Is My Mouthwash Gay?

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Words || Shivani Srivastava

On the 28th of June 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, New York, members of the LGBTQ+ community took a stand against the invasive and oppressive practices of the police in what is better known as the ‘Stonewall Riots.’ Members of the LGBTQ+ community retaliated against frequent bar raids and discriminatory laws where homosexuality was still considered a crime and dressing in drag or wearing less than two or three pieces of their ‘gendered’ clothing was illegal. 

Riots ensued for six days on the streets outside as patrons and Stonewall residents clashed with law enforcement. The Stonewall Riots are largely credited as being the catalyst that paved the way for the gay rights movement in the US and around the world. A year later, these riots were commemorated, gay pride was coined in 1970 and the Rainbow Flag made its first appearance in 1978. Pride Month and Pride Parades are becoming more prevalent than ever. 

While we have made significant, albeit much delayed, strides for equality in the past few years we still have a lot of work to do. One such change that has been evident over the years is the heavy involvement of corporations during Pride Month. Corporations are jumping on the gay bandwagon more than ever before with this June commemorating Stonewall after 50 years. This year we saw a new range of rainbow products, Nike realised it’s ‘Be True’ sneaker, Burger King with their ‘Pride Whopper’—and, is it really Pride Month unless Twitter recolours its logo to the iconic rainbow? While the emergence of the corporate ally brings recognition to the movement, whether these acts result in benefitting the LGBTQ+ community is not so straightforward. 

These visages of acceptance we see once a month every year doubles as a corporate fishing line to reel in the LGBTQ market. While some marketing on behalf of the corporation may be a genuine social message for change, it is no secret that corporations may benefit from riding the wave during Pride Month. 

Does my mouthwash support gay rights? Good question, Listerine upgraded its iconic mouthwash container with the rainbow ensemble this year. Even the Trump campaign took time from their day, tirelessly banning transgender military and rolling back protections for LGBT people to release a new line of ‘Make America Great Again’ pride hats. 

While the Trump campaign’s hypocrisy is almost insultingly obvious, the hypocrisy hidden within other corporations are comparatively more difficult to gauge. While Gay Listerine may sound like a new Katy Perry album, it turns out that your boy Listerine’s parent company Johnson & Johnson has previously donated generously to American politicians that have consistently voted against LGBTQ+ equality legislation. Progressive Shopper releases annual reports analysing the LGBT friendly policies within corporations with their donations to anti-LGBT politicians given a zero rating by the Human Rights Commission. The report found that many companies, such as AT&T, who have a history of donating generously to the Pride celebrations, have also simultaneously donated 2.7 million to anti-LGBT politicians. 

This issue is not restricted to just 2019. In 2017, the Pittsburgh Equality Parade was renamed and sponsored as the ‘EQT Equality March.’  Equitable Gas, or EQT, for those who don’t know, dabble in fracking and have also been tied with donations to various anti-LGBT politicians. This decision received backlash, prompting many LGBTQ groups to abstain from participating in the parade or forming their own alternate grassroots parades. 

While some companies are blatantly contradicting themselves and are receiving profits from either side of the divide, there are many companies that donate their profits to worthwhile LGBT charities. One such example is the LGBT sandwich released by Marks and Spencer this year, featuring (L)ettuce, (G)uacamole, (B)acon and (T)omato — the LGBT rights our predecessors have been fighting for. While the product did receive some backlash for trivialising the plight of the LGBT community, a percentage of profits were donated to charities supporting LGBT youth. What about these corporations that slap on a rainbow, donate to an LGBT charity and don’t contradict their actions — is there a place for them in our Pride celebrations? There is no consensus, and the involvement of these corporate allies in Pride celebrations has been a topic of contention, especially as their presence grows each and every year. Some members of the LGBT community consider corporate involvement as a tokenistic gesture that is more concerned with the commercialisation of the LGBT market rather than achieving social cohesion. On the other hand, the prominence of LGBT representation, whether it is in your Gillette ads or your gay mouthwash, normalises concepts such as sexual equality. While we may complain about the commercialisation of Pride in the cosmopolitan city of Sydney, an LGBT identifying child somewhere else in the world may benefit from seeing their favourite chocolate wrapper sporting a rainbow flag. 

The issue is a complicated one and there may be corporations that do benefit from catering to the LGBT market yet still donate and support the cause. There are however, predatory corporations that will profit from LGBT discrimination, these are corporations that may further alienate people within the LGBTQ+ community, discriminating based on race or gender. Pride is a celebration but above all, a commemoration to what happened in Stonewall and to many of the members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies who have fought and struggled for us to be in the position we are today. It is important it does not just become a bumper sticker for all the hardships faced by the LGBTQ+ community throughout history and still today. Pride is only getting bigger and bigger and yeah, maybe you can have your Pride Whopper and eat it too.