5 Ways Your Organization May Be Engaging in Rainbow Washing — And How You Can Engage in Sustained Action Authentically

Image Description: A grid of rainbow corporate logos, including LinkedIn, Spotify, Uber, Airbnb, and others.. Source: Reddit.

Understanding rainbow washing

Rainbow washing is defined as “The act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for 2SLGBTQIA+ equality (and earn consumer credibility) — but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result. It is akin to “greenwashing” regarding environmental justice issues and “pinkwashing” with respect to breast cancer awareness”.

5 ways to tell if you’re rainbow washing during Pride

Here are some of the telltale signs that your organization may be engaging in rainbow washing, instead of making a true commitment to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community:

So, what can you do to engage in real sustained action?

Real allyship involves actually doing something to materially support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. If you’re not sure what to do or how to support, the best way to learn is to talk to queer and trans organizers and uncover what their priorities are, then ask how you can be helpful or help them attain those goals. The key to remember is that you’re helping someone else achieve their goals. Your suggestions may be welcome, but also keep in mind that you may not have all the context at first, so it’s a good idea to focus on learning before making comments and commitments.

1. Engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training

DEI training is a great way to get everyone on the same page. Comprehensive training should include:

  • Space to share: Everyone needs the opportunity to share their experiences.
  • Space to ask “silly” questions: Sometimes the only way someone knows how to ask a question is by fumbling. That’s fine. That’s what these spaces are for.
  • Space to decompress: There is a lot in the DEI world to learn. It won’t happen all at once, nor should you be expected to learn it and have it committed to memory instantly.

2. Learn from the community

Whether during Pride month or throughout the rest of the year, invite members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ to give virtual talks.

  • Expertise talks: This is when you invite a speaker to talk on any business topic who happens to be a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. It’s a great way to diversify your speaker and educator set while also supporting business goals.
  • The Get Real Movement is a nonprofit organization that offers leadership talks, panels, and afterschool education programs in the community.
  • QMUNITY is a 2SLGBTQIA+ community hub. Their team is available for panels, events & speaking engagements.

3. Make a product and donate the proceeds

A lot of companies have Pride-themed products. Make it a truly supportive endeavour by donating the proceeds of sales to a 2SLGBTQIA+ nonprofit or charity.

4. Review company policies and benefits

Verbally supporting Pride month is one thing. Having events is another. But one of the best ways to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is to ensure that your policies actively support queer and trans employees in your organization.

  • Parental leaves that are inclusive of queer couples, non-birthing parents, and adoptive parents.
  • Trans-affirming healthcare coverage.
  • Broader mental health benefits (this benefits everyone, not just 2SLGBTQIA+ employees!).

5. Audit compensation for equality

Similar to auditing your policies, make sure compensation is fair and equal. Pay disparities are a persistent issue not only for cisgender women and racialized folks but also gender and sexually diverse individuals. A recent study by the Human Rights Campaign found that 2SLGBTQIA+ people earn 90 cents for every dollar earned by cisgender heterosexual people (and this number is even less for trans women and racialized queer and trans folks specifically).

6. Use your voice

As a company, you have platforms. Use them to speak up about the impact of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ legislation or to elevate 2SLGBTQIA+ voices such as bringing queer artists to company events or promoting queer-written books in your company library.

7. Put your money where your mouth is

Instead of putting money toward a corporate Pride float, donate it.

  • Use the money to pay employees to volunteer with 2SLGBTQIA+ nonprofits or charities.
  • Set up a 2SLGBTQIA+ mentoring or community program supported by your organization.
  • Support 2SLGBTQIA+ owned businesses if you’re looking to purchase products. Our favourite places are imenoughshop.com and Flamingo Market.

Pride is about progress

The original uprisings that became Pride such as the Stonewall Riots in New York City or the Bathhouse Riots in Toronto happened because a group of people finally stood up to systemic discrimination and marginalization. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made since then. But all progress is hard-won and hard-kept — it cannot be taken for granted.

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