Pride flag: How useful is it see the rainbow LGBTQ+ Pride flag used on commercial logos and packaging?

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Pride flag – Red Dragon  Flagmakers
LGBTQ+ Pride flag

So you want to support LGBTQ+? You’ve bought your bacon, lettuce and tomato rainbow flag sandwich from M&S, you’ve bought your apple with a rainbow flag sticker for lunch from Pink Lady, you’ve bought your coffee in a rainbow coloured coffee holder from Starbucks, you’ve bought your rainbow trainers from Nike, you’ve been there, you’ve spent your money, you’ve got the proverbial t-shirt (from adidas). And how do you feel now? Do you feel proud to be you? Proud to support the LGBTQ+ community? Do you feel proud to embrace the side of you, that doesn’t necessarily fit into the hetero-normative narrative that we all have to love the same way? Or do you feel like a few trans-national corporations have just burnt a large hole in your wallet, you’ve continued to contribute to the global capitalist economy, and you’re still afraid to kiss someone that’s the same gender as you in public, for fear of public shame and discrimination?

The question I’m asking here is: are we viewing the issue of LGBTQ+ issues through commercially co-opted rainbow-tinted glasses?

Has the message that LGBTQ+ voices need to be heard, been lost, through commercialisation?

Is LGBTQ+ representation through the use of the rainbow colours ‘normalised’ in popular culture, to the point of being ignored?

I think it’s easy to see this as satire in many ways, but the statistics are a bit more depressing, unfortunately. I’ll now list a few facts , cited from the Stonewall website (which you probably haven’t read on a coffee cup recently):

  • Only half of lesbian, gay and bi people (46 per cent) and trans people (47 per cent) feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to everyone in their family (fact from 2018).
  • More than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination (fact from 2018).
  • Two in five LGBT students (42 per cent) have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination (fact from 2018).
  • One in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months (fact from 2017).
  • Nearly half (45 per cent) of LGBT pupils – including 64 per cent of trans pupils – are bullied for being LGBT in Britain’s schools (fact from 2017).

Another question is, is the Pride flag in logos and packaging absolutely necessary in order for companies to support LGBTQ+ in their policies and charitable donations? I would argue, absolutely not.

Are large companies cashing in by co-opting the LGBTQ+ Pride flag colours on their merchandise and logo (especially in Pride month in June)? Many would argue, absolutely, yes.

Do the companies, that promote LGBTQ+ in their brand, actually promote LGBTQ+? Unfortunately, not always.  

Is this a new concept, to see representation rooted in grass-roots activism, co-opted for commercial gain? Unfortunately not.

Is the use of the Pride flag colours in commercial products contributing to raising the ‘awareness’ of  LGBTQ+ community issues, or is it ‘rainbow-washing’ to the point where we may think, we don’t need to be aware of it anymore?

I think there’s a fine line here, between actively celebrating and supporting LGBTQ+ staff, colleagues and customers, and manipulating consumers into thinking they’re buying into something they’re not.

I think that the intent behind the use of the rainbow flag plays a big role in deciding what is acceptable and unacceptable use of the commercialisation of the rainbow flag, something which is easily hidden by a logo or shop front.

I think that LGBTQ+ issues are more important to talk about than ever, and I think at the heart of the LGBTQ+ Pride community is people, not product placement.

LGBTQ+ rights still matter, even if you can buy french-fries in a disposable rainbow container for 1 or 2 months of the year. I would argue, it’s people, not fries (or any commercial product, for that matter), that are important.

I think this brings me on to my next point: where are the people in this, beyond the commercial ‘rainbow-washing’? Where is the representation in the media of LGBTQ+ issues? In mainstream films, literature and tv programmes? In mainstream music and streaming? In the school curriculum?

What ‘story’ is the rainbow flag telling, that other mainstream platforms are still missing out?

Are we all just now ‘subdued’ by the idea that we’re all ‘buying into’ the rights of LGBTQ+? Does LGBTQ+ rights now come with a rainbow-clad bar code?

I think there are many different ways of thinking about how the rainbow flag has been co-opted for commercial use, especially when you consider how diverse LGBTQ+ as a ‘group’ actually is, and also the politics attached to some of the products being sold, to promote these kinds of ideas.

I appreciate that there are some companies out there, that really are using the rainbow Pride flag for the right reasons, and I really hope this continues.

The rainbow flag was initially created as symbol and celebration of diversity, not another form of censorship. I really think that LGBTQ+ issues need to keep being discussed, and representation of these communities need to be created and included, which is why I’ve written this blog 😊

About me:

This is the part of my blog where people may laugh in my internet face, after what I’ve just discussed in this blog.

I’m an artist, I’ve recently become self-employed, and I’ve started a (very very) small business.

I’ve recently created a 9-part illustrative series titled ‘Bi in the 2000s™’ which explores themes around LGBTQ+ and bisexuality visibility (I identify as bisexual, so some of the content is aimed at bisexuality specifically, but the majority of the paintings cover broader LGBTQ+ themes around representation and the impact of censorship, growing up in the UK as a teenager and young adult, in the 2000s).

Still interested? I think you’re going to be excited by the next piece of information 😊

I’ve recently launched an organic cotton Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise series, which include digital prints of the original artwork that I created, from the series.

I created this series and this merchandise range because I think it’s important to create representation, in this instance, specifically from the point of view of someone that’s female and someone that’s bisexual. This in part because I felt, first-hand, what it felt like to not see anyone that was female and bisexual in the culture around me, growing up at the time, and it genuinely did have a huge impact on how I felt about myself from teenage years, and actually into adulthood. Creating this art is one way that I’ve addressed this issue.

In the ‘Who do I sit with’ painting in particular, I’ve also tried to include a broad range of intersectional identities, within the LGBTQ+ community, and I think more could always be done around this. Growing up at the time, a lot of my peers were predominantly ‘white’ and predominantly ‘able-bodied,’ but I wanted the painting to be as diverse as possible, so that’s why I’ve included members of the BAME and wheel-chair users community in the image.  

The paintings represent my own journey, but the topics covered I hope will resonate with many.

On every item page on my online store, you can also find a ‘donate with PayPal’ button that will take you to a separate PayPal transaction page (separate to the transaction on your shop cart) that will allow you to donate £2 to LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.

I’ve kept this donation separate from the main shop transaction for 2 main reasons:

  1. It’s a voluntary donation. Not everyone has the cash to donate to charity, some may already be donating to this charity or something similar, and I wanted to give everyone the choice.
  2. It’s straightforward. You can select gift aid using PayPal, and you can be sure that every penny donated goes to the charity – as a small business owner, it’s a lot easier to do the finances this way.

In the future, as my business grows, I would always consider donating a percentage of my profits to charitable causes, but while my business is small and in its relative infancy, this just isn’t possible at the moment, and I feel confident that the ‘Donate with PayPal button’ on my website is the obvious solution in the meantime.

Promoting charity has always been a major drive in what I’m doing, and always will be.

You can check out the Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise available here: anna-frances.com/shop

You can also find me on other platforms here, for more LGBTQ+, dance, music and wellbeing content:

Instagram: @annafranceshealing

Twitter: @annafranhealing

YouTube: Anna Frances Healing

WordPress: anna-frances.com

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