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Pinkwashing: Taking advantage of the LGBTQ

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Pinkwashing: Taking advantage of the LGBTQ

The fight for LGBTQ equal rights has slowly gained the community some acceptance in the mainstream. But the community has to be wary about instances of pinkwashing.

Pinkwashing, in reference to the LGBTQ community, is when organizations, corporations, groups, and even countries are accused of declaring themselves to be allies or friendly to the community for superficial or wrong reasons.

While most of them supposedly do this in order to score brownie points with the rest of the world, some of them are targeting the community’s economic power, dubbed the ‘pink dollar.’

Pinkwashing and Breast Cancer Awareness

This word’s definition stems from the experience of the activist organization Breast Cancer Action fighting against companies that supposedly support people with breast cancer but actually profit from their sickness.

Breast Cancer Action came up with the term for their “Think Before You Pink” campaign in 2002. It is a portmanteau of “pink” (in relation to the Pink Ribbon symbol they use) and “whitewashing.”

Specifically, the group defined it as “A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

It is within this context that we can understand how the term is being done to the community, i.e. those who would try to benefit from the community without actually supporting their struggle.

Pinkwashing, marketing, and advertising

The concept of pinkwashing in relation to the community first started with Corporate America coming up with Pride Marketing and the rise of the ‘pink dollar’ (i.e. those of the community with buying power).

While marketing towards the LGBTQ community was problematic, advertising efforts like Absolut Vodka and Subaru made inroads.

However, Stephan Dahl said in a 2014 article in The Conversation that Corporate America’s marketing efforts towards the community was uneven with marketers avoiding “targeting or portraying lesbians.”

Dahl noted that while shows like Ellen and The L Word “somewhat softened the stereotype” later on, many advertisers still considered lesbians as “neither fish nor fowl.”

“Other forms of sexual identities, including bisexuality and transsexual identities are virtually absent from any form of commercial representation,” he added.

The many problems of Pinkwashing

With many companies and organizations starting to target the LGBTQ community, others sounded the warning that some of these efforts were just a way to distract from other, heavier, issues affecting these companies.

Dahl noted there was a suspicion that these companies were “indulging in a bit of low-cost ‘pink washing’ to soften the edges of some spiky reputational damage.”

He cited the problems faced by Amazon ranging from working conditions to the treatment of smaller publishers. Meanwhile, JCPenney’s pink advertising happened after they announced large-scale redundancies.

The most oft-cited example is Israel’s 2005 gay-friendly tourism campaign, which Dahl said had critics knocking that country for trying to be a “relevant and modern” alternative despite the treatment of Palestinians.

As noted by Dahl, the community has to be more discerning about those who would use us, whether for monetary or political gain.

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