Now that quarantine in my state is slowly starting to lift, I was excited to visit my local Target last week that I hadn’t been to in months (and by “local” I mean an hour away, because in Idaho that’s considered local). After walking up and down a few aisles, I realized that there was absolutely no Pride display or any Pride merchandise being sold.
When I lived in New Jersey, every year, a huge Pride display greeted customers as soon as they walked in the door. This led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts surrounding Pride merchandise and the economics behind it. Some thoughts that came to mind -
Before diving into answering those questions, let’s start by saying this - according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the LGBTQ+ community holds an estimated purchasing power of $917 billion dollars a year in America alone, and catalyst.org estimates the global buying power of the LGBTQ+ community at about $3.6 trillion. This means that the LGBTQ+ community is worth a ton of money, but how much of this money is being spent on businesses sticking rainbows on their products just for-profit versus businesses that continue to stand in support of and solidarity with us?
An article by Megan Currulo with CBS News discusses this, citing specific examples of what she views as authentic brands that are consistently in support of the LGBTQ+ community year-round. Currulo points out Ikea, Target, and AT&T specifically as brands that have taken the opportunity to donate proceeds to prominent organizations supporting LGBTQ+ causes: HRC, GLSEN, and the Trevor Project respectively.
On the other hand, several other brands are flooding shelves with “Pride clutter,” merchandise with rainbow packaging, often sold during the month of June. These brands market to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month, collecting the profits for themselves, and do nothing more to support the community during the rest of the year.
This information is so important, especially since surveys done by Community Marketing and Insights, leaders in LGBT research, concluded that 78% of LGBTQ+ community members surveyed tend to support companies that market to and support the LGBTQ community. However, it seems as though this survey was vague in defining what they meant by “market” and “support.” It is easy for members of the community to assume that a company selling rainbow merchandise in June supports the LGBTQ+ community when in reality this could just be the “Pride clutter” mentioned by Megan Currulo.
With that much buying power, I urge members of the LGBTQ+ community to do their research and spend their money where they deem most appropriate. Unfortunately, it’s not safe to assume that because a brand sells products marketed towards Pride that they actually support the community. In many cases, it really is only to gain a profit and to maintain supportive appearances.
Katie Martell referred to this as “rainbow-pandering” in an article entitled “Pride or Pandering?” she wrote for LinkedIn. “Rainbow-pandering is when companies exploit LGBTQ rights in their marketing without meaningful action at their organizations, or in the greater world.” She goes on to list several examples of rainbow-pandering, such as how brands like “H&M, Primark, Target, and Levi Strauss all sell rainbow apparel like rainbow fanny packs and sequined caps. But, as the NYTimes pointed out, much of it is manufactured in countries where it’s either illegal to be gay or where persecution is commonplace such as China, Turkey, and Myanmar.
On the other hand, many brands accused of rainbow-pandering are also listed in a “guide to brands whose Pride-themed merch actually gives back to LGBTQ communities,” curated by Tim Mulkerin of mic.com, an affiliate of Bustle Media Group. Target alone was cited by many articles both as being pro-LGBTQ+ as well as being cited as one of the companies that continue to aid in the suppression of the community. This adds another layer of complexity to the conversation. If a brand donates to LGBTQ+ charities, organizations, or other causes, does that excuse the fact that their profit comes from exploiting cheap labor in countries where LGBTQ+ people are being persecuted on a daily basis? Or do the locations of their manufacturing facilities negate their “support”? Where is this line drawn? Personally, I am still grappling with the findings of my research on this matter and am unsure where the truth lies.
In regards to brands choosing not to sell their merchandise in all stores, I’m still left wondering. It seems as though many of these brands are ardent supporters of the LGBTQ+, regardless of not having Pride merchandise or displays in all of their retailers. Marketability and profit margin, I’m sure, play a huge role in this. Without large enough profit margins, these brands might not be as able or willing to donate as much of their proceeds, so for the LGBTQ+ community, it might be worth the trade-off. They might not sell Pride products in all of their stores, but the stores they are choosing to sell in are making enough profit for them to be able to donate back to help the community.
I did reach out to both Target and Walmart in hopes of getting more insight into this matter. When asked how they determine which stores to sell their Pride merchandise in, a representative from Target got back to me saying, “This is the 8th year we’ve offered Pride merchandise online. In addition, select stores will carry the items. Some locations will not set their Pride Merchandise out until Fall 2019, depending on when they celebrate Pride.” I’m not sure if this was an outdated automated response or a typographical error in referencing “Fall 2019,” but I did reach back out for clarification. I’ve yet to receive a response.
It’s no secret that Pride is clearly related to profitability. As buyers, it is up to us to decide where any profit made off of us goes, and it may not be an easy decision to make. I had no idea how multifaceted this conversation would be, or how many layers there are to unpack in relation to the market for Pride merchandise. With that, I urge individuals to do some research on their own and decide what feels right for them. Happy Pride, everyone!
Editor’s Note: All businesses and organizations that the Pride and Joy Foundation has partnered with through its launch have been U.S. based members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, and advocates for equal rights for all.
Written by Gabrielle Ackerman - a caffeine-drinking, adventure-seeking 28-year-old mom and wife. I was born and raised in Jersey City, NJ, just 10 minutes outside of Manhattan. I lived and worked in New Jersey as an educator, until my wife and I decided to move our family west to Idaho, where she is originally from, to allow me to transition to being a stay-at-home mom.