LGBTQ politics are inherently revolutionary. The community hasn’t had a choice. When you’re up against an oppressive system that doesn’t want you to exist, you’re obliged to become a radical. Sure, your emotional, social, economic, and temperamental barometer might be set to “conservative.” In a different life, who knows? But it this world, where heteronormativity reigns, LGBTQ Americans are forced to stand against the grain.
So it’s a bit strange to see the LGBTQ community embrace the Corporate Rainbow. What’s the Corporate Rainbow? Look around at the next Pride, and you’ll see. Companies have embraced the cause of liberation. At least, on the surface. But have they really?
In 2017, the Human Rights Campaign gave Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos their National Equality Award. The HRC praised Bezos’ support of same-sex marriage. And I’m glad he got the prize.
It’s appropriate: Bezos and the HRC are themselves a perfect marriage. Bezos is the ultimate corporate overlord, and HRC is the ultimate corporate charity. There’s a reason they’ve been called “Gay, Inc.”
Caryn Riswold, a writer for Patheos, attacked HRC for being run by rich white men. Riswold explained how HRC has historically soft-peddled trans rights, ignored POC organizations, fawned over billionaires, and pushed a version of equality “for those who can afford it.” “HRC,” wrote Riswold, “essentially co-opted the possibility of a radical queer social movement and turned it into a mainstream machine for maintaining the status quo.”
The Corporate Rainbow played a large role in this. And for good reason. In the Stonewall era, LGBTQ culture was thought of as seedy. But soon, business realized the LGBTQ buying power that Madison Avenue had ignored for decades. Yet as The Advocate pointed out two years ago, LGBTQ Americans are more likely to be poor than privileged. Mainstream images of glossy gay luxury are just that — images. That particular cultural stereotype — what’s been called “the myth of gay affluence” — comes from media portrayals during the ’90s, when lesbian and gay characters were more or less universally portrayed as high-living yuppies.
If these companies really cared, they’d treat LGBTQ people as more than unicorns with pocket money.
A June article in Mic noted that LGBTQ Americans are “disproportionately food insecure.” A significant portion of the community lacks the funds to adequately feed themselves or their families. An estimated 2.2 million people, or 27% of LGBTQ adults, went through a period of food insecurity in 2016. The average rate for the rest of the hetero population was 17%. One in four LGBTQ grownups is on food stamps.
There’s more. A fifth of LGBTQ adults report mistreatment at the hand of their employer. LGBTQ adults are forced to apply for many more jobs than straight people. On average, bisexual and gay men earn an estimated 11% less than their equivalent heterosexual competitors.
The same inequality that leads to LGBTQ suffering makes Bezos excessively wealthy. Through our taxes, the American public is forced to subsidize him. His workers depend on food stamps, Medicaid, and federally funded housing. Without us, Bezos couldn’t underpay his workers: They simply would drop dead. This is the man that HRC wanted to give an equality award to — a man who makes as much in ten seconds as his average employee makes in a year.
Here’s the deal. Equality means equality. You cannot pretend to advocate for LGBTQ equality on one front only. You cannot say you are for LGBTQ equality and not stand with poor LGBTQ people. Social equality is economic equality too. Indeed, equality is meaningless without food. And unless it also applies to the workplace, equality is useless.
In fact, economic disparity is the bedrock on which most other inequality is established. You cannot be for same-sex marriage and then turn around and let a real estate broker refuse to sell a gay couple a house. That’s not how justice works. A supposed civil rights organization supports a man who pays poverty wages. That contradiction is at the heart of the Corporate Rainbow. The one thing that HRC cannot actually award, and Bezos cannot actively sell, is real equality. The community must make that for itself.