Today the term ‘Pinkwashing’ has evolved to refer to all instances of the appropriation of the LGBTQIA+ movement by companies, corporations, or governments as marketing techniques that they can hide behind to appeal to more progressive and inclusive voters and consumers, while continuing to engage in actions that work against the democratic, inclusive, and socially just world that the movement advocates and works for.
However, to understand why it is something that is extremely problematic and has very real negative effects, it is important to also understand how the necessity of having the vocabulary to refer to this issue arose. The term actually was coined in 2002 by Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) to refer to the companies that would sell pink-ribboned products as a symbol of solidarity with the BCA. While the customers buying those tshirts, water bottles, and other consumer goods felt that they were being socially conscious, what the sales of those products were actually doing was increasing the revenue of a company that would use the profits to continue to manufacture or sell carcinogenic products. It is important to also consider that the BCA is a movement that rallies for social justice and inclusion even as the namesake disease is at the centre of its work, thus prompting the evolution of the term to where it is today- a word that allows us to refer to the usage of the LGBTQIA+ movement by governments and corporates as a public-relations shortcut, without having to put in the actual work.
Perhaps the most well-known instance of political Pinkwashing is the Israeli government’s effort to brand the country as modern by putting up a front that supports the LGBTQIA+ movement to gain the support of progressive politicians and individuals from the West. One of the many campaigns that aimed to do this was the Tel Aviv tourism campaign that aimed to brand the city as the ‘International Gay Vacation Destination’ in 2010. Even today, a public support of LGBTQIA+ rights is a huge part of Israel’s international image-building, a cover that it hopes will distract us from its gross human rights violations. How can a nation that has so violently and conveniently violated the human rights of so many Palestanians with justifications that find their roots in the dark corners of right wing politics be allowed to hide under the rainbow-coloured umbrella of the left?
Moreover, how can a movement that is literally embedded in the intersectional realities of individuals and their fight for equal rights be actually embraced by such a government? This blatant usage of pro-LGBTQIA+ messaging to draw away focus from the institutional crimes inflicted on Palestinians is just one of the ways that the LGBTQIA+ movement has been abused so that White people with left leaning political ideologies can look at the Pinkwashed image of the Israelli state instead of the actual face of violence and destruction and see something that on the surface looks support-worthy, but actually goes against everything that the LGBTQIA+ movement fundamentally stands for.
For real examples from Corporate India, or the many MNCs that we pay money to everyday, look no far than your Instagram feed or Facebook homepage during Pride Month. Almost every brand changes its logo to something that symbolizes the LGBTQIA+ flag, as a way to appeal to the Millenials and Gen-Z individuals who are more conscious and progressive in the purchases that they make. However, how many of these brands actually have gender-nuetral workspaces and Human Resources policies? How many have strict work environments that do not tolerate harassment or abuse against LGBTQIA+ individuals? How many contribute to the movement- if not through their money than at least through statements of solidarity? Through inclusivity and diversity in hiring?
Another term that is commonly used to refer to such marketing tactics is ‘Rainbow Capitalism’- which perfectly and succinctly captures the whole problem. Brands like Amazon, that are literally the epitome of capitalism, run rainbow coloured campaigns to appeal to the consumer market, while the entire social and economic structure that they benefit from is what the LGBTQIA+ movement is against. In fact, forget the logo for a second. Think of the amount of results that turn up on Amazon when you search for Pride- books, badges, tshirts, earrings. Your struggle is sold to you as a commodity, while the organization that gets your money contributes to the very institutions that cause this struggle. The social justice and equal rights that the movement advocates for cannot be divorced from the colours of the Rainbow.
Ultimately, what Pinkwashing does, is exploiting the years of struggle, exploitation, and discrimination that the LGBTQIA+ community has gone through for the problematic gains of governments or corporates that are actually benefiting from the very social, economic, and political systems that have oppressed the community. It reduces the struggle to a rainbow coloured picture that goes away when the Pride Month does- having successfully distracted people from how these institutions and organizations are standing against everything that that flag symbolizes.