Pink Washing and Homonationalism: Commute friendly version
Queer is trendy, rainbows sell. “We’re not homophobic, look at our pride logo fiercely displayed for the whole month of June!” That’s pinkwashing in a nutshell. For homonationalism, it gets slightly more complicated. Picture pinkwashing, and make it bigger. Way bigger. Nation sized. A lovely mix of pinkwashing and nationalism to justify national actions, or hide some state practices. Does that make it clearer? If not, it’s okay, I'll get into more details below.
If they are two very different concepts, pinkwashing and homonationalism have one crucial thing in common: the pseudo conditional acceptance of queer individuals set up for a wider, directly opposed cause. Today we’re going to try to analyze both of them, their nuances and consequences.
Warning: In this article, I’m going to simplify rather complicated concepts. Even if I’m trying my best, some nuance will inevitably be lost in translation. That’s why I invite you to go read some more on the subject, if I haven’t lost you before the end of this article. Wait till the end of it, and you’ll find a bunch of reading and even some videos and podcasts!
Pinkwashing was created by the Breast Cancer Action, an organization raising awareness on breast cancer through a social and environmental justice lens. They pointed out the practices of some brands that would use the color pink and pink ribbons to show their involvement in the fight against breast cancer while still using chemicals linked to cancer in their products.
The term progressively came to use for the same meaning but translated to LGBTQI+ issues. With the rise of marketing and communication targeting gay individuals in the ‘80s, people started to analyze this shift, and what was behind it.
Some extra rainbow in your $9.99 hamburger sir?
Every year around pride, it’s time for brands to demonstrate their progressiveness. Besides the usual pride ribbon on Instagram and Twitter logos, we’re flooded with new marketing campaigns. But how is that bad, you would say? It’s giving us visibility, room in the public space, acceptance through an aggressive rainbow blast! Well yes, but what does this hide?
The vacuity of pride marketing
When in front of a queer advertisement from a corporate brand, you must ask yourself a couple of questions. Get your deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, we’re on for a new game: Is it pinkwashing? Spoiler alert, the answer will probably be yes. But let’s list the reasons why, and give some examples.
First off, let’s see if it’s only a marketing strategy: a way to gain and keep customers without any action behind. Brands like Levi’s, although they are borderline pinkwashing, save the day with their annual donation to OutRight Action International. Nothing crazy, but a way to show they don’t only have marketing in mind and can make a positive impact.
Secondly, let’s take a look at their internal policies. Are their hiring policies inclusive? Do they hire queer individuals behind and in the spotlight of their marketing campaigns? Most of the time, the answer will be no. We all remember the 2019 Calvin Klein campaign where Bella Hadid, a straight model, was kissing Lil Maqela, the CGI influencer. Lesbian representation at its finest right?
Finally, examine the company policies. They wouldn’t donate millions of dollars to anti-gay politicians and organizations, right? …Right? In 2020, companies like AT&T, Pfizer, and Home Depot, which all proudly showcased their rainbow stripes in June, gave around $1 million or more each to anti-gay politicians. We couldn’t dream of a more blatant pinkwashing case study!
Polluting the discourse: one pride icecream away from queer liberation
But the deception of these advertisements and corporate engagement is not the only problem. In fact, it has terrible consequences in the long run regarding LGBTQI+ rights.
First of all, most of this marketing is only representing limited identities. Besides homosexuality–usually cis, male and white–not much is portrayed. As usual, bisexuality, transidentity, or non-binarity are absent from those campaigns, and thus from representation. This perpetuates the invisibilization of those identities and the idea that queer identities are limited to homosexuality.
Even worse, corporate activism prevents radical queer voices to be heard, monopolizing the debate with their normalization of LGBTQI+ identities which leads to their depoliticization. It gives a false idea that equality has been achieved, that LGBTQI+ individuals have the same rights, or at least a sufficient amount of rights, for them to keep quiet and be nice docile consumers. Moreover, it makes a clear separation between the bad and the good queers: the ones that deserve representation and the ones that do not, the latter often meaning queer people of color, disabled queers, and all of those that do not fit the corporate standard.
