Rainbow blues: The politics and dangers behind pinkwashing

Through pinkwashing, politicians show their surface-level support to queer causes while diluting their meaning and significance.

June has come again—bursts of color, blissful parades, and delightful festivities decorate the streets in celebration of Pride Month. An all too familiar scene plays out: when the clock strikes midnight on June 1st, companies and their marketing teams suddenly release a rainbowed version of their logos and Pride-themed product deals in support of the LGBTQ+ community. But once Pride Month is over, they quickly become radio silent on issues involving the LGBTQ+. This is what is referred to as “pinkwashing”, a strategy where companies show solidarity for the queer community without enacting actual policies or providing tangible support to defend their rights. 

Such is also the case in Philippine politics; electoral candidates usually announce their support for the community during their campaigns but conveniently forget about the queer agenda once successfully seated in the government. An example would be former President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promise to remain open to legalizing same-sex marriage—a year later, he retracted his support and reasoned out that such legislation would not work for a Catholic country like the Philippines. Another instance of this was when former Mayor Isko Moreno launched a rainbow-colored pedestrian crossing, yet neglected to implement an ordinance that would protect the LGBTQ+ community in Manila. These instances are but a few examples that point toward how pinkwashing is plaguing both the business industry and political landscape of the Philippines.

More than just a palette of colors

The act of pinkwashing only serves to damage the LGBTQ+ community and what they advocate for. Aldrin Bula, the punong babaylan of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Babaylan, shares that one of the worst things that come out of pinkwashing is seeing “corporate companies and politicians benefit more from supporting the LGBTQ+ community more than the community itself.” They further stress that it reduces Pride to a mere celebration, rather than treating it as a form of protest—which is what Pride is historically.

Kent Tangcalagan, an assistant professorial lecturer in the University’s Department of Sociology and Behavioral Sciences, states that pinkwashing in Philippine politics can create a false sense of progress and power for the community. “This discrepancy between performative gestures and substantive actions can undermine the true progress and representation needed for the queer community,” he further emphasizes. Politicians continue to hide behind the mask of pinkwashing to reap the benefits of giving support without actually exerting effort in legislation. 

It is only fitting to call these politicians’ actions performative when, up until now, the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill—which mainly seeks to prevent discrimination against the members of the LGBTQ+ community—still hasn’t been passed into law. “There are politicians that only choose to support the optics of the movement. [They have the] power to enact real change within their communities, bakit ‘di [nila] ginagawang priority ang SOGIE Equality Bill?” Bula argues.

(Why aren’t they prioritizing the SOGIE Equality Bill?)

Brands and companies, on the other hand, have been accused of using Pride to make profit. Tangcalagan cites news articles in 2014 and 2019 that disclose an interest in the purchasing power of the LGBTQ+ community, termed as the “pink peso”. “Brands and politicians alike can benefit from catering to the community’s needs and preferences,” he remarks. Adversely, on the internal level, only a few companies employ concrete policies against discrimination. Their fickle and overt support leaves Bula asking on behalf of the queer community, “Are you with us or against us?”

Traversing colors

In a heteronormative society, it is imperative to discern how the crusade of the LGBTQ+ community goes beyond the celebration of gender diversity. The essence of Pride also rests upon acknowledging that everyone has encountered distinct intersectionalities of discrimination and oppression. “Kalakip ng paglaban [sa] Pride ay ang paglaban sa mataas na sahod, mas inclusive na batas—katulad ng pagpasa ng SOGIE Equality Bill—[paggawa ng] mga ligtas na espasyo, at kalayaan mula sa red-tagging at diskriminasyon,” Bula muses. 

(Fighting for Pride also means fighting for higher wages, inclusive legislatures—such as the SOGIE Equality Bill—creating safe spaces, and to be free from red-tagging and discrimination.)

When politicians and companies exploit the colors and celebration of Pride as a mere means to an end through pinkwashing, they put in vain years’ worth of protests and struggles against the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ sector. “[Pinkwashing] won’t end as long as companies [make actions] that don’t benefit the community. Same with politicians, we hold them accountable by not putting them [in] office,” they echo.

Rainbow after the rain

At the root of it all, the LGBTQ+ community protests for their human rights and seeks for comprehensive measures that ultimately address the needs of queer individuals—forging spaces for acceptance and inclusion. 

In a quest to resolve pinkwashing, Tangcalagan suggests that simply engaging in conversations is one way to topple this phenomenon. “[Politicians should] educate themselves about LGBTQ+ history, terminology, and the specific needs of the community. This shows a commitment to being informed and aware,” he advises. Consequently, he encourages consumer activism and responsible media coverage to demand transparency from brands or companies. “[Consumers must] encourage honest reporting of LGBTQ+ inclusivity efforts, like workplace policies and diverse hiring,” he posits further.

Likewise, Bula shares that their organization has made efforts to collaborate with their local government in Laguna. “[Politicians] should have unwavering support and embark on LGBTQ+ projects consulted within the community itself,” they express in Filipino. Together with lobbying for anti-discrimination ordinances, UPLB Babaylan also aims to maximize its platform by organizing information drives regarding SOGIE, such as Trans Talks and Bakli-Talks. 

Unless there is proper intervention, pinkwashing would lead to the same results that colored sidewalks and empty promises have: nothing but added color. “Without concrete support, financing, and resources to enact laws protecting LGBTQ+ rights, and without opposition to those seeking to impede or reverse progress, pinkwashing perpetuates a shallow image of support without substantive action,” Tancalagan directs politicians and companies.

Laurence Pontejos

By Laurence Pontejos

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By Angela Carla Ramos

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