Companies That Pinkwash Should Not Be Feeling Gay

14/04/2016 12:13 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
via Fairfax

Many large Australian corporations have recently come out in support of marriage equality. But Telstra is backpedalling fast from its pledged support.

On Wednesday, Telstra said the company had "no further plans to be active in the [same-sex marriage] debate". It has been reported that this is because the Catholic Church, a client of Telstra, wrote to the company about this issue. This is a common pattern across countries and corporations globally which work hard for the 'pink' dollar, and use 'pinkwashing' to try and present themselves as ethical corporate and global citizens.

'Pinkwashing' is the tactic used to tap into this 'pink' dollar. The term was first used to describe countries with bad human-rights records who would promote themselves as friendly to LGBT people. These countries would welcome them as tourists, clean up their human rights and civil liberties records regarding LGBT people and widely promote how great they were for the queer community. Israel has come under strong criticism for doing this, because it draws attention away from their otherwise-dubious track record on human rights.

Companies are increasingly chasing the lucrative 'pink' dollar. In the USA alone, it is estimated that the LGBT community is worth US $70 million. A Canadian Media agency estimates the global worth of the LGBT market to be $835 billion. John Arkana from the City University of New York notes that the LGBT community also has a strong sense of brand loyalty to brands that are seen to support LGBT struggles.

So how do companies do it? They target their advertising, sponsor LGBT events, venues and products, and support popular LGBT causes.

When judging a company's LGBT credentials, we really need to think more critically about it. Supporting marriage equality is great, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. How is its workplace diversity track record? Is there a pink pay gap? Do they sponsor anti-homophobia and public awareness campaigns or activities? We also need to be careful of corporations that pinkwash. It takes a lot to show a strong and enduring commitment to LGBT rights, much more than just signing a piece of paper saying that you support marriage equality.

The LGBT community needs to wake up to these plays. Pinkwashing is never to the benefit of the LGBT community -- even if backtracks don't happen. As the Telstra example shows us, many corporations are only LGBT friendly until they see or feel like it will hurt their bottom line.

What's the upshot of this though? If corporations now value the pink dollar, then we have power. This means that if the LGBT community, its allies and ethical consumers use their money wisely and boycott organisations such as Telstra, they may shift their position. Sure, they are citing the Catholic Church as one of their reasons for cooling on marriage equality, but the Church is old power. Social media and ethical consumption are fast gaining traction as new power.

Telstra's decision, while disappointing, is hardly unexpected. But hopefully it's a lesson to us to tread carefully around the pinkwashing and pink dollar-craving corporations, because all may not be as it seems.

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