Mardi Gras and Corporations: The Intersection I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Want

At 10pm on 24 June 1978, a crowd gathered in Taylor Square in Sydney, Australia to march towards Hyde Park. They chanted: “Out of the bars and into the streets”.

As they moved to Kings Cross, the police intervened by arresting 53 people and attacking many at Darlinghurst police station. This was the start of Mardi Gras: a political protest against Australia’s anti-homosexuality laws.

Today, Mardi Gras has become a celebration of those who don’t fit the norm. Under the cover of nightfall, those who identify as queer* let loose in ways that daylight and the judgement of others won’t allow. It’s a time for societal barriers to be pushed and challenged.

But while I love Mardi Gras and everything it stands for, I simply cannot shake the feeling that the event, and by extension the queer* community, has become another target of capitalist exploitation. “Pink-washing” is when a corporation presents themselves as queer*-friendly to appear tolerant and divert attention away from possible scandals — and Mardi Gras is slowly becoming another vehicle for pink-washing.

Suddenly, we’ve become ‘cool’, and supporting the queer* community is an easy way for corporations to seem modern and tolerant. They slap a rainbow sticker over their logo, throw around the words “diversity” and “inclusion”, and suddenly they’re ‘progressive’ and ‘forward-thinking’.

But corporations still refuse to go near queer* identities they view as contentious or not as ‘popular’, with most of their advertisements being catered towards cis-gay, white men. Advertising almost never gives representation to lesbians, possibly due to the perceived unpalatable lifestyle of women rejecting heterosexuality and traditional femininity. I’ve also never seen bisexuals and those who identify as transgender featured in mainstream advertising.

If corporations will only tiptoe near one letter of LGBT (an acronym which already fails to encompass the diversity of the queer* community), I can only imagine how they perceive the rest of the queer* community’s marketability. But do I actually want the queer* community to be marketable?

On one hand, I don’t support pink-washing, but I see the worth of advertisements advocating for and normalising queerness. Corporations can have a massive influence and the visibility of these campaigns raise awareness that — yes! — queer* people exist.

Another part of me hates these corporations for trying to profit off my existence, yet I would absolutely buy rainbow vodka (from Absolu Vodka) for the meme. Perhaps I’m so starved for representation that I’ll take it in any form.

Ultimately though, corporations too often portray the queer* people as part of a homogenous group, who love glitter and aren’t any different from other people — as if our final wish is to get married, have children and create a nuclear family. Such portrayals brush over the issues that members of the queer* community face, such as higher rates of suicide, the alarming number of homeless transgender youths, and the higher rates of poor mental health.

Corporations shouldn’t take advantage of the “pink dollar” during Mardi Gras by using rainbow effects in advertising campaigns and promotional material and claiming that they stand for queer* rights. Corporations can’t claim to be queer*-friendly just by having a GayTM (ANZ) or selling rainbow vodka. One night out of 365 is not enough — we need representation and support on every day of the year.

Perhaps I’m a little cynical, but I doubt most corporations truly care about the queer* community. They are far more interested in finding ways to make a profit by capitalising on certain aspects of our identities to show off their tolerance and progressiveness. Call me when a corporation changes its internal structure to be queer*-friendly and provides a more genuine portrayal of the queer* community. Maybe then I’ll change my tune.