As someone who grew up in Tennessee, I’m grateful to see so many major companies taking a pro-LGBTQ stance in their stores, their advertising and in the products they sell.
It looks like every brand has boarded the rainbow-washing train with a requisite Pride merch rollout.
I honestly can’t imagine what it would have been like to have walked around my local Walmart as a kid and seen a rainbow flag; I do believe I would’ve come out earlier.
If the amount of rainbow-themed products available to purchase in storefronts, shopping centers or on Instagram this June was a metric for progress, you might easily believe that LGBTQ people have achieved full equality in America.
But these products sitting on shelves in places like my hometown, or towns in Arkansas and Texas, mean nothing if these very companies are privately funding the legislation and politicians working to strip me of rights comparable to others in this country.
But the truth is Pride Month has gone more corporate than ever. From Pride-themed cannabis products to this gender-inclusive rainbow suit set from Target, it looks like every brand has boarded the rainbow-washing train with a requisite Pride merch rollout.
And capitalism, even when painted in rainbows, never equates to equality — especially for LGBTQ people.
While your social media feed remains crammed with rainbow content, 31 states have introduced a variety of bills over the past year that directly target trans youth in various ways, from denying them access to gender affirming care to incriminating parents who support their trans children. States such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have succeeded in banning trans youth from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.
On June 14, the newsletter Popular Information uncovered published a study with some disturbing statistics: Companies that have voiced public support for LGBTQ people through products and overtures have given over $10 million in the past few years to politicians who are openly anti-LGBTQ on both the state and federal levels.
The companies that make up this $10 million figure include powerhouses such as Walmart, CVS, AT&T and Comcast, which all have recently embellished their social media handles with rainbow colors. (Comcast is the parent company of MSNBC.) These same companies were given high rankings this year by the Human Right’s Campaign Foundation’s Annual Corporate Equality Index, which is more or less a big gay stamp of approval for companies.
Walmart donated $43,000 to Arkansas state lawmakers instrumental in enacting anti-LGBTQ bills.
Walmart, Comcast and AT&T are all currently scored at 100 and CVS comes in at a 90 on the HRC index. But these top grades were given through a measurement system that doesn’t take into account political contributions, which shows a critical loophole in the way corporations are thinking about — and profiting from — symbolic diversity and inclusion.
According to the Popular Information study, Walmart donated $43,000 to Arkansas state lawmakers instrumental in enacting anti-LGBTQ bills — all before the company began to roll out its Pride merchandise this month.
In Texas, where CVS Health, owner of CVS Pharmacy, currently operates over 850 stores according to Scrape Hero, legislators have been fighting tooth and nail to make it legal to rip trans youth away from parents who provide lifesaving support to trans youth by stating that the care is abuse.
CVS Health aided in this battle through its corporate PAC, by contributing to politicians creating legislation harmful to LGBTQ people, while also signing onto HRC’s business statement opposing anti-LGBTQ state legislation.
According to this same study, since 2019, CVS has given over $250,000 to members of Congress who are openly against the historic Equality Act that would give LGBTQ folks protections on every level, if passed. The bill continues to sit in limbo in the Capitol, the likelihood of it passing in the Senate growing less and less likely.
Imagine if a company like Walmart didn’t just make a statement through its foundation and actually did something tangible.
This isn’t conjecture. Back in 2017, state lawmakers in North Carolina put forth anti-trans bathroom bills, which were met with immediate outrage by business communities across the country. Companies like PayPal pulled plans to open a facility in the state. Ringo Starr and Bruce Springsteen refused to perform a show they had scheduled in the state.
As businesses fled the state in protest, The Associated Press projected that this move by lawmakers would cost the state over $3.3 billion in revenue — which ultimately led to the bill's defeat.
Imagine if a company like Walmart didn’t just make a statement through its foundation and actually did something tangible like use its stores as a place to engage with its customers in creative ways to highlight the bills that are attacking trans youth — instead of creating a Pride shop called “Pride & Joy.” Or even threatened to pull business in states where we are seeing the biggest attacks on trans and queer people. If a company did something like that, I’d maybe consider buying a rainbow keychain or something.