Supporting the LGBTQ+ community is an admirable goal, but you need to be careful about how you do it. It’s easy for your efforts to come across as ‘rainbow washing’ and performative. 

We’ve broken down the main points, to help you avoid accidentally rainbow washing your business. 

  • What is rainbow washing?
  • What counts as rainbow washing?
  • How do you avoid rainbow washing?

What is rainbow washing?

The term “rainbow washing” refers to when a business or government uses the LGBTQ+ Pride flag to promote themselves during Pride Month

This is an issue, because the support of the LGBTQ+ community is typically treated as a performative marketing ploy. 

Take Adidas, for instance. They run a selection of stylised ‘pride’ shoes, but are also major sponsors for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. 

This might not seem like a problem, until you notice the locations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Russia and Qatar. 

Both Russia and Qatar have strict LGBTQ+ laws, with homosexuality being completely illegal in Qatar. These laws make it unsafe for some fans and athletes to even enter the country. 

Claiming to support LGBTQ+ rights, while actively supporting countries that suppress those rights, is one clear example of rainbow washing. But any performative actions fall into the same category. 

What counts as rainbow washing?

Rainbow washing can be any action that’s designed to get money from the LGBTQ+ community, without actually helping their cause. 

Some examples include: 

  • Putting up posters and banners for Pride Month.
  • Changing your business’ social media profile pictures and banners.
  • Offering a limited ‘rainbow edition’ of your products.

These types of actions don’t actually do anything to combat the issues that LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis. 

Why is rainbow washing an issue?

Many companies only raise the rainbow flag for Pride Month, and do nothing else to support the LGBTQ+ community. Struggles are largely forgotten about until the next year’s Pride month rolls around. 

For example, there are still 71 countries that criminalise homosexuality (like Qatar). While there is very little the average person can do about that, tolerance is still an issue in many Western countries.

Problems arise when businesses use LGBTQ+ struggles to try and make more money. Their support isn’t authentic, and it can end up harming the efforts of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Because these businesses only support LGBTQ+ rights for one month a year, it essentially says to the wider public that their issues can quickly be forgotten about. 

Offering real support instead of rainbow washing can help change people’s perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community. The more perceptions change, the more people will be accepting of those different to them. 

It’s important to recognise that your brand has a voice. If you’re interested in supporting LGBTQ+ rights, then you need to use your voice effectively.

How do you avoid rainbow washing?

To avoid rainbow washing, you need to avoid performative tactics. Instead of putting up a poster once a year, look into local LGBTQ+ groups and see what assistance they need.

Unfortunately, it’s still very common for people of the LGBTQ+ community to experience discrimination — both in the workplace and their personal lives. There might be local causes that you can promote year-round

Be an ally all year

Rainbow washing exists because businesses jump on the bandwagon to seem trendy or modern. The support is temporary, and usually only benefits the business rather than actual LGBTQ+ people. 

If you want to support the LGBTQ+ community, then focus on being an ally all year, instead of just one month

There may be a local community effort trying to spread awareness that you can back, or maybe you can provide a safe space for meetings.

Doing something is better than doing nothing. Plus, by being genuinely supportive you’ll be recognised as an ally to the community. 

Be open to criticism

It’s unbelievably easy to accidentally rainbow wash your business without realising it. The important thing is not to get defensive when someone points out your mistake

If someone tells you something is offensive, you’re allowed to ask why — as long as you do it respectfully. Asking questions about the LGBTQ+ community is a great way of learning more, and means you can provide real support. 

Speak up

One of the best ways to support the LGBTQ+ community is to speak about it. If there are issues in your particular industry, talk about them. The more an issue is discussed, the more comfortable people will be around it.

Your voice has power. Use it

Further reading

Greenwashing (like rainbow washing) can harm the perception of your business. There are many pitfalls you can fall into, and it can be difficult knowing where they all are. 

If you want to help the environment without greenwashing, read our guide: How to avoid greenwashing as a small business.

When your efforts are focused on social aspects (like rainbow and greenwashing), it’s likely you’ll use social media. Being aware of how to use social media properly for your business can help you stay at the forefront of new trends. 

If your social media expertise needs a little fine-tuning, check out this guide: How to use social media for business.

Managing your business and social media pages can take up a lot of time. Unfortunately, so does keeping track of your finances. If you find there aren’t enough hours in the day, it might be time to use accounting software to help.

The Countingup app is the two-in-one business current account and accounting software. Your transactions and data are sorted in real-time, giving you one less thing to do.
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