What is ‘rainbow-washing’? How to tell if it’s happening to you

Putting up a rainbow once a year isn’t good allyship, it’s performative


Every single June without fail, rainbow-washing takes place. It happens when our subtly homophobic straight cis-gendered friends tell us they’re going to Pride, the government bring out some sort of rainbow coloured advert and brands start slapping the LBGTQ+ flag on everything. It’s so exhausting.

The flag which symbolises the history of our community has been exhausted and made into a generic symbol of fake allyship. Companies throw a rainbow flag onto their logo or one of their products and call themselves “allies”, but they remain silent on the issues which that flag represents to our community. The rainbow symbol is more than being an advocate for “love is love”, it’s a symbol for addressing the history of struggle and oppression our community faces.

What is rainbow-washing?

‘Rainbow-washing’ is basically when our slightly homophobic friends, the government and businesses to slap on a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and not actively work to support LGBTQ+ communities. It’s a performative act of allyship and it is not what a good ally looks like.

As part of The Tab’s Pride series, we want to uncover the full extent of discrimination at unis, based on someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

Take our short, confidential homophobia on campus survey now and help us uncover the scale of the problem at unis.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by matt bernstein (@mattxiv)

Justice Audre defined rainbow-washing as allowing “people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June.”

How can I tell if rainbow-washing is happening to me?

Being an ally is like being someone’s wingman – if you make it all about you then you’re doing it wrong.

Rainbow-washing can happen anywhere.

When your university Students’ Union plasters pride flag across the SU bar, it might be exciting at first. But is that going to actively stop the homophobia LGBTQ+ students face on campus? Or does it mean that the university is going to do anything to address the hate crimes and homophobia which takes place against their queer students? No it doesn’t.

And your straight, cis-gendered friend who still says “that’s so gay” but wants to go to Pride for a party? Tell them not to bother if they’re choosing to avoid learning about why they’re subtle homophobia or transphobia is an issue. They need to educate themselves on the issues our community faces, it’s time to start calling out this behaviour.

Businesses need to stop profiting off our flag – placing it on one of their products educates and challenges no one. The history and symbol of queer people isn’t something you can sell. Start donating to charities, hire queer people to work for you. Use your platform to address real queer issues and energetically express your allyship.

The rainbow-washing of queer culture, particularly by the heterosexual community, is dangerous. Especially when it comes without any meaningful support for the queer community.

The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through The Mix

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

Read more from The Tab’s Pride series:

‘Nobody who matters cares’: LGBTQ+ students on what they’d tell their younger selves

• ‘They tried to pray the gay away’: Growing up gay in a deeply religious household

• Here are 12 films, docs and series you need to watch to learn more about LGBTQ+ history

You can find all articles from The Tab’s Pride series here