe, just maybe, it may be doing the same for other queer kids out there.
Visibility is magic. Even if it’s for-profit.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Unsplash