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Rainbow-washing is all the rage among the big corporations this month

Scrolling through your social media feeds, you're likely spotting more and more rainbow avatars as everyone celebrates Pride Month. Some change their avatars to signal they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, others to show their love and support. And then others — read: massive corporations that often have a history of discriminatory policies or affiliations with anti-LGBTQ+ politicians — try to use the rainbow flag as a Band-Aid to cover up all their insidious behavior during the rest of the year. There's a word for this: rainbow-washing.

At its best, rainbow-washing is an entirely calorie-free form of allyship. It's when the most someone can muster to show support to the LGBTQ+ community is changing their avatar to a rainbow flag or putting a Pride Month filter over their profile picture. At its worst, rainbow-washing is an attempt to distract or conceal homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic behaviors. It's not just failing to meaningfully support the LGBTQ+ community, but going so far as to cover up ongoing harm being done to LGBTQ+ people.

Rainbow-washing might be easiest to understand with a practical example — and don't worry, there are plenty to choose from. Take CVS Health, the largest pharmacy chain in the country. The multi-billion dollar corporation has changed its avatars across its corporate accounts to display the inclusive LGBTQ+ Pride flag, and it's made a couple shows of support for the community, including signing onto the Human Rights Campaign's statement opposing anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country.

Both of those actions are nominal shows of support for the LGBTQ+ community, but they cost the company nothing. Look at where CVS Health puts its money, and you'll get a much different picture. According to Popular Information, a publication dedicated to accountability journalism, CVS Health has given $259,000 since 2019 to members of Congress who have received a score of zero on the Human Rights Campaign's congressional scorecard, which rates politicians on their support of laws that would help achieve equality and protections for the LGBTQ+ community. That includes giving thousands of dollars to politicians who have supported, co-sponsored, or proposed anti-trans laws. In Texas, CVS Health gave to the co-sponsors of a state bill that would make it illegal for parents to allow their children to receive gender-affirming medical care. In North Carolina, the pharmacy chain put cash in the coffers of the primary sponsor behind a bill that would ban anyone under 21 from receiving gender-affirming care. Suddenly, that rainbow avatar on the CVS Health Twitter account feels a little less genuine.

While CVS Health is one of the more egregious examples, it is far from alone. Popular Information looked at 25 corporations that have changed their public avatars to include the Pride flag and found that they have collectively given more than $10 million in the last two years to politicians who have been involved in crafting or voting for legislation that would hurt the LGBTQ+ community. Companies like Comcast, AT&T, Walmart, and General Motors are among those who have given tens of thousands of dollars to politicians who sponsored anti-trans legislation. And while these companies may try to wash their hands of those political donations by claiming it isn't a sign of support of those specific policies, it is hard to separate the money from the actions of those who received it.

These corporations have plenty of company in taking this approach. Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) has spent Pride Month highlighting how corporations that are major backers of Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators have tried to drape themselves in the rainbow Pride flag. Jayapal called out Walmart for $150,000 in donations and Wells Fargo for $69,000 in donations to McConnell and other GOP senators. She also called out American Airlines for giving $46,617 to McConnell's re-election efforts. All of these generous political contributions came while McConnell and Senate Republicans are actively trying to block the Equality Act, a bill that would expand the Civil Rights Act to include protections that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a host of environments, including housing, employment, and education.

The Equality Act, which passed in the House, is currently waiting for a vote in the Senate, where Republicans could once again decide to kill it. Perhaps corporations that have draped themselves in the Pride flag could use their massive amounts of political influence and deep pockets to make sure the bill actually gets passed — or maybe they simply don't care nearly as much as their rainbow avatar would have you believe.

Most of the time, when a corporation signals its support for a cause, it's worth being skeptical. Surface-level support for something like Pride Month is an attempt to capitalize off the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, to signal that it's safe to spend your money in these places. A better indicator of where these corporations stand can be found in where they spend their money, which politicians they support, and what laws those politicians push for.

These corporations give to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians for the same reason that they don the Pride flag during Pride Month: to make more money. Lobbying politicians, regardless of what they believe in, helps do that. Pandering to communities with buying power helps do that. Until they actually put their money where their mouths are and take a stand for the community they not only claim to support but also likely employ, it should be clear that the only thing these corporations take pride in is their bottom line.