New report finds that corporations are rainbow-washing Pride

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A new report from Popular Information, a publication dedicated to accountability journalism, has suggested that corporations are sending mixed messages on LGBTQ support — particularly during Pride.

Rainbow-washing, often referred to as pink-washing, has become a widely used term in the U.S. to refer to corporations using Pride month to distract from negative behavior or practices. Some call it rainbow capitalism — the idea that some companies use LGBTQ allyship for their own gain.

As more Americans identify as LGBTQ (a recent Gallup poll showed that 1-in-6 Gen Z adults now identify as LGBTQ compared with about 10% of millennials), so too do more companies across the U.S. change their social media profile pictures and marketing to include the Pride flag every June.

But many organizations only put up a rainbow flag and don’t make substantive changes to be LGBTQ inclusive or to be committed to allyship.

“Just because a company slapped on a rainbow doesn’t mean they support the LGBTQ+ community,” tweeted New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a staunch LGBTQ supporter.

The Popular Information study shows that rainbow-washing is rampant in the U.S. Corporations including CVS, AT&T, Walmart and the Philadelphia-based Comcast have supported candidates who seek to block or otherwise restrict equal rights based on gender or sexual orientation.

While some of these companies have 100% ratings on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 2020 Corporate Equality Index, which measures workplace policies and “public commitment to the LGBTQ community,” the index does not factor in political donations. Popular Information notes that, “HRC’s methodology excludes political donations, enabling corporations to craft a pro-LGBTQ image while bankrolling politicians that are undermining LGBTQ rights.”

The results of the Popular Information investigation found that 25 major corporations have spent more than $10 million over the last two years supporting members of Congress with a zero rating on the latest Congressional scorecard produced by HRC. Popular Information also reports these same corporations have also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to state legislators who have sponsored anti-trans and anti-gay legislation in the past year.

Popular Information states, “CVS Health, for example, received a perfect score from HRC and changed its Twitter avatar to a rainbow heart in June. The company tweeted that it was ‘proud to join more than 100 companies that have signed HRC’s Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation.’”

But through its corporate PAC, CVS Health has recently supported the sponsors of anti-trans legislation in Texas, North Carolina, and Tennessee, as Popular Information’s investigation revealed. This includes legislation that would criminalize providing gender-affirming medical care to adults and minors.

In North Carolina, CVS Health backed Senator Ralph Hise (R), the primary sponsor of S514, a bill that would ban anyone under the age of 21 from receiving gender-affirming treatment, including reversible hormone therapy. S514 also requires government employees — including teachers — to report children who demonstrate gender nonconformity to their parents.

In Texas, CVS backed two state senators whose SB1646 bill would amend the state’s child abuse law to include gender-affirming medical care, criminalizing parents who seek such treatment for their children or adolescents.

According to the study, CVS has donated $259,000 to 54 members of Congress that received a zero in HRC’s latest Congressional Scorecard, and Comcast has donated $1,095,500 to 149 members of Congress that received a zero. In total, the study analyzed 25 corporations who donated to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers.

This contrasts with those corporations’ efforts to create an equitable space for LGBTQ employees and to cater to LGBTQ consumers.

Comcast, which owns both Xfinity and NBCUniversal and has over 200,000 employees, created “a virtual ‘Pride World,’ where we will feature events, Pride floats, Pride flags, and even a Pronoun Guide for employees,” and Xfinity recently posted on Twitter “Pride is the love we share. And with Xfinity, it’s Pride all year.”

All companies in the study were asked by Popular Information “if they would continue supporting politicians with anti-LGBTQ voting records or whether their stated commitment to LGBTQ rights will have any impact on future political giving.” Five companies responded, including Google, whose statement read in part “We have long contributed to candidates from across the political spectrum who work on technology policy, but we have always been very clear that such a contribution doesn’t mean that Google agrees with that candidate on every issue. In fact, we may disagree strongly on some issues.” 

Neither Comcast nor CVS responded to Popular Information’s request for comment, and neither company responded to PGN requests for comment for this article.

The question of who profits from rainbow capitalism demands more prominence. Balenciaga is donating 15% from their Pride collection to the Trevor Project. Calvin Klein has pledged an undisclosed sum to the Trevor Project and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. But advocates and activists argue that significant percentages — even 100% — of Pride-related products should go to support LGBTQ groups and causes.

“For all of the people who are marginalized in our community, in our country, it’s important that companies are open and welcoming and to use their power and their platform to advance acceptance and equality for the LGBT community,” GLAAD CEO Sara Kate Ellis said to Yahoo as part of Pride Evolution, an hour-long special on issues and progress within the LGBTQ+ community.

For LGBTQ people continually under threat from discrimination and violence, it’s essential that corporations show a year-round commitment to supporting LGBTQ people and concerns, not just cash in during June and take a hiatus the rest of the year.

To view the study, visit https://popular.info/p/corporate-pride-political-donations/.