Cover image: Lush Cosmetics 2017 Valentine’s Campaign

To some, marriage equality may mean the fight for queer rights is over. If a gay couple can get a mortgage together, there’s nothing left to fight for. Except maybe the capitalist system that has allowed gay rights to be a less about equality of gender and sexuality and claiming space but more about making a financial profit.

Pink washing was originally coined for Breast Cancer Action aiming to shine a light on companies that pretended to support the cause whilst making a profit from the individual’s illness.

In case of LGBTQIA, pink washing  has had a long history in both co-operations and politicians using LGBT friendly advertisement to their own benefit.

For example, LGBT+ rights are a big issue of discussion for political candidates, and most of the time they have to admit to being LGBT+ friendly because it sells their campaign, however, their words are louder than their actions. The fact that a political candidate would pretend to be pro LGBT+, just to gain the votes from that community is an act of pink washing.

The concept of pinkwashing is massively evident in Gay Pride, an annual LGBT+ celebration, which is now sponsored by companies such as Starbucks and banks such as Barclay’s. It is hard to believe such corporations have any real sympathy for Pride which historically started as a riot by the individual members of the community who fought for their freedom, should this really be sponsored by overly priced frappuccinos?



Pinkwashing effects the LGBTQIA community from within too. Because of the spurious advertisement of pro gay rights by the media, an unrealistic image of queer identity has been created. For example most of the bodies used in the advertisement in mainstream media, often tend to represent bodies that measure up to society’s ideals: white, cisgendered, able-bodied, slim, etc…

The video below is from Natwest bank, featuring a lesbian couple to advertise the inclusivity of their system:

However, analysing the video, the couple fit into the categories mentioned above, and in no way do they reflect queer people that one is likely to actually come across. Beside this advert, mainstream media in general, fails to portray realistic or even self-defining LGBT+ bodies.


Lush Cosmetics 2017 Valentine’s Campaign

In most films also, LGBT+ roles are given to straight actors instead. Gay actor, Daniel Franzese famously known for his role as Damian in Mean Girls, failed to find another acting job after that movie because of his previous stereotypically flamboyant character. Which shows that non-marginalised groups can easily take the roles of the marginalised in films if they fit the right stereotype. However, It is arguable that pinkwashing works in favour of most white cis-gender men, because they are the most represented in the pink-washed imagery. In the case of Franzese because he did not have the stereotypical slim and muscular body for a gay character therefore not the right fit for gay roles, but also “too gay” for straight roles.

The mainstream pink washing process erases bodies of colour massively too. There is a fear against showing intimacies between two people of colour who are queer. It is still radical to portray an interracial straight/gay couple. This moves onto creating an illusion that queer bodies of colour don’t exist, or if they do the intimacies between them are a myth. There is very small and unrecognisable evidence of these realities in the mainstream media too, the only example that comes to mind may be “Set It Off” a film featuring a lesbian love story starring lesbian actress Queen Latifah.

In a way, pinkwashing proves that it is ok to be gay in society, but only if you submit to the norms, and be silently queer. It aims to paint over those of us who choose not to submit to the mainstream idea of gayness. It generally erases the queer identity, because queerness is about not conforming to these norms.

Words by Katy Jalili.

You may also be interested in:

More on pinkwashing: