Taking stock of ‘rainbow capitalism’

By Kayla Williams
Posted 6/27/21

June is Pride month, and its growing influence can be seen in easy-to-purchase outfits and novelties that celebrate gender and sexuality.But do these purchases do more than display support? Do they …

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Taking stock of ‘rainbow capitalism’


June is Pride month, and its growing influence can be seen in easy-to-purchase outfits and novelties that celebrate gender and sexuality.
But do these purchases do more than display support? Do they boost the LGBTQ+ community economically?

Delaware Public Media’s Delaware Community Foundation journalism intern Kayla Williams looks for answers to these questions.

Pride month celebrates the LGBTQIA community and the historic accomplishments of those who were a part of the fight for equal rights.

As it has grown over the years, it’s become apparent that companies see an opportunity to capitalize on it and reach the LGBTQ+ community.

Some call it “rainbow capitalism.” But Pascha Bueno-Hansen — a sexuality and gender studies professor at the University of Delaware — says that name comes with some baggage.

“So rainbow capitalism, I understand that to be a critique. A critique that has emerged somewhat recently and that is now circulating broadly and it’s a critique in which the movement around LGBT and pride has become mainstreamed and now become a market,” Bueno-Hansen said.

Bueno-Hansen explained that rainbow capitalism can minimize the struggles that those in the LGBTQ+ community have gone through.

“So then what does it mean to be part of pride? Well, just buy a T-shirt from Target and you’re a part of pride. So it erases the significance of the histories of struggle and there’s no sense of a connection with an intergenerational legacy of struggle. It focuses on an individual who has consumer power and can buy rainbow suspenders and be happy and run around with their friends. And doesn’t get at the deeper concerns of the legacy of movement,” Bueno-Hansen said.

Bueno-Hansen argues the limits of who can be a part of this movement.

“Usually people in the upper middle class and very much emphasis on this default white subject, and also cis and able bodied. All of these levels of privilege layered onto this default individual person who is buying suspenders at Target. What it does is it detaches the smaller privilege group from the depth of struggle that so many LGBTQ+ people struggle with every day. People who aren’t going to go to Target to buy stuff, people who are struggling with housing and food insecurity … There’s an enormous body of people getting erased from the picture because of this very narrow focus and that is the critique of rainbow capitalism,” Bueno-Hansen said.

When companies are only targeting a certain demographic of the LGBTQ+ community, this pushes other communities within the LGBTQ+ community into the shadows. Bueno-Hansen is not the only one who recognizes this.

Morgan Miles is an LGBTQ+ small-business owner who owns an apothecary shop, Lunar Harvest, and hopes to eventually open her own clinic.

“I do think that when it comes to those who are disabled they are completely left out of the equation,” Morgan Miles said.

Lovely Lacey is a local member of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for queer small businesses.

“A little icky to see some of it because it’s not always inclusive for Black and indigenous communities,” Lovely Lacey said.

Overcoming these issues requires an understanding of how capitalism works. Capitalism is set up to cater to the individual, creating an environment where people are inclined to put self-interest first.

“That trend is the exact opposite of coming together and understanding a collective need and coming into coalition with people who are different and learning their stories but standing up and showing up for the struggles that might not affect you personally but are connected to everybody’s ability to thrive in this world. That is another really important piece to identify and break out of this selfish, individualistic mentality,” Bueno-Hansen said.

Miles suggested one way to do that is find and support community and local queer businesses.

“I think putting your money towards small, queer-owned businesses is the best route of action because you know that money is going into someone’s pocket who needs it a lot more and is making people aware of queerness just by being themselves. And that’s why I think small businesses are important because you are serving the communities around you. Keeping mostly local to and providing for your community could allow a conscious mindset,” Miles said.

Lovely Lacey advises people to check small Black or indigenous LGBTQ+ businesses to see if they can provide goods or services, instead of going straight to a corporation.

“By you participating in more consuming, can change the actual material conditions of a Black or indigenous queer person if you make the steps and take the steps to support and buy from Black and indigenous queer businesses. And that’s way more impactful to the community and people around you than buying from corporations that do not affect change in Black and indigenous queer communities, which to me are the people who need the support. If you’re going to be an ally or step up to the plate to be chosen as an ally, you should be taking those steps,” Lacey said.

The trick is finding small LGBTQ businesses to support.

The most recent data from the LGBT Chamber of Commerce showed, in 2016, 909 businesses were officially certified as LGBT Business Enterprises. That’s a U.S. business that’s at least 51% owned, operated, managed and controlled by an LGBT person or persons. Miles says it’s worth the effort to seek out those LGBTQ small businesses and help them prosper.

“Put your money where you want the world to go. Put your money into investing for the future of your community. Why not make the decision to help those around you thrive? As opposed to someone you will never meet or fully understand at that level,” Miles said.

This article was produced with support of a grant from the Delaware Community Foundation. For more information, visit  online.