As Sydney gears up for Mardi Gras every year we are treated to an influx of rainbow-themed commercials. They sell us everything from vodka to car insurance to banking – and they are full of shit.
These types of ads are part of a trend known as ‘rainbow capitalism’ – whereby corporations use queer or queer-friendly themes to portray themselves as socially conscious and on the side of their consumers. Ultimately, however, these portrayals are almost inevitably empty.
Take, for instance, the list of sponsors of the Mardi Gras. The list is full of donors to both the Labor and Liberal parties – even the ‘principal partner’, ANZ bank, donated $250000 to the Liberal Party in 2017-18.
Some companies, such as St George and AAMI insurance, don’t even contribute financially to Mardi Gras, yet still want to furnish us with queer advertising. St George is owned by Westpac and AAMI by Suncorp – both of which donate to the Liberal party.
The political affiliations held by these companies is a pointed reminder that these companies couldn't care less about the true colors of Mardi Gras and the greater movement. Both the Liberal and Labor parties have an extremely poor record when it comes to queer rights. Whilst the Labor party did campaign in support of the ‘Yes’ vote in the marriage equality plebiscite, it failed to pursue parliamentary options when it had the chance, choosing instead to allow the nation to be subjected to a divisive and awful six month campaign which has been proven to have had negative effects on the mental health of many queer people. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, has an even more chequered history with queer people, with current Prime Minister Scott Morrison refusing to condemn gay conversion therapy
When corporations give financial support to these parties they are doing so much more than making a political choice about whom they prefer. They are directly contributing resources that will be used in advertising and other campaigning, that will ensure that these political parties retain power. Altogether we are talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars that could help re-elect a man for whom gay conversion is not a problem – or that could help elect a man for whom a postal plebiscite was a convenient way to show off his progressive street cred.
When people walk down the street and see endless billboards telling Sydney we’re “St Gorgeous”, or get on YouTube and see a couple of drag queens dredge up a plethora of gay stereotypes while calling for AAMI roadside assist, what we’re being sold is the idea that these companies care about us. We’re being asked to believe that we matter to them, when all that really matters is our money.
Companies know that we’re a good market: a study in the US found that queer households spend on average 7% more than non-LGBT consumers. You can’t blame them for wanting to pitch to us, but we have the right to ask that they really put their money where their mouth is.
This isn’t just a symbolic issue. Not only does the money spent on the two main parties actively harm queer people, but the prevalence of queer-themed advertising paints a false picture that we live in some big gay paradise where everything is sunshine, lollipops, and most importantly, rainbows.
The truth is that we live in a world where in most countries, gay couples still can’t get married. We live in a world where so many young queer people face bullying and discrimination, often from within their own families. We live in a world where 80% of transgender people experience physical assault, 50% attempt suicide, and 40% are raped. A few vodka bottles with rainbow stickers on them does squat to change that.
When we give visibility to companies like this, we tell them that they don’t have to change – they’ll still get their floats in the Mardi Gras where they can walk down Oxford St and have people believe they’re on our side. Don’t be fooled – they’re not and never will be.
Corporations exist for one thing and one thing only; profit. At the most fundamental level, the ideology of profit is never going to be compatible with caring about minorities.
So next time you see a glitzy ‘GAYtm’ or walk past yet another ad telling you to be proud, remember that it cost them money to produce, and they’ll only spend money on something if they expect more money back.