Pinkwashing (LGBT)

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Pinkwashing is a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organization, country or government.[1] In the context of LGBT rights, it is used to describe a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant.[1] This phrase, in reference to LGBT rights, was coined by Sarah Schulman in an op-ed piece for The New York Times entitled "Israel and Pinkwashing". This term often gets confused with pinkwashing in relation to breast cancer, which describes a company's campaigning for breast cancer awareness while they contribute to the production of chemical carcinogens.


In 2013, the Human Rights Campaign officially endorsed comprehensive immigration reform and committed to helping immigrants as they seek health and safety, asylum or citizenship.[2] The endorsement came days after an incident where a gay immigrant activist was prevented by HRC from discussing their legal status at a Supreme Court rally, mistreatment for which HRC later issued an apology. The Huffington Post described the HRC's actions as pinkwashing, "making immigration reform look pro-gay to garner LGBT support in order to mask the severe drawbacks of the legislation" – drawbacks such as funding to support enforcement, deportation, and further US militarization.[3]

In 2012, Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was accused of pinkwashing after an email titled "LGBT Refugees from Iran" was sent to thousands of Canadians. The message contained additional recent comments by John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, about Canada's stand against the persecution and marginalization of gays and lesbian and women around the world. A group of activists claimed that it "is a poor attempt at 'pinkwashing' the Conservative government's obvious desire to encourage war with Iran."


Homonationalism is a term coined by Jasbir Puar to describe a particular type of queer people that are white, ideal, and help to promote countries that use queer rights to seem more modern. In short, this is the intersection between gay identities and nationalist ideology.[4] Jasbir Puar defined homonationalism in her book "Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times", in 2007, before Sarah Schulman's article that coined pinkwashing. Homonationalism shaped the concept of pinkwashing and the two terms are often used together as tools to explain the actions of countries like Israel. Puar writes in a later article, "Rethinking Homonationalism", that the two terms are not parallel but rather pinkwashing is able to exist because homonationalism exists.[5]

United States[edit]

According to Omar G. Encarnación, a Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, the Obama administration was accused by some critics of pinkwashing "to distract from other unsavory policies such as the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants and the failure to prosecute those responsible for the human rights abuses of the Bush administration’s War on Terror."[6] Pinkwashing in the United States, according to author Stephan Dahl from the University of Hull, is centered around pride merchandise created and sold by companies that do nothing for queer people.[7] This feeds a "big business small community" relationship and seems beneficial when in reality there is nothing changing legally for queer people through this practice.[7]

Israeli government public relations[edit]

Anarcho-queer collective Mashpritzot hold a "die-in" protest against Israeli pinkwashing and the perceived homonormative priorities of the LGBT support centre in Tel Aviv.

Sarah Schulman, a writer and professor at the City University of New York, claims Israeli government public relations campaign exploits Israel's supposed LGBT-friendliness to promote perceptions of Israel as a modern democracy, a secure place for investment, and a sunny tourist destination.[8] The Israeli marketing claims that LGBT people have more freedom in Israel than in most places and paints the state as an ideal place for queer couples to vacation without fear of oppression. The campaign has specifically targeted gay men between the ages of 18 to 34.

Schulman argues Israel does not have laws that benefit LGBT people more than in other countries and some politicians in Israel are homophobic. She contends the promotion of LGBT rights leads people to incorrectly assume that Israel is liberal when it may, in fact, violate other human rights, and that Israel's pinkwashing negatively affects LGBT people as well as Palestinians by suppressing demands for political change.[1] In August 2011, The Jerusalem Post reported the Foreign Ministry was promoting Gay Israel as part of its campaigns to counter the negative stereotypes that many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel.[9]

Critics of Israel like Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, cite the Israeli government's comparison of LGBT rights in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories as an example of pinkwashing. Citing WorldPride, which Jerusalem hosted in 2006, she writes: "Within global gay and lesbian organising circuits, to be gay friendly is to be modern, cosmopolitan, developed, first-world, global north, and, most significantly, democratic."[10] Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, has written that the Israeli government "insist[s] on advertising and exaggerating its recent record on LGBT rights ... to fend off international condemnation of its violations of the rights of the Palestinian people."[11][12]

Israeli response[edit]

According to some in Israel, pinkwashing allegations against Israel constitute a straw man argument, and Israel's embrace of the LGBT community has never been used to justify or excuse the Israeli occupation of Palestine. To them, the fact that Israel is generally tolerant towards LGBT individuals and groups on both state and individual levels is a factual contrast to the discriminatory and often-brutal treatment given to LGBT people by Arab and Muslim groups.[13][14] Ido Aharoni, former head of the Brand Israel project, responded to such criticism saying: "We are not trying to hide the conflict but broaden the conversation. We want to create a sense of relevance with other communities."[11] Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor and a frequent defender of Israel, has said that the term pinkwashing is used against Israel by "some radical gay activists" who are antisemitic "bigots".[15] He called the use of the term pinkwashing in this context as "nothing more than anti-Semitism with a pink face."[16][17]

