Each June, Pride month comes along and homosexuality is for once not a subject spoken about in whispers. Instead, organizations host events in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and gay Twitter becomes a topic of conversation for the entirety of the internet, rather than a hidden corner.
Before I came out, Pride month was an event I took notice of but didn’t do much to celebrate. I was excited as June approached, eager to be my gayest self and become a part of the larger cultural discourse, if only for a little while. For the most part, I have enjoyed my first Pride month since coming out as a lesbian. My loved ones have been wishing me a “happy Pride,” and I’ve been able to connect with the gay community in new ways.
However, one day as I was perusing the gayer areas of the internet, I came across a tweet so striking that I could not ignore it. For years, I’ve been aware of the debate surrounding corporate participation in Pride month. Contemporary companies are eager to show support for the gay community and gain recognition for their performative and often incredibly exploitative actions. The tweet in question, though, was a stark reminder of why I believe big corporations have no place selling any Pride-themed products whatsoever.
The tweet showed the Pride-themed shirts of two different businesses, one a big corporation and the other a small, lesbian-owned business, Bird of Clay Designs. The shirt from the big corporation was a black tank top with large, ostentatious rainbow lettering declaring: “Some bitches are gay. Get over it!” The other was a white t-shirt with a design featuring the colors of the lesbian pride flag and the words “I wanna hold your hand.”
These shirts perfectly illustrate how straight people reduce the entire LGBTQ+ community down to one gay best friend stereotype: sassy, colorful and totally without substance. But it is no surprise that corporations would inaccurately represent the various communities they have lumped into one category of “gay,” more often than not written in rainbow font. The corporations attempting to profit off the LGBTQ+ community are not only run almost completely by straight people, but also often actively use money to support homophobic and transphobic people and organizations.
In Popular Information’s recent study, Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria found that 25 companies, all which claim to be allies during Pride month, have donated over $10 million to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians over the past two years.
CVS Health served as a prime example of Pride-based hypocrisy. On June 8, the company tweeted a statement announcing it has partnered with 100 other companies committed to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. CVS Health, however, has also recently supported anti-trans legislation in North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. In North Carolina, a state notorious for its anti-trans politics since the HB2 controversy, CVS Health financially backed Republican Sen. Ralph Hise.
As recently as April 2021, Hise was working on the incredibly repressive Senate bill S514. Under S514, no person under the age of 21 would be allowed to undergo gender-affirming treatment and government employees, including teachers, would be required to report children who present as gender-nonconforming.
Unsurprisingly, Hise was also a major proponent of HB2 back in 2016. According to Popular Information, CVS Health donated $1000 to Hise in August 2020. If S514 is passed, CVS Health will in part be responsible for thousands of transgender youth being denied their identity and their right to bodily autonomy, all while breaking out the rainbows and raking in money from Pride-themed products every single June. Other companies involved in Popular Information’s study include Walmart, Verizon and AT&T.
As soon as Pride month is over, I have no doubt that these companies will ditch the rainbows and continue in their support of anti-LGBTQ+ forces without a second thought. But I’m a lesbian 365 days of the year, and I experience marginalization and homophobia — in big ways and small — each one of those days. Unlike these companies, I don’t have the luxury of returning to heteronormative complacency.
It might be easy for these companies to forget about the LGBTQ+ community 11 months out of the year, but I am not going to forget about their blatantly exploitative behavior during Pride month. Instead of supporting them, as they have supported homophobia and transphobic legislators, I will invest my time and money in queer-owned businesses. In the meantime, I hope these companies will reexamine their actions during Pride month. Or at least start making cuter clothes.