“Pinkwashing”: Disguising Oppression as Progression

Sarah Dajani ’26

Contributing Writer

The world is not a safe haven, especially for minority groups; however, countries that promote progression at the cost of human rights avoid and neglect dealing with violations and, sometimes, war crimes. 

Pinkwashing is the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights of a corporate or a political entity to conceal ‘negative’ aspects of that entity. These aspects can range from human rights violations to war crimes. Pinkwashing spreads ungenuine sympathy messages that are exploited to continue “The Burden of the White Man” or “The Civilizing Mission” propaganda, which depend on spreading the ideas that are seen as ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized’ through violence, conquest, and military intervention.

Like whitewashing, the term is supposed to indicate hiding crimes with a humane and progressive ‘color.’ The American novelist Sarah Schulman claims that the term “pinkwashing” was used in the United States in 2010 when talking about products that are falsely advertised as eco-friendly. However, according to the Israeli author Aeyal Gross, the term originated in Israel in 2001 by the queer activist group Black Laundry, Kvisa Shchora in Hebrew, to protest the Israeli violence against Palestinians following the Second Intifada. In his book Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique, Palestinian Anthropologist Sa’ed Atshan mentions how during the panels he has given around U.S. universities, the interventions that were related to Palestine focused on “Palestine homophobia with the existence of queer spaces and expression in Israel.” He emphasizes that this should not distract from “condemning patriarchy and homophobia in my [the Palestinian] society.” Despite the common association of the term with Israel, pinkwashing is all around us.

The Pink Dollar is a term used for profit made off of the LGBTQIA+ community. Companies that promote the rights of marginalized groups were considered fighters for equity and peace. However, in countries like the United States, where political power is in the hands of corporate CEOs, one should question the disparity between the popularizing of these causes and the actual legislation passed. The American experimental writer Alexandra Chasin said that “going to the market” means “abandoning the effort to challenge inequalities in society.” This propaganda, whether promoted by corporates or political entities, supports the abuse of human rights and dismantles the struggle for equity.

In 2014, the Israeli court convicted Ben David of murdering and kidnapping Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Before the case was considered ‘solved,’ rumors were spread speculating that the murder was an ‘honor killing,’ reports Haartz, the longest running Israeli newspaper. People spread that the victim was gay because he was known at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (an LGBT organization in Jerusalem that had supposedly released a statement about his death). The executive director of Open House denied this claim, but images entitled, “The Arabs killed him for being gay,” were still widely spread.

The certainty in the messages spread show the strength of the propaganda in portraying ‘Arabs’ as barbaric and intolerant; this is no different than the European propaganda that dehumanized indigenous people. Similarly, Jasbir Puar, an American philosopher and queer theorist, suggests that the subsequent human rights abuses following the invasion of Iraq were disguised as “sexually progressive multiculturalism justifying foreign intervention.”

We still have a lot of work to be done when it comes to challenging the inequalities of our modern society, but we need to be aware of using the LGBTQIA+ community as a marker for civilization and a justification for violence and human rights abuses. When we support organizations that promote ‘inclusivity’ while still maintaining inhumane labor practices, biased hiring processes, and support for discriminatory organizations, we are part of the problem.

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