News·3 min read

Thing to Know: Rainbow-Washing

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June 25, 2021

Nine years after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, gay rights activist Gilbert Baker created and paraded the first rainbow flag. Fast forward to June 2021: corporations (think: Walmart, CVS, AT&T) started adding rainbow colors to their logos on social media. The move is an attempt to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month. But LGBTQ+ activists say this show of solidarity by some companies is just a front since their corporate policies show a different side to their supposed activism. And are accusing them of rainbow-washing.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Rainbow-Washing

Rainbow-washing is when a business publicly shows support for the LGBTQ+ community (think: changing social media avatars or publishing support statements at the start of Pride Month) but privately engages in practices that are detrimental to those who identify as LGBTQ+.

In 2019, Judd Legum, who writes the political newsletter, Popular Information, researched companies that have internal policies supporting LGBTQ+ employees. In his research, he found that some of those companies also donated money (through corporate PACs) to politicians who didn't sponsor or support LGBTQ+ legislation. 

These are some of the businesses caught rainbow-handed.

  • CVS Health: During this year's Pride Month, it traded in its usual white heart logo for a rainbow one on Twitter. But since 2019, donated about $4,000 to Texas state senators who sponsored a bill that bans parents from allowing their kids to get gender-reaffirming medical care.

  • Wells Fargo: At the start of June, it changed its Twitter banner to a spectrum of the rainbow. Since 2019, it has given $1,000 to a North Carolina state senator who allegedly shared anti-trans articles on social media.

  • Comcast: On June 1, its brand Xfinity tweeted a promise to honor Pride all year long. But since 2019, Comcast gave $2,000 to a Florida legislator who ushered in a bill to exclude trans-women from school sports teams.

  • Walmart: It launched a Pride & Joy section in 2021 on its website to sell Pride-themed products. But the company has given almost $30,000 since 2019 to Arkansas lawmakers who recently helped pass a bill that bars gender-affirming treatments for trans youth.

  • AT&T: In June 2021, it used the #TurnUpTheLove hashtag on Twitter to show support for LGBTQ+ youth. But donated about $22,000 between 2017-2018 to a Tennessee senator who voted against a 2009 hate crimes bill that expands protections to the LGBTQ+ community.

How LGBTQ+ Employees Feel at Work

A LinkedIn survey that polled LGBTQ+ professionals found that…

  • 25% were denied raises or promotions because of their identity

  • 31% openly faced microaggressions or discrimination

  • Another 25% left their job after not feeling accepted

On top of that, another survey found that about 50% believed being out at work could hurt their career. 

But the government has made some progress. In 2020, SCOTUS expanded the list of what constitutes workplace discrimination and added that people could not be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Here's What You Can Do to Fight Rainbow-Washing

  • Talk to your HR department. They’ll typically have information on your company’s policies, DEI efforts, and how to report cases of harassment or discrimination.

  • Do your own research before spending money. Companies may support lawmakers whose actions may not align with your political views. But you can see Federal Election Commission records on how much money businesses give to specific political campaigns.

  • Call your elected officials. Let them know your opinion on LGBTQ+ legislation that you'd like them to take action on – including the Equality Act.

  • Practice being an ally. We’ve got tips on how to be an active bystander if you witness harassment or discrimination.

  • Educate yourself. Learn about the issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community (like mental health stigmas, their personal experiences, and best ways to support them).


It's 2021, and some companies are fronting support but not showing up for the LGBTQ+ community in their political donations. So before you spend your hard-earned dollars, make sure you know the facts. And as LGBTQ+ Americans continue to report discrimination at work, the battle continues to ensure a company’s display of allyship on the outside actually leads to concrete action on the inside.

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