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This Pride Month, Don’t Believe the Brands Who Claim to Love the LGBT Community to Sell Rainbow Merch

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June is LGBT Pride month and what that means, in practical terms, is that we’re going to be inundated with ads and social media messages about how brands just love us gay people. And those brands are really hoping you don’t look at what cuts they make to their movies to get them distributed in China.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, being gay in the United States was basically illegal and if there’s one thing we know that the police like doing it’s harassing marginalized people. Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn was one of the few places gay people could be openly gay in New York City, mainly because it was run by the mafia who didn’t care that being gay was a crime as long as there was money to be made.

Eventually, the patrons got tired of the violent police raids on the bar and decided to fight back. This was particularly true of transvestite and transgender patrons since the police were mainly arresting anyone they decided to be male who was dressed as a woman. And when I say that people fought back, I mean they physically fought the police. And even more people showed up to protest the next night, and they got into fights with even more police officers.

This happened in late June of 1969 and became known as the Stonewall Riots, one of the precipitating events in the broader movement for LGBT acceptance. People just wanted to be free to be who they were and love who they loved without the police coming to arrest them at a mafia-owned bar. And that’s why we celebrate LGBT Pride month in June, we’re honoring the sacrifice and struggle those who came before us were forced to endure in order to simply be themselves with basically no support from society at large.

In the past few years, public sentiment towards the LGBT community has dramatically shifted. And when I say in the past few years, I mean in the past few years; in 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran against marriage equality in the Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders is basically the only nationally-known politician with any history of supporting the LGBT community before it was politically expedient to do so.

If you think politicians were reluctant to support gay rights, they have nothing on corporations.

There will be an endless parade of brands on social media proclaiming their support for LGBT equality this month and it’s important to realize that they do not mean a word of it.

For example, let’s look at Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the card game Magic: the Gathering. Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, is very vocal about how much they support diversity and have made a big point of making cards depicting LGBT characters and characters of all races. Hell, their employees take part in local Seattle-area Pride parades in t-shirts with rainbow versions of their “Planeswalker” logo.

Of course, how do you know a character in a card game is LGBT? You can’t really see that on a card, especially since characters aren’t generally depicted in romantic moments on cards to begin with; they’re pretty much shooting fireballs at each other or something.

Well, to find out that a character depicted on a card is LGBT, you have to read the supplemental material, which is usually short fiction on the Magic website. This fiction is conveniently not available in countries such as China and Russia, leaving the cards themselves as the only exposure those markets have to the characters.

Their stated reason is that it is illegal in those markets and so they’re blocking those ISP ranges from accessing their fiction rather than censoring their content to comply with those markets. But is that really the reason?

We’re not forced to block access to our website from places like China when we say things that would be illegal to say in China, like that Xi Jinping looks like Winnie the Pooh or that committing genocide against Uyghurs is bad. And having gay characters in fiction isn’t actually illegal in China, it’s just kind of unpopular.

This happened after a controversy where Chandra Nalaar, the closest thing Magic has to a main character, had a romantic subplot between her and another woman yanked at what seemed to be the climax with Chandra explicitly stated to not be interested in women romantically. This didn’t go over very well with the fan base, who wanted to blame author Greg Weisman for “going rogue” and putting that in a novel without their beloved Wizards of the Coast’s knowledge.

If you’re familiar with Greg Weisman, the creative force behind Gargoyles and Young Justice, you know that doesn’t sound right. And Weisman issued a statement that essentially said “don’t look at me, Wizards of the Coast insisted.” You see, all those diverse characters Wizards is so proud of are pretty minor characters. Badass lightning-slinging wizard Ral Zarek is married to another man, but he’s only occasionally part of the story.

Chandra Nalaar, on the other hand, is the face of the brand. The Netflix show based on the brand directed by the Russo brothers is centered on Chandra. It’s not a coincidence that a push into broader media centered around a character was accompanied by the company wanting to clarify that said character is straight and definitely not pansexual.

But, okay, Magic is kind of a niche product, it’s not like a big company would do something like this, would they? Okay, let’s look at Disney.

Disney has all sorts of rainbow-colored Disney merchandise you can buy. They also say that it’s part of their “ongoing commitment to organizations around the world that support LGBTQ+ communities.”

But you know and I know that they only mean the countries where it’s popular to support the LGBT community.

You may recall how Star Wars made a big deal about having “LGBT representation” in The Rise of Skywalker, but that amounted to two unnamed women in the background sharing a kiss. That kiss stayed in the Chinese cut because as I previously mentioned, it’s not illegal to depict gay people in fiction in China, but it was removed from the film in Singapore and Dubai, in the case of Singapore to avoid a higher age-rating on the film.

They could have left that in there in Singapore, since they touted it as being important LGBT representation before the movie released. The only thing they would have lost would have potentially lost would have been some ticket sales, and it would have been a powerful message about their commitment to LGBT representation. It still was a message about their commitment to LGBT representation, just not the one they say in public in the West.

And how about Marvel’s groundbreaking first gay character, some dude in a support group run by Captain America? He wasn’t so gay in the Russian dub of Avengers Endgame, what with Russia’s famously repressive views of homosexuality.

And what does Disney really think about the LGBT community? Do they really care? Not according to Disney exec Joel Hopkins, who claims Disney repeatedly passed him over for promotions and “put him on a dead-end career track” after learning his sexual orientation.

The companies that want to sell you rainbow merchandise and tell you how much they love the LGBT community really don’t care about the roy or the biv parts of that rainbow. They may be allegedly actively discriminating against their LGBT employees. It’s not just one or two companies that act like this, don’t trust any corporation to have your interests at heart because they will turn on you in a second if it becomes profitable to do so.

I know it seems nice that brands suddenly want to be a part of Pride after decades of barely acknowledging that gay people exist, but don’t let these companies turn Pride into an ad for their products. Remember that they were indifferent to the struggle when it counted, and they’re indifferent to the struggle of our brothers and sisters around the world going through their own struggles with repressive regimes right now. Just like the mafia in the 60s, supporting gay rights is only important when there’s money to be made from it, so don’t roll out the red carpet when they want to center themselves at Pride.

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