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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Corporate Pride collections represent performative LGBTQ+ activism

Large companies tout support for LGBTQ+ community while failing to offer financial, political backing
Katie Hardie

The month of June marks the beginning of Pride month, a time to honor and celebrate the accomplishments and joy of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States. Some celebrate Pride month by participating in parades or other special events. But in a capitalist nation, large corporations don’t want to miss the opportunity to turn major cultural celebrations into an opportunity to profit.

Often, this takes the form of a Pride collection — a line of items with rainbow colors or inclusive catchphrases, sometimes designed by members of the LGBTQ+ community. In some cases, companies will donate a sum of money to an LBGTQ+ organization. Though this may sound productive on its face, there’s more beneath the surface that is often hidden from consumers.

Like it has done for more than a decade, Target was one of many corporations to release a Pride collection. This year’s line included items created by trans designer, Erik Carnell. The line immediately received backlash from conservatives who discovered Carnell’s personal website. On the site, he sells a variety of items that use satanic imagery to make a political statement about transphobia. One design reads “Satan respects pronouns.”


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Carnell explained that as a response to traditional religious settings where transgender people are not always accepted, the Satanic images represent resistance and acceptance in a nontraditional way — he doesn’t actually believe in Satan. Despite this political symbolism, and the fact that Target’s Pride collection never featured any of these Satan-themed items, conservatives criticized Target for partnering with a “Satanist” creator.

Following the controversy, Target announced its decision to “make adjustments” to their Pride collection, which included removing Carnell’s items from the store. Target said they needed to maintain conditions of safety and would do so by removing items that were central to “confrontations” in stores. According to The Washington Post, Carnell was never contacted about the decision to remove his items from the store. Target also never expressed its support for Carnell while he faced harsh criticism and death threats.

Another item removed from Target’s pride collection was a line of “tuck-friendly” swimwear, designed as an inclusive option for transgender people. Though the items were only ever created for adults, misinformation about the items being designed and marketed to children spread in right-wing media circles.

Instead of standing behind the creators and items who represent the real identities and needs of the LGBTQ+ community, Target quickly folded under the pressure of the conservative minority. Since the controversy over its Pride collection, Target has received criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. But, Target’s efforts to support the LGBTQ+ community are largely performative — they’ll release the rainbow collection but fail to stand by the community when it counts.

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Walmart is another corporation guilty of performative LGBTQ+ activism. Again, the company launched a Pride collection this year, like it has done in the past. Notably, the company has maintained the collection despite controversy and pushback from conservatives over the Target Pride line. Though Walmart publicly claims increasing support for the LGBTQ+ community over time, the corporation has a thinly veiled political history that reveals otherwise.

According to Business Insider, Walmart’s PAC donated about $400,000 between 2019 and 2020 to politicians who voted against the Equality Act, which would have expanded civil rights for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This donation toward anti-LGBTQ+ politicians effectively refutes any of the benefits a Pride collection may offer — and demonstrates the performative nature of the campaign.

The issue inherent in these hollow Pride campaigns is that companies can appear progressive without actually having to stand behind LGBTQ+ activism financially or politically. Corporations like Target and Walmart can appease mainstream buyers —  the vast majority of which support discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community — without having to do the work of eliminating harmful biases and policies.

Some call this phenomenon “rainbow capitalism,” describing the surface-level nature of Pride collections that ultimately still contribute toward a system of unequal power structures in business and politics. Such efforts feign support for a community while undermining consumers’ sense of ethical purchasing.

When well-meaning buyers purchase from corporate Pride collections, an LGBTQ+ designer may in fact see a small portion of the profit, or it may benefit an activist organization. But the purchase may also contribute to a capitalist corporation that damages the environment, violates labor rights and contributes to anti-LGBTQ+ political efforts.

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Instead, consumers are better off buying from LBGTQ+ designers directly. In our own Madison community, there are dozens of local, LGBTQ+ owned businesses worthy of support. Destination Madison offers a substantial list including coffee shops, restaurants, clubs, shops, nonprofits and more. These local businesses are a great place to start for those looking for a Pride month purchasing guide.

Ethical consumption under capitalism is not easy, and it’s unfortunate the burden is placed on consumers to make the right choices. Supporting small, local businesses however, is a better way to make sure our purchases are more easily traceable to ethical practices and genuine support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Celia Hiorns ([email protected]) is a junior studying journalism and political science.

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