Exploitation, yaaaaas! But make it glitter
And that’s not it! There is one more deeply problematic thing with pinkwashing, it’s the methods of production behind those nice, rainbow products. If your products are produced in sweatshops, are they truly progressive? The answer seems obvious. Yet it’s the case for most brands in this capitalist system of production, and the consequences of that system are terrible, and in no way empowering. Those Nike pride shoes or Primark rainbow t-shirts were made in horrible conditions by women paid pennies, where they suffer from the health consequences of working for long hours with harmful chemicals.
The hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. Pride collections are often made in countries with heavy anti-LGBTQIA legislation, all for profit. To name a few, the H&M PRIDE line of clothes was made in Bangladesh and China, and Primark’s one in Myanmar.
As we’ve seen above, pinkwashing is a way for corporations to gain queer customers without changing any of their internal policies or even truly caring for their rights. Its impact is even worse for marginalized queer individuals, specifically people of color and disabled LGBTQI+ people. It perpetuates exploitation in poorer countries, and occupies the public discourse, silencing queer claims for rights. While this functions at a corporate scale, a variation of pinkwashing plays at an even larger one: homonationalism.
Homonationalism in use: from wars on terror to the legitimation of Israel
Homonationalism is a term coined by Jasbir Puar in her 2007 work “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times”. The concept develops the idea that North America claims sexual exceptionalism (understand a certain tolerance of homosexuality) making them an example of equality and development. This tolerance supposedly gives them superiority over other countries (understand non-western countries) and thus legitimacy in the actions they undertake.
Homonationalism also describes the process of how queerness is associated with whiteness, and how this queerness is only accepted when it comes from liberal white and wealthy individuals. It gives priority to certain struggles, here LGBTQI+ ones, at the expense of others (anti-racist, anti-colonial, or anti-militarist).
To put it simply, homonationalism is a political strategy that uses LGBTQI+ rights to justify political and military actions that are harmful and deadly.
We’re not the bad guys, they are: Justification tools for post 9/11 wars
Homonationalism is excessively used by the US for imperialist-militarist purposes. After 9/11, once George W. Bush's started the war on terror against the “axis of evil”, LGBTQI+ rights were used to reinforce the binary US=good/Arab countries=bad. The relative acceptance of the US regarding queer people was highlighted and inflated, set against the demonization of those countries through the accentuation of their persecutions towards LGBTQI+ individuals.
We can take the example of Iran, a country continuously vilified by the US. After Ayaz Marhouni and Mohamad Asgari were executed in 2005, supposedly because of their homosexuality, the pictures of their hanging were seen all across US newspapers. The American commentator Andrew Sullivan posted photos of the execution on his blog, under the headline "Islamists vs. gays." For him, hangings were one reason why homosexuals should support U.S. military action in the Middle East. He even cites the testimony of a young gay soldier, who explains that these executions had encouraged him in his choice to join the army.
The unverified events were used to justify US military actions. Using LGBTQI+ rights as an argument, US bombs are legitimized. The forgotten ones in this equation seem to be the civilians of those countries, especially the LGBTQI+ ones. Their queerness does not protect them from the bombs.
Open borders, closed minds
LGBTQI+ rights are also used to pursue xenophobic and racist policies, especially in Western Europe. Progressively, some far-right parties have been incorporating those themes into their campaign, hoping to seduce a fringe of the LGBTQI+ voters.
During the French presidential campaigns in France, the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, appointed two openly gay advisors: Florian Philippot and Sébastien Chenu. Distancing herself from her father who declared on primetime TV in 1984 that homosexuality was a “biological and social anomaly”, Marine Le Pen elaborates a pervert strategy. She wants to appeal to gay men voters by threatening them with her racist and islamophobic rhetoric. Crafting a “Muslim menace”, she argues that immigration will threaten LGBTQI+ rights. The party enforces the vision that the immigrants are all straight and queerphobic, and France needs to protect itself by enforcing anti-immigration policies to save its citizens’ rights.
