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Rainbow-Washing and Not Enough Real Reporting: Pride Month and the Media

The latest episode of the hit Media Storm podcast focuses on the shortcomings of Pride Month when it comes to journalism and the corporate world

A Pride reveller. Photo: Katie Collins/EMPICS

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June: the summer lovin’ month of Stonehenge druidry, Glastonbury festivity and Pride revelry (until Tory gamblers decided to cash-in on a last-minute summer election, bringing some rainclouds over Britain’s famously blue sky).

This Pride Month has had some clouding too. AI data traces a 141% decline of corporate Pride campaigns between this June and last. And even corporations still brave enough to change their X (formerly Twitter) logos to rainbows face ridicule about the watery value of their rainbow-washing.

In short: corporations have taken a bashing for fluctuating between cowardice and tackiness in their LGBTQIA+ allyship. But the mainstream media has been getting off scott-free. Enter we.

Apparently it’s enough these days to publish e-commerce listicles about the plushest rainbow beanie-babies in service of LGBTQIA+ equality, rather than reporting on the threats it’s actually under.

We understand the beanie-babies listicles – they fall so easily into reporters’ laps. Every June, inboxes pile high with plucky PR proposals about how eating Lettuce-Guacamole-Bacon-Tomato sandwiches is really great for gays! This is not just any sandwich, right M&S? (We propose Iberico ham and Apple as additional fillings to catch the snack up with the acronym).

But given the real problems out there, take our cynicism of corporate rainbow-washing with a pinch of sugar.

“The critique isn’t ‘don’t do it’, the critique is ‘do more’,” Olga Koch told this week’s Media Storm podcast. “And do it better”, added Jamie Wareham. Koch is a comedian and Wareham is the journalist-founder of QueerAF. Both, needless to say, are queer as f**k.

At their best, Wareham said, Pride campaigns don’t just give money to LGBTQIA+ organisations, they have a message that moves the conversation forward. Like E45’s recent TV ad which spotlights the particular skincare needs of transitioning people. So money, a message, and the most important ingredient of all? Intention (not, as it turns out, Iberico ham).

Intention is what was missing from the most spectacular Pride campaign fail of recent history.

Last year, Budweiser bowed towards transphobes who responded to the beer company’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney by spraying Bud Lights with bullets (they missed the irony of having to purchase crates of the beer to enact their violent boycott). Wareham calls this the ‘Mean Girls’ approach to Pride (in June, we wear Rainbows!), rather than a campaign designed with intention.

If your intention is to stand in solidarity with victims of discrimination, you don’t simply back down when the discrimination materialises. While rainbow-washing is fun to make fun of, this corporate cowardice is serious and sinister. “It’s going to take decades to unpack,” according to Wareham.

“That’s the thing I don’t think these corporations always think about – they’re making quick marketing decisions, whereas the impact it has on an incredibly and increasingly vulnerable community is just huge.”

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This is exactly the kind of danger to LGBTQIA+ equality that news outlets should have been reporting on this month (and, dare we suggest, in other months too). Pride Month is not a chance for newspapers to make their fluffy commercial content all the colours of the rainbow (and that much more clickable) – it’s a chance to make up for their oversights the rest of the year round.

Mathilda’s six-year-old ‘History of Pride’ article at one mainstream outlet still gets repurposed and republished every June (cue 20,000 Pride-related PR emails flooding her inbox). Meanwhile, skyrocketing hate crime against LGBTQIA+ people goes under the radar, and transgender people’s bodies are served up as broadcast-ready battlegrounds.

Allow us to bring to your attention two investigations published by Queer AF this month, Wareham’s award-winning, independently-regulated, LGBTQIA+-focused news outlet: NHS England faces accusations by whistleblowers of covering up trans youth suicides for “political convenience”; and parents of children receiving gender-affirming treatments are being threatened with safeguarding referrals under official guidelines.

A number of children seeking such treatment wrote to QueerAF saying they felt forced to medically detransition. Sadly for them, in our mainstream media, trans peoples’ opinions about their own healthcare matter less than those of a woman who wrote a series of books about a wizard.

All week, our papers’ front pages have focused on Conservative and Labour plans to rigidly control gender-related education in the classroom (and JK Rowling’s approval): teachers, trans people, and gender minority youths are quoted in few to none. If our media is so concerned about the wellbeing of gender dysphoric youths, why aren’t their suicides cause for outcry?

Koch has a theory: “When [some people] talk about being scared for trans youth, they’re not talking about real people, they’re talking about a voiceless demographic that will never, in their eyes, speak for themselves. So when you’re talking about individual trans youths actually killing themselves, they suddenly become people and become real, not a voiceless demographic that they can use to push their ideology.”

In the final week of the UK’s General Election campaign, journalists must be on guard against letting political rhetoric define the public interest agenda. Voters, too, must be on guard against selling their votes cheaply to fear-mongers, not policy-makers.

But Wareham also sees cause for optimism: “We have won this fight before. We have won gay liberation before, we have won queer liberation before, and we will win trans liberation.”

If this, for you, is a voting priority, QueerAF has made an excellent guide to each party’s positions on LGBTQIA+ rights.

Media Storm’s latest episode, ‘Pride Month Under Attack: Rainbow Washing, Queerbaiting, and Fears of “Gender Ideology”’ is out now

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