Yair Qedar, a gay Israeli filmmaker and civil rights activist, has said that Israel has a praiseworthy LGBT+ rights record and that failing to defend it "ultimately serves homophobia far more than dialogue and peace". He criticized Israeli LGBT+ groups for failing to oppose pinkwashing charges.[11] Shaul Ganon of the Israeli based LGBT+ rights group Aguda, assessed the dispute this way: "Each side is trying to gain some points. The truth is the only one who gets screwed by this is the Palestinian gays."[18]


Anti-pinkwashing refers to the response that LGBT organizations have had to pinkwashing. Lynn Darwich and Hannen Maikay in their article, "The Road from Antipinkwashing Activism to the Decolonization of Palestine”, is about how the act of pinkwashing by Israel has led to an intersection of queer rights movements and Palestinian rights movements in Palestine and other countries. This is a strategy that has allowed the two activist groups to fight for one cause, however it also places limits on both movements. Darwich and Maikay suggest that the antipinkwashing movement has to consider not only pinkwashing, but also homonationalism, colonialism, and imperialism.[19]

Corporate marketing[edit]

A campaign to develop public support for the Keystone Pipeline, which would transport Canadian oil through the United States, has been accused of pinkwashing for its argument that the project deserves support based on a comparison of Canada's record on LGBT rights compared to that of other oil-producing nations.[20] The campaign base at headlines its presentation: "Compare Canadian Ethical Oil to OPEC conflict oil".[21]

In 2014, BP launched "LGBT Careers Event", a move that was met with criticism as an attempt to pinkwash the conduct that led to Deepwater Horizon oil spill, described as "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced".[22]

In Australia, concern has been raised about the commodification of gay rights by major corporations.[23]

In 2019, several companies who had previously claimed to support the LGBT community – including Marriott International, Delta Air Lines, UnitedHealth Group, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America – were criticized for their sponsorship of an event honoring Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who self-identifies as "homophobic" and "very proud of it".[24][25] According to NBC News, Bolsonaro was being honored "for his prioritizing of Christian values and family."[24] Some sponsors withdrew after criticism, including Bain & Co., the Financial Times, and Delta.[24]

Anti-Islamic rhetoric[edit]

A coalition organized by several popular grassroots movements in Europe, including the English Defence League (EDL), mounted demonstrations in conjunction with LGBT Pride Week celebrations in Helsinki and Stockholm in July and August 2012.[26][27] In an interview for Radio Sweden, the Swedish author and activist Lisa Bjurwald claimed that the EDL have exploited pride events in the United Kingdom by diverting attention toward Islamic homophobia and that Queers against Pinkwashing (a group that protested against the Stockholm march) is opposed to talking about homophobia in Islam and label all such attempts as "pinkwashing" and a "divide and conquer tactic."[27]

Intersex movement[edit]

In June 2016, Organisation Intersex International Australia pointed to contradictory statements by Australian governments, suggesting that the dignity and rights of LGBT and intersex people are recognized while, at the same time, harmful practices on intersex children continue.[28]

In August 2016, Zwischengeschlecht described actions to promote equality or civil status legislation without action on banning "intersex genital mutilations" as a form of pinkwashing.[29][unreliable source?] The organization has previously highlighted evasive government statements to UN Treaty Bodies that conflate intersex, transgender and LGBT issues, instead of addressing harmful practices on infants.[30]

Country comparisons[edit]

Stephan Lefebvre of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has noted how the Obama administration, followed by the mainstream US media, has criticized Russia for its failure to provide basic civil liberties for its LGBT population. He contrasts that with the US government's failure to condemn the comparable record on LGBT issues on the part of US allies like Honduras, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the US government's failure to acknowledge progress on LGBT rights in Cuba. In his analysis, this constitutes pinkwashing, which he defines as "deliberately highlighting support for gay rights while ignoring or downplaying other relevant human rights issues".[31] Laurie Penny, an author and feminist activist, contrasted those who criticized Russia's LGBT policies during the Sochi Olympics with their silence on instances of homophobic treatment at their own countries' border crossings. She wrote:[32]