Marine Le Pen is not a standalone case, as many other politicians across the West use the same rhetoric. Donald Trump used it strategically after the Orlando Shooting and Germany's Far-Right party AfD even elected Alice Weidel, openly lesbian, as one of their leaders in 2017. This LGBTQI+ conservatism - or, let’s say it, fascism - is a dangerous threat to modern-day politics as they put minority lives in danger. It helps the normalization of far-right positions, a real danger in the current political climate.
Support us, we’re the safe haven: Queering Israel
As the last example, let’s take a look at Israel, a textbook case for homonationalism. Indeed, Israel has been using LGBTQI+ individuals for decades to restore its image and justify its actions. Similar to the political strategies analyzed above, Israel uses LGBTQI+ rights to portray itself as the good guy, while Palestine would be the bad guy.
Palestinian activists have been trying for years to raise awareness of Israel’s process to vilify Palestine through LGBTQI+ rights, yet its pinkwashing works. Portraying itself as the number one queer-friendly vacation destination for queer people, Israel improves its international image and draws sympathy and support to itself.
Israel’s homonationalism also leads young LGBTQI+ Israelis to feel more prone to defend their country, exalting their nationalism through the threat of their rights. Yet Israel, besides its Tel Avivian bubble, is far from being an example of tolerance towards LGBTQI+ individuals. And even within the city, the community acceptance of Palestinian queers is fairly limited. Israel's apparent tolerance regarding LGBTQI+ people is nothing but a facade to hide its violations of human rights and international law.
So what do we do now?
Hopefully, this is all a bit clearer in your head now. If so, you may wonder what can be done to avoid pinkwashing and stop homonationalism. I wish I had an answer, but I can at least try to give a few options. First, as for everything, it is important to document yourself and share information on the topic around you. The more people know about it, the less those strategies will work. Then, boycotting can play a big role to demand from brands (and even states, see BDS for Israel) real actions and not just marketing. It is important to support organizations struggling against pinkwashing and amplify their voices. In the meantime, I invite you to look at some of the resources below to keep scratching the rainbow paint off of the systemic discrimination walls.
- Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Jasbir K. Puar
- Pinkwashed: How Gays Sold Queer Liberation, Shon Faye
- Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, Sarah Schulman
Some Youtube videos:
- Gay Pride & Capitalism: What is Pinkwashing? - Novara Media
- Pinkwashing: Are Brands Cashing in on LGBTQ+ Pride? - Rowan Ellis
- What is homonationalism - Novara Media
And some podcasts!
- Anti-fascism and MQFF pinkwashing Israeli apartheid - Queering the air
- Queer Progress: From Homophobia To Homonationalism - Rainbow Country
- ‘Woke’ Capital: Pinkwashing Exploitation, Tom Perrett
- Nous n’existons pas pour nettoyer votre linge sale. Feu au pinkwashing !, LE CRAQ
- Pinkwashing: How Companies Profit off PRIDE, Joelle Mentis
- « Le terme de pinkwashing revêt une dimension négative, avec l’idée d’hypocrisie des marques », Cécile Bouanchaud
- Feminism 101: What is Pinkwashing?, Fem Newsmagazine
- The rise of pride marketing and the curse of ‘pink washing’, Stephan Dah
- Corporate Rainbow-washing vs Nation-state Pink-washing, Lucy Faber
- From Homoerotics of Exile to Homopolitics of Diaspora: Cyberspace, the War on Terror, and the Hypervisible Iranian Queer, Sima Shakhsari
- Unbearable witness: how Western activists (mis)recognize sexuality in Iran, Scott Long
- Is France’s far-right flirting with the gay vote?, Joseph Bamat
- ‘Pinkwashing’ populism: Gay voters embrace French far-right, Thomas Adamson
- Donald Trump utilise encore les gays contre l'immigration, Julie Baret
- ‘I’m a proud Israeli’: Homonationalism, belonging and the insecurity of the Jewish-Israeli body national, Moran M. Mandelbaum
- Pinkwashing: Israel’s International Strategy and Internal Agenda, Ghadir Shafie
- Pinkwashing, Homonationalism, and Israel–Palestine: The Conceits of Queer Theory and the Politics of the Ordinary, Jason Ritchie