The LGBTQ rainbow and brands – LGBTQ support or pinkwashing?

As we get closer to Pride month, there is the usual increase of rainbow branding across the UK. The thing is, how do you know what is good use of the rainbow and what isn’t? What should you support and how should you respond if you think it is pinkwashing?

Fear not, our trusty guide will help!

Unfortunately the LGBT media and mainstream media outlets are quick to publish whatever press release they are sent, without fact checking and so it isn’t always obvious if we should support or challenge.

IKEA UK – Pinkwashing

A good example is the IKEA rainbow bags that support an LGBT charity in the US, but not in the UK. All the UK press are quoting the US press release and misleading the UK LGBT community into thinking that the bag is supporting an LGBT charity. Find out more about this here.

If a business is using the rainbow in a positive way, financially donating to an LGBT charity or cause, or running a campaign that positively supports the safety and wellbeing of LGBT people then we should support it.

Constructive approach

If a company is using the rainbow because it is Pride month, we should be challenging that organisation and encouraging them to sponsor local community pride events, support LGBT charities or highlight and promote the LGBT community via its channels. However this should be done politely and constructively – we don’t want to scare off all these businesses with deep pockets so that they never support an LGBT charity, group or pride again for fear of the negative publicity. There needs to be a balance or we risk shooting ourselves in the foot.

On that basis, remember that not every Pride-branded or rainbow item will be to your taste. These brands know their customers and what sells and will make a choice based on that.  They are ultimately a business and to survive they need to sell their product or service. There needs to be a balance between the support and the business. This again is where we remind you not to attack businesses who are at least trying.

The M&S Pride Sandwich – LGBTQ Support

An example of this is the M&S LGBT sandwich. Whilst the response can be understood that many felt alienated from this campaign, this was far from pinkwashing and was a brand trying to do something good – attacking M&S will just mean that next year they will think twice and possibly not do anything.

Why is this a problem? Well we as the LGBTQ community, and that charity will have lost out from the financial support of a large UK organisation who was willing to give financial support to us…

Find out more about M&S’s support in 2018 and 2019 here and why we should praise their efforts and provide constructive feedback rather than attack.

How can you find out if a business is supporting the LGBT community or pinkwashing?

For starters, if the brand isn’t raising money for LGBT charity we should be asking what they are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask the question – at this stage we don’t know if it is pinkwashing or poor marketing communication so don’t go in guns blazing accusing them of pinkwashing. Just ask a straightforward question

Ask the question: “Are you raising money for an LGBT charity or supporting the LGBT community or just using the rainbow?”

If they answer yes, find out who for and politely suggest that they promote that fact more clearly and transparently (you also need to check that the name they give is actually an LGBT charity). Follow up questions should include:

  • What charity is it for?
  • How much is the item and how much from the sale is being donated to the charity?
  • Is the item normally available in a non-rainbow format? If so, has the price been inflated and by how much? Is this amount less than, equal to, or more than the difference?

If they cannot answer, or are not raising money you should ask them to refer it to their head office or management as it is not a good image for their brand or business.

Good practice for pride branding

Good practice should be that if a price is inflated, at least the difference should be donated (ok), but ideally the inflated amount plus a small percentage (better). Otherwise you could say that they are just ensuring increased sales of a standard item by branding it with a rainbow…

Moving forward - monitoring the rainbow

We are starting to collect a list of brands releasing Pride items in the UK, and listing them as either positive branding (i.e. supporting the LGBT community) or pinkwashing (jumping on the rainbow bandwagon). This will help the community to support the right brands, and ultimately the LGBT community.

What to do if you see a rainbow item in a shop in the UK or online?

Take a photo for our database and email it to along with the location, company/brand and whether there is any information on the LGBT support visible. If you felt comfortable asking the additional questions above, please include their response. If not, leave it with us to enquire. We will then add it to our support or challenge list.

About the Rainbow Brand Guide

Due to the huge increase in the number of brands and businesses releasing rainbow products, and the lack of transparency around the support provided, we have created a rainbow brand rating. We will look into the product in the UK, and give the brand a community rating.

Ratings will look at a number of areas, including:

  • support of LGBT charities or community groups;
  • level of support;
  • understanding of non-gender or gender fluidity in products;
  • price of the item compared to non-pride versions of the same product; and
  • progress against previous years.

Found a brand or product we haven't reviewed? Get in touch and let us know!