While western nations flap the rainbow flag defiantly in Russia's face, actual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are being harassed and abused at their borders when they arrive seeking safety. Supporting the rights of LGBT people worldwide is to be commended, but if that sentiment is more than pinkwashing, it should be backed up by action at home.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Schulman, Sarah (November 23, 2011). "Opinion | Israel and 'Pinkwashing' (Published 2011)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  2. ^ "Immigration". Archived from the original on February 1, 2015.
  3. ^ Lal, Prerna; Attorney, ContributorStaff; Supervisor, Clinical; Center, East Bay Community Law (April 15, 2013). "How Pinkwashing Masks The Retrograde Effects Of Immigration Reform". HuffPost. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  4. ^ Nichols, James Michael (October 5, 2016). "Understanding Homonationalism: Why Are There Gay People Supporting Trump?". HuffPost. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  5. ^ Puar, Jasbir (2013). "Rethinking Homonationalism". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 45 (2): 336–339. doi:10.1017/S002074381300007X. ISSN 0020-7438. JSTOR 43302999.
  6. ^ Encarnación, Omar G. (February 13, 2017). "Trump and Gay Rights: The Future of the Global Movement". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved February 14, 2017. There is even the cynical charge that Obama engaged in “pink washing,” or the use of the gay rights issue to distract from other unsavory policies such as the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants and the failure to prosecute those responsible for the human rights abuses of the Bush administration’s War on Terror.  – via Foreign Affairs (subscription required)
  7. ^ a b Dahl, Stephan. "The rise of pride marketing and the curse of 'pink washing'". The Conversation. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  8. ^ Avraham, Eli. (2009), "Marketing and managing nation branding during prolonged crisis: The case of Israel". Vol. 5, 3, pp. 202–212.
  9. ^ Lazaroff, Tovah (October 26, 2006). "Foreign Ministry promoting Gay Israel". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved March 22, 2014.
  10. ^ Puar, Jasbir (July 1, 2010). "Israel's gay propaganda war". The Guardian. Retrieved March 22, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c Kaufman, David (May 13, 2011). "Is Israel Using Gay Rights to Excuse Its Policy on Palestine?". Time. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  12. ^ Berthelsen, Morten (October 1, 2009). "'Stop using Palestinian gays to whitewash Israel's image'". Haaretz. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  13. ^ Kirchick, James (April 6, 2012). "The Fallacy of the 'Pinkwashing' Argument". Haaretz. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  14. ^ Mazzig, Hen (June 11, 2017). "The Dark Side of The Rainbow". The Jerusalem Post.
  15. ^ Dershowitz, Alan (March 1, 2013). "The Pinkwashing Campaign Against Israel: Another Conspiracy Theory". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 22, 2014.
  16. ^ Dershowitz, Alan. "The Next Hate Fest". New York Post. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  17. ^ Lichaa, Zachary (June 8, 2012). "Trustee Blasts CUNY Anti-Israel 'Homonationalism and Pinkwashing' Conference". Algemeiner Journal. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  18. ^ Luongo, Michael (June 8, 2012). "Gay Palestinians caught in the middle of the conflict". Global Post. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  19. ^ Darwich, Lynn; Maikey, Haneen (2014). "The Road from Antipinkwashing Activism to the Decolonization of Palestine". Women's Studies Quarterly. 42 (3/4): 281–285. ISSN 0732-1562. JSTOR 24365011.
  20. ^ Michaelson, Jay (December 28, 2014). "How Canadian Oilmen Pinkwash the Keystone Pipeline". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  21. ^ "Compare Canadian Ethical Oil to OPEC conflict oil". OpenHatesGays. Archived from the original on December 29, 2014. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  22. ^ Wilkins, Naomi (November 11, 2014). "BP reach for the pinkwash with 'LGBT Careers Event'". Bright Green. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  23. ^ Stark, Jill (June 7, 2015). ""Pink washing": marketing stunt or corporate revolution?".
  24. ^ a b c "Bolsonaro backlash: Event honoring Brazilian leader calls into question corporate support for gay rights". MSNBC. April 30, 2019.
  25. ^ "Brazil's fearful LGBT community prepares for a 'proud homophobe'". The Guardian. October 27, 2018.
  26. ^ Deland, Mats; Minkenberg, Michael; Mays, Christin, eds. (2014). In the Tracks of Breivik: Far Right Networks in Northern and Eastern Europe. LIT Verlag. p. 12.
  27. ^ a b "Queers against Pinkwashing reject Counter Jihad". Radio Sweden. August 3, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  28. ^ "Submission: list of issues for Australia's Convention Against Torture review". Organisation Intersex International Australia. June 28, 2016.
  29. ^ seelenlos (August 28, 2016). "'Intersex legislation' that allows the daily mutilations to continue = PINKWASHING of IGM practices". Zwischengeschlecht.
  30. ^ "TRANSCRIPTION > UK Questioned over Intersex Genital Mutilations by UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - Gov Non-Answer + Denial". Zwischengeschlecht. May 26, 2016.
  31. ^ Lefebvre, Stephan (August 16, 2013). "Foreign Policy Pinkwashing: Russia's New Law and Continuing Violence in Honduras". Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  32. ^ "Less homophobic than Russia? It's not something to give yourself a medal for". The Guardian.

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