When comparing the sort of sunny customer service one usually comes to expect in America with its often sullen, grunting counterpart in the UK, I’m generally of the opinion that I’d rather be told to “have a nice day” by someone who doesn’t mean it than to be told to piss off by someone who does.

And because I am old enough to remember when Pride was a protest against anti-gay legislation, institutionalised homophobia and police brutality, I tend to feel the same way about  what has come to be known as pink-washing or, during Pride month, rainbow-washing. Every Pride month, it’s impossible to avoid the rainbow-hued logos on corporate websites, on social feeds and in shop windows as businesses vie with each other to demonstrate how much they adore the gays. 

Tokenism.

Not every business is the same, and some support their LGBTQ+ employees and the community in general all year round, with rigorous equality and diversity policies which make a genuine, positive difference. But it also cannot be denied that many organisations rainbow themselves up to keep up with their competitors while doing very little else to support our communities.

It is this tokenism which annoys a lot of people. Naomi Bennett, head honcho of the streaming service Lesflicks, comments, “Just look at the products only being available for one month rather than all year. Look at how many are accompanied by charitable giving, campaigning or support. How many collaborate with a small LGBT owned organisation? A few get it right; the majority don’t.”

OutNewsGlobal reader Jerzy Pilch noted that many multinationals are selective in demonstrating their support, happy to flaunt the rainbow in more liberal territories while keeping their corporate mouths firmly zipped in countries where it might be bad for business. Jerzy drew our attention to the international Twitter accounts of the American video game company Bethesda. Take a look:

Not exactly putting their necks on the line for justice and equality, are they?

A really powerful message.

My OutNewsGlobal colleague Taz Thornton reckons that even if a company does little else other than raising the rainbow in Pride month, that in itself is a huge step in the right direction. 

Taz writes, “There seems to be a massive bandwagoning movement to slap any corporate supporting Pride month with the ‘rainbow washing’ label. Go back only a few years for a bit of perspective. Publicly supporting LGBTQ+ equality is HUGE.

“That rainbow banner stands as a really powerful message to all the right-wingers and homophobic shoppers, to those who use religion to excuse discrimination, to those who disown or don’t support their LGBTQ+ kids, and so on.

“For me, any major body making a huge statement that essentially says ‘it’s okay to be gay (or bi, trans, non-binary, queer etc)’ IS a benefit to the queer community”

Perhaps because of my age and memories of having my head kicked in on more than one occasion, I’m all for the normalisation of queer sexualities which, it has to be said, is in part achieved by the use of symbols, even when some of those who deploy those symbols do little else.

And the winner is…

However, symbolism can quite easily drift into tokenism and the leap between tokenism and hypocrisy is not always as wide as we might like. Which brings us to the OutNewsGlobal Award for Rainbow Washing which, this year goes to the overlords of European football, UEFA.

Yesterday, OutNewsGlobal reported that UEFA turned down an application from the Mayor of Munich who, with the support of the German national football team, had asked permission to light up the Allianz Arena, Munich’s stadium, in rainbow colours for last night’s match between Germany and Hungary. This show of support was prompted by the recent passing of anti-LGBT legislation in the Hungarian parliament and in response to homophobic banners having been displayed by Hungary fans during Euro 2020 in their previous matches against France and Portugal.

UEFA justified their decision by claiming that illuminating the stadium in rainbow colours was a political statement, which is forbidden under their regulations. They then proceeded to slap a rainbow on to their own logo, before issuing the following statement:

Today, UEFA is proud to wear the colours of the rainbow. 

It is a symbol that embodies our core values, promoting everything that we believe in – a more just and egalitarian society, tolerant of everyone, regardless of their background, belief, gender or sexual orientation.

Some people have interpreted UEFA’s decision to turn down the city of Munich’s request to illuminate the Munich stadium in rainbow colours for a EURO 2020 match as ‘political’. On the contrary, the request itself was political, linked to the Hungarian football team’s presence in the stadium for this evening’s match with Germany.

For UEFA, the rainbow is not a political symbol, but a sign of our firm commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society.

– UEFA

I have read and re-read these weasel words over and over again and I just don’t get it. What UEFA seems to be saying is that illuminating a stadium in rainbow colours is a political statement and therefore not permitted, but for UEFA themselves to paint their logo in rainbow colours is just fine and dandy and not at all political. I know, it’s hard to get your head around. What’s more, the accompanying statement talks of UEFA’s belief in “a just and egalitarian society” which is quite clearly A POLITICAL STATEMENT.

So, well done UEFA. You are the clear winners of the Rainbow Washing Award, 2021 and an imaginary trophy is on its way to you in the imaginary post today.


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