Tuesday is June 1st and the beginning of Pride. COVID is still lingering like bits of toilet paper on your butt and making Pride 2021 feel different than past years. But one thing that still feels familiar is the rainbow capitalism that typically saturates this month.
Rainbow capitalism is sponsorships, advertising and product placements used to sell products to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Essentially lots of rainbows everywhere. You can see this everywhere from Target to Starbucks.
If you know me, you know that I LITERALLY make a living from being a loud homosexual cis-man. I’m the executive director and founder of Queer Kentucky, I’ve consulted with multiple LGBTQ+ organizations around the state, I work to enhance diversity within the entrepreneur startup world…and so on…and so on… I see rainbow capitalism day in and day out. And yes, I do believe creating more visibility in mainstream spaces is important, but I also believe that businesses’ corporate culture should match. I have worked with many businesses that are genuinely working their asses off to be more inclusive for Queer folks.
For example, many of Brown-Forman’s employees include a link to Queer Kentucky’s article about pronoun usage (written by Sarah Gardiner) in their email signatures, Louisville Vegan Jerky Company and Kentucky for Kentucky have worked through our Trans-Inclusive workplace 101 workshop and are working to incorporate inclusive policies and procedures. The New York City-based fitness company SoulCycle, has started working with us to create more inclusive language within their fitness classes. These are several examples of businesses that participate in all things rainbow, but also work hard for Queer inclusion. But recently, I received some problematic feedback from a potential sponsor not long after I pitched our Trans-Inclusive Workplace 101 workshop to them.
A representative from the company called me and said, “One of our executive leadership team members has some concerns about some of the language used on your website. There were some words used that weren’t the correct anatomical language…you know what I’m trying to say right?”
You see, two of our trans columnists recently wrote about their sexual experiences. One writer is a trans man, the other is a trans woman. They both may have used some language that wouldn’t typical be heard during a family dinner. But the real issue here is that these conversations aren’t had with families, and they certainly aren’t had by any school system I know of (please educate me if I’m wrong).
So, I said, “I understand your hesitation to work with us — I truly do, but if we’re not a fit for your company then so be it. We’re not censoring authentic stories of trans folks to make people more comfortable with our editorial content. Our content is curated for a progressive queer audience, and we welcome affirming allies, but it is our space.”
I’m not even really sure I how responded after this statement because I had already begun spoon feeding her why her feedback was actually causing ME concern.
“Ma’am, Queer Kentucky is one of the only Queer organizations in the state that openly talks about Queer sex. Sometimes specifically transgender sexual experiences. This platform was founded on the concept of authentic Queer stories because that is how we learn as a community. We learn from one another. Educational institutions have systemically left us out of curriculum for centuries. We are an incredibly progressive organization and I can’t tell you the last time that I’ve heard a Queer person use anatomical terms for genitals.”
Bless this woman’s heart because she was just the messenger for someone else. She thanked me for my time and I thanked her for hers. She asked that I send her some more information about our Trans-Inclusive Workplace 101 Workshop to assure her leadership team that we don’t use inappropriate terms for genitals. I sent her some information and I’ve yet to hear back.
Why does it always come back to genitals? Often times Queer people, especially trans and nonbinary folks need to use words that are different than penis and vagina because penis and vagina can cause hella body dysphoria.
I spend every day of my career validating the Queer experience to people so that our organization can receive funding to continue our work. I have to validate my personal experiences and trauma to strangers. I have to validate my trans friends fears and struggles to strangers. This country is riddled with anti-trans legislation and you’re worried about the language we used in an editorial that educates our readers about trans lives?
This sponsor shall remain nameless because let’s be real, Queer Kentucky thrives off donations and corporate sponsorships, especially those from local businesses. Relying on rainbow capitalism means having to choose between your organizations livelihood and saying what needs to be said. It effectively silences the criticism necessary to move our culture forward on LGBTQ+ issues.
Corporations can buy out Pride booths and cute rainbow shirts all day, but they need to ask themselves if they want us to show up in the world authentically or if they want us to show up in the world in a way that makes them comfortable.