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Taking stock of 'Rainbow Capitalism'

James Dawson
Delaware Public Media

June is Pride month, and its growing influence can be seen in easy to purchase outfits and novelties that celebrate gender and sexuality.

But do these purchases do more than display support?  Do they boost the LGBTQ+ community economically?

Delaware Public Media’s Delaware Community Foundation journalism intern Kayla Williams looks for answers to these questions.

Pride month celebrates the LGBTQIA community and the historic accomplishments of those who were a part of the fight for equal rights. 


And as it has grown over the years, it’s become apparent that companies see an opportunity to capitalize on it and reach the LGBTQ+ community. 


Some call it “rainbow capitalism.” But Pascha Bueno-Hansen - a sexuality and genders studies professor at the University of Delaware - says that name comes with some baggage. 


“So rainbow capitalism, I understand that to be a critique. A critique that has emerged somewhat recently and that is now circulating broadly and it’s a critique in which the movement around LGBT and pride has become mainstreamed and now become a market.” Pascha Bueno-Hansen said.


Bueno-Hansen explains that rainbow capitalism can minimize the struggles that those in the LGBTQ+ community have gone through.  


“So then what does it mean to  be part of Pride, well just buy a t-shirt from Target and you’re a part of pride. So it erases the significance of the histories of struggle and there’s no sense of a connection with an intergenerational legacy of struggle. It focuses on an individual who has consumer power and can buy rainbow suspenders and be happy and run around with their friends. And doesn’t get at the deeper concerns of the legacy of movement.” Bueno-Hansen said.


And Bueno-Hansen argues the limits of who  can be a part of this movement. 


“Usually people in the upper middle class and very much emphasis on this default white subject, and also cis and able bodied. All of these levels of privilege layered onto this default individual person who is buying suspenders at Target. What it does is it detaches the smaller privilege group from the depth of struggle that so many LGBTQ+ people struggle with  everyday.  People who aren't going to go to Target to buy stuff, people who are struggling with housing and food insecurity… There's an enormous body of people getting erased from the picture because of this very narrow focus and that is the critique of rainbow capitalism.” Bueno-Hansen said.     


When companies are only targeting a certain demographic of the LGBTQ+ community, this pushes other communities within the LGBTQ+ community into the shadows. Bueno-Hansen is not the only one who recognizes this.


Morgan Miles is an LGBTQ+ small business owner who owns an Apothecary shop, Lunar Harvest, and hopes to eventually open her own clinic.   


“I do think that when it comes to those who are disabled they are completely left out of the equation” Morgan Miles said.


Lovely Lacey is a local member of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for  queer small businesses. 


“A little icky to see some of it because it’s not always inclusive for Black and indigenous communities” Lovely Lacey said. 


Overcoming these issues requires an understanding of how   capitalism works. Capitalism is set up to cater to the individual, creating an environment where people are inclined to put self-interest first. 


“That trend is the exact opposite of coming together and understanding a collective need and coming into coalition with people who are different  and learning their stories but standing up and showing up for the struggles that might not affect you personally but are connected to everybodies ability to thrive in this world. That is another really important piece to identify and break out of this selfish  individualistic mentality.” Bueno-Hansen said.


Morgan Miles suggest one way to do that is find and support community and local queer businesses. 


“I think putting your money towards small queer owned businesses is the best route of action because you know that money is going into someones pocket who needs it a lot more and is making people aware of queerness just by being themselves. And that’s why I think small businesses are important because you are serving the communities around you. Keeping a mostly local to and providing for your community could allow a conscious mindset.” Miles said.


Lovely Lacey advises people to check small Black or Indigenous LGBTQ+ to see if they can provide the goods or services, instead of going straight to a corporation.


“By you participating in more consuming, can change the actual material conditions of a Black or Indigenous queer person if you make the steps and take the steps to support and buy from Black and indigenous queer businesses. And that's way more impactful to the community and people around you and to your community and people around you. Than buying from corporations that do not affect change in Black and Indegenous queer communities. Which to me are the people who need the support if you’re going to be an ally or step up to the plate to be chosen as an ally you should be taking those steps.” Lacey said.


The trick is finding small LGBTQ businesses to support.


The most recent data from the LGBT Chamber of Commerce showed in 2016 909 businesses were  officially certified as LGBT Business Enterprises. That’s a U.S. business that’s at least 51% owned, operated, managed, and controlled by an LGBT person or persons. Morgan Miles says it’s worth the effort to seek out those   LGBTQ small businesses and help them prosper.


“Put your money where you want the world to go. Put your money into investing for the future of your community. Why not make the decision to help those around you thrive. As opposed to someone you will never meet or fully understand at that level.” Miles said.

This article was produced with support of a grant from the Delaware Community Foundation. For more information, visit

Editor's note:

This summer, Delaware Public Media is excited to join the Delaware Community Foundation and other First State media outlets in launching a new journalism internship program this summer.

Like any internship, this one hopes to find aspiring journalists and build their skills to develop the next generation of reporters covering the First State – continuing the work we already do with high school students at McKean and Mount Pleasant High School and with students at the Univ. of Delaware and Delaware State University.

But this paid internship goes further. It seeks to focus young journalists of color to help Delaware newsrooms increase their diversity – a goal many newsrooms across the nation – including ours – have committed to prioritize.

Credit Kayla Williams / Delaware Community Foundation
Delaware Community Foundation
Kayla Williams

It also seeks to have these emerging journalists help newsrooms like ours increase coverage of underserved communities such as Black, brown and indigenous communities, as well as immigrant/non-English-speaking communities.  Not only are these communities traditionally underserved – they have also been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  And much of the reporting done by these interns will focus on underserved communities.

Delaware Public Media is excited to welcome Kayla Williams,  a recent University of Delaware’s media communications grad from Bear,  to our newsroom this summer.  Kayla has appeared on Delaware Public Media before. She was one of the UD students we featured in February as we highlighted students there covering the pandemic.  We hope to continue to support Kayla as she pursues a career in journalism, while bringing our audience the stories she adds to Delaware Public Media's coverage of the First State.

Kayla Williams is Delaware Public Media's 2021 Delaware Community Foundation Journalism intern. She is a recent University of Delaware Media Communications graduate from Bear.
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