I often thought my gravestone would say, ‘Here lies Gandalf. He came out.’
Rainbow Capitalism, also known as Pink Capitalism or Gay Capitalism, is used to describe the inclusion of queer commodities into industries or companies. (Queer is an umbrella term that is used to refer to a person who identifies with the LGBTQ+ Community) As the Queer Community is associated with the rainbow, these commodities could be anything from rainbow-coloured appliances and stationary, to clothing items and technology targeted specifically towards people identifying with the community – or to its allies. This Global Pink Economy is estimated to be worth around $4.6 trillion. As a country, it would have the 4th largest GDP in the world.
The way I see it, whether a company admits to indulging in this Rainbow Economy or not, they are prone to entertain this strategy in order to acquire a new consumer base. It is sad that a community of people has been reduced to an arc of six colours. This, however, helps bring in money for completely different individuals based on who the former identify as. One cannot deny this smart marketing strategy, especially at a time when the reading-down of 377 has increased the discussion about the Queer Community all over India.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was a law that, in lay terms, criminalised “unnatural sex” between two consenting individuals in private. While this included any kind of sex between a man and a women that would not lead to procreation, the people of the Queer Community were affected by this law, as well. It prevented a queer person from even reporting a rape for fear of being harassed, themselves. On the 6th of September, 2018, this law was amended through a unanimous decision of five judges in the Supreme Court. This decriminalised the aforementioned acts that could previously result in a person being fined or jailed. This landmark judgement has marked the end of an era of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It has also opened India’s Rainbow economy to newer opportunities.
The decriminalisation of this 158 year old law will significantly boost India’s $2.6 trillion economy. Keshav Suri, family of the owners of The Lalit chain of hotels says that this step helps the tourism industry to now advertise India as a queer-friendly nation. Despite this change, is India truly ready for queer people to openly be a part of its society?
In India, despite a change in laws, the change in society is still to come, it can be dangerous – in some cases – for people to come out of the closet. Whether it is in cities like Mumbai, or a small town in another part of the country, there are still a number of places where coming out of the closet can pose a threat to one’s life. In January 2018, Hornet Networks launched the LGBT Foundation which intends to use Blockchain Technology (in the form of a cryptocurrency, of sorts) in order to help queer individuals access resources without exposing themselves to danger – be it ostracisation or a threat to one’s life.
In an Instagram post by Sonam Kapoor earlier this month in support of the Queer Community, she received more negativity than support, with people judging her “character” as an ally, to people abusing her as they assumed that this post was her coming out of the closet. In a country like India where people have been living in denial about the existence of queer identity for decades now, despite Indian literature and ancient culture showcasing and accepting queerness, the community may tend to have more foes than friends. This results in fear forcing people to stay in the closet; the fear of receiving an equal education, the fear of getting a good job, the fear of receiving a fair wage; the fear of being treated differently. Despite the rush companies have towards capitalising the rainbow, are they really as supportive of their employees as they are in advertisements and posts?
Matt Skallerud, President of Pink Banana Media – a California-based company that specialises in targeting queer markets and individuals online – talks about the Queer Community being among the biggest contributors to technology. From apps like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, and DaddyHunt, to specific profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr that are dedicated to the community and its allies, this is one community that covers all forms of social media.
Considering the fact that the Queer Community is everywhere, a majority of companies try to target these audiences through campaigns and advertisements designed specifically for queer individuals that – through an algorithm – pop-up on said individual’s social media. Equality sells. Showing support sells. Activism sells. In an era where talking about the real you on social media takes the cake, companies use this to their advantage. Scroll through Instagram post the 6th of September 2018 – in India at least – and all the sponsored posts have some form of queerness incorporated into their advertising. From sponsored advertisements for games like Choices showing a gay date, to F&B companies like Keventers and Bingo! incorporating a rainbow into a post, to make-up brands like L’Oréal showcasing rainbow lips, and salons like BBlunt arranging their products in a rainbow, nearly every company and every industry is involved in Rainbow Capitalism of some form. Queer people and allies alike have been quick to incorporate this change to show support for the community with rainbow-coloured hair, brooches, stationary, and clothes.
The founder of the Godrej India Culture Lab, Parmesh Sahani, has spoken on numerous occasions about how Godrej accepted him as an openly-queer individual ever since the start of his career with them. Besides Godrej, other “ally companies” include Hindustan Unilever, Mahindra & Mahindra, Lupin Laboratories, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Wipro, McKinsey, and Hyatt.
While it is affirming that world-renowned companies are showing support for the LGBTQ Community, how far can companies go in order to invest in this ever-growing Pink Economy? More importantly, where does this movement leave openly-queer individuals in the country?
Scope for further reading