The Limit of The Pink Dollar

By Cameron Colwell

Queer people have come a long way: Where once the only public mentions of our identities in public discourse was in published police reports that didn’t even name our literally unspeakable crimes, publicly hating gay, bisexual, and trans people is now considered by many in polite society to be uncouth and archaic.

This to the point where the same companies that, say, thirty years ago, would’ve sacked us for who we are are now making it a part of their branding to push an accepting public persona.




Now, I’m not an ideological puritan, and I’m certainly not above getting a little warm tingle when I see things like the Campbell’s advertisement with the two fathers, and drinking from Yellowglen’s special rainbow champagne bottle, but I think it’s always important to remain critical of why corporations love to brand themselves as progressive when it comes to queer people: The Pink Dollar.

The Pink Dollar is what economists use to name LGBT buying power: That is, the profit that can be extracted from LGBT communities by targeting them through rainbows, same-sex representation in advertisements, and appearing in their pride parades. In 2014, Witeck Communications put a value of $884 billion dollars on LGBT buying power.

There is big money in making yourself out to love queer people.


While Australian figures are scarce on the issue, we watched the power of the pink dollar play out recently as The Gays and the Catholic church fought over Telstra, evoking the classic image of two kids pulling apart a thirty-something billion dollar teddy bear. Telstra withdrew support from a same-sex marriage campaign at the behest of Michael Digges, business manager of Sydney’s Archdiocese, who wrote to various corporations expressing grave concern over their role in debate about same-sex marriage rights. After public backlash, with many Twitterers threatening switching to another phone company, Tesltra changed its mind yesterday.

There’s something really cynical about the way that this move has been applauded. Why do we care whether or not companies like us? Is it a sign of some mass, infantile insecurity that can only be patched by the approval of our corporate overlords? Sure, it’s good for the employees of a company to know they’re in a supportive environment, but Telstra’s move is a sure sign that ultimately, corporations see miniorities with money as targets for marketing.


In my view, corporate backing of LGBT lives, often in the form of representative advertising, too often becomes a sort of weird validation-based project that obviously favours certain kinds of lives over others: The attractive, white, affluent, bland-sweater-wearing cisgender gay man who’s left his partying nights behind and is now content to spend his life in a nice suburb somewhere, drinking Absolut vodka and living life out with a monogamous partner. We can see this ‘ideal queer’ in shows like Modern Family, and while it may seem like an innocuos pop culture concept, it encourages the idea that the progression of queer rights starts and ends with the respectable ideal of ‘marriage equality’ – which is pretty far down on the list of priorities if you’re, for instance, a gay kid who’s been kicked out of his parent’s house and is unable to find adequate housing, or one of the many transgender people who are weighing the benefits of transitioning against the risk of loss of employment.

I think, more or less accidentally, I’ve touched on a real point of rupture in the current queer community, which is centred on the question, “Do we want to change society, or do we want society to change us so we may fit better into it?” This is a vexed and complicated issue, and I won’t speak for a many-peopled, heterogenous section of society.

What I do know is that if we continue to look for acceptance in corporations, we’re going to have to compromise every time: LGBT acceptance from companies should be an expectation, not a bonus.

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