Weekly post: Pride & "Pinkwashing"
What the data tells us about corporate marketing during Pride month
In addition to the Charts of the Week roundup, this newsletter features a weekly deep dive data storytelling post on a specific topic from a member of the community. This edition of the weekly post comes from our Data Journalist Intern, Emily Irion, a graduate student at UCSD’s School of Global Policy & Strategy. You can follow her on OpenAxis and Twitter. As always, each visualization has a backlink to share or remix the chart and explore the dataset with tools for collaboration and crowdsourcing insights.
It’s June, which means it’s Pride month in the United States and the time of the year when companies apply rainbows to their corporate logos (but of course, not in countries where being queer is illegal). Some people refer to this corporate part of Pride as “pinkwashing.” Similar to the environmental concept of greenwashing, companies present themselves as an LGBTQ+ ally as a public relations strategy and nothing more. Another example of the commodification of a civil rights movement.
But, as one of my friends pointed out to me, “isn’t this better than the alternative”? To raise awareness? The answer is complicated and most likely depends on who you ask. If you query Google, you can see how “pinkwashing” can be a distraction from the fact that 2022 is already on track to becoming the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ+ state legislative attacks.
And if you now feel the need to search for Burger King’s ad showcasing their “Pride Whopper,” all I ask is that you also look into the 300+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been proposed so far this year, many of them targeting transgender youth.
Although some companies have pledged to use their Pride merchandise collections to donate back to the cause, many of Pride’s corporate sponsors are simultaneously donating to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. At this point, their grandstanding becomes actively harmful.
A recent poll of 1,157 national likely voters from Data for Progress, found that a majority of voters disapprove of corporations that donate to politicians who sponsor anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. This disapproval translates into a decline in brand favorability and according to the report “nearly a quarter of voters say they will stop buying these corporations’ products or services.” This seems like it would yield a material backlash to these corporations, from consumers who vote with their wallet or use their consumer power for activism. However, these corporations aren’t showcasing their donations to these politicians. And it isn’t clear if these politicians consequently suffer at the ballot box.
The same consumer activism can be seen in international sporting events. The 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup will be hosted in Qatar this year, a country with a poor human rights record where homesexuality is illegal. Many global corporate sponsors, including Visa, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola, are weighing the cost of continuing their sponsorships for the most watched sporting event in the world. A Morning Consult poll showed that 34% of soccer fans would support a brand pulling out of the tournament based on the country’s stance on LGBTQ+, while 19% would oppose brands for sponsoring it.
The reality of understanding the extent of pinkwashing is that the information is difficult to find; it’s a process that requires data, research, and an individual’s own prerogative. For example, I’ve only listed 13 brands in the previous chart out of a dataset that includes 125 brands. If you want to know which other companies are donating to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians while also being Pride sponsors, then I encourage you to take a look at the data. There’s also research on companies who are signatories of HRC’s pledge against anti-LGBTQ+ legislature, while simultaneously making contributions to these politicians.
So, does corporate pinkwashing explain why there is an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation? Does it explain why so many of these bills target individuals who are transgender? It sure doesn’t help. Funding politicians who support legislation harmful to the LGBTQ+ community co-signs their behavior and ensures it will continue. By far, the most targeted and vulnerable group is transgender people. Specifically, Black transgender women and gender non-conforming individuals. According to the Human Rights Campagn, 2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people. At least 57 transgender people were killed, with 84% of the victims being people of color. So far, 2022 has already recorded the deaths of at least 14 transgender individuals resulting from violence. A person’s existence should never be up for debate, and as long as society fails to recognize these individuals and their rights to exist, their lives will be in danger. If you have questions or confusion about something specific, I encourage you to seek out the answers here.
What else is on the rise? The most recent Gallup poll reveals more people are publicly identifying as LGBTQ+.
Contrary to some misinformation out there, you can’t catch “gay.” Therefore, in the face of escalating anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric like the resurgence of homophobic “grooming” associations, this self-identification increase offers some hope that Generation Z is making up the majority of this change– pushing for acceptance and progress in spite of rising intolerance.
Lastly, a reminder: Pride began as a protest. The Stonewall Uprising in June of 1969 was the cumulation of numerous clashes with the police after a brutal police raid of a Gay Club in Greenwich Village, New York City. Many cite this as the start of the LGBTQ+ movement with Black Trans Women, like Marsha P. Johnson, leading the charge. I hope the above data emphasizes the importance of Pride, not just for the month of June, but all year long. I also hope the data sheds light on “Pinkwashing'' and how allyship can be performative and harmful.
If you are looking to support the LGBTQ+ in your lives, or you are a more privileged member of the community, I suggest starting with the data, donating to causes on the frontlines, and supporting policies to protect LGBTQ+ students and teachers. I also encourage everyone to go check out your local Pride parade or a drag show, before Texas makes it illegal.
All data and charts in this post have backlinks and are available on OpenAxis. Do you have any data or insights to add to the conversation? Sign up for the OpenAxis beta here and join the conversation as we crowdsource data driven insights on the topic together!
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