‘Celebrate Pride Month with our new Pride Van!’ read the enthusiastic tweet from British model railway brand Hornby on 1 June.

Shortly after, eagle-eyed Twitter users – who couldn’t figure out whether the brand was donating any of the proceeds from the rainbow-coloured wagon to LGBT+ charities – started demanding answers.

A day later, the model train company tried to bring it all back on track (excuse the pun) with a follow-up tweet.

They clarified: ‘Please be advised we’re not donating any money at present but we’ll be keeping this in mind for the future. We wanted to show our commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community with this model alongside our existing Pride models & hope that it’ll be a benefit & encourage awareness.’

Brands, take note: This is rainbow washing in action and should serve as a reminder of what not to do during Pride month – or ever.

Rainbow washing is the performative act of allyship from people, governments and corporations with minimal effort or no tangible work to support LGBT+ people.

Essentially, it’s not putting your money where your mouth is – although it’s not always about money.

It could be Disney tweeting on 1 June that ‘there’s room for everyone under the rainbow’, despite reportedly pulling LGBTQ+ kids show Love, Victor last year from its streaming service over ‘family-friendly’ concerns. Or Primark introducing a Pride collection in 2018 that was manufactured in Turkey and Myanmar – countries with poor records on queer rights.

Perhaps most insidiously, the Government Equalities Office updated their Twitter picture at the start of this month to a rainbow logo and uploaded a video of some ‘amazing recent LGBT moments’.

It featured the legalisation of marriage equality in Northern Ireland last year, the easing of blood donation rules for men who have sex with men and a reduction to Gender Recognition Certificate fees.

While these are all great steps in the right direction, the video doesn’t mention that the government has dragged its feet on Gender Recognition Act reform so trans people can legally self-ID without a medical diagnosis – even after a lengthy public consultation in 2018 that found nearly two-thirds of respondents (64.1%) were in support of the change.

Or the fact that Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss disbanded an LGBT advisory panel earlier this year after she had ‘fundamental disagreements’ between her and members of the panel over trans rights.

Support for LGBT+ people during Pride month needs to be extended to everyone within our community fairly, otherwise it feels like organisations are cherry picking their biggest successes to ignore their failures.

Of course, celebrating LGBT+ people is encouraged and welcomed, but make it all year round, not just the month of June when it’s a shallow chance to market a new rainbow-themed product.

It shouldn’t just be a financial commitment too – they should uplift their queer employees, listen to their concerns, ensure there is representation (not tokenism) and help us lobby for real change.

Entangled in all of this is the commercialisation of Pride – when brands slap a rainbow over their logo and call it a day. And it’s more common than you think.

In 2019, an analysis of 122 companies who were visibly supporting the LGBT+ community during Pride month found that only 64% donated to charitable queer causes.

If brands are going to co-opt the rainbow to make money, it’s more than fair to ask that they at least give some of it back to our community.

Despite being a bit tacky, when M&S introduced an LGBT (Lettuce, Guacamole, Bacon and Tomato) sandwich in 2019, at least they made a £10,000 donation to LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, akt.

Similarly, Bud Light released a special rainbow range of beers for World Pride in 2019 – complete with a super cringe advertisement that used the acronym LGBTQ to stand for ‘Let’s Get Beers Tonight, Queens’ – and they reportedly donated $100,000 (£71,00) to GLAAD.

But is that enough? According to Path to Purchase IQ, the rainbow bottles were completely sold out and on display in countless bars across nine major US cities, as well as had more than 245 million earned media impressions on over 415 different media and social channels.

That reach is huge, so it feels impossible to be able to calculate exactly how much these brands should be donating to LGBTQ+ causes.

Which brings my train of thought (that’s the last pun, I promise) back to Hornby. After fierce backlash to their initial follow-up tweet for the release of their Pride Van, they backtracked one final time.

They tweeted: ‘Following the launch of the Hornby LGBTQ+ Pride Wagon on Tuesday, we would like to say sorry! We have got this wrong and deeply apologise – waving the flag is not enough. We must promote the LGBTQ+ Community by donating the proceeds.’

They then asked where they should donate the proceeds. Personally, I appreciate what looks to be a sincere apology and an effort to make amends to a community tired of being taken advantage of.

Let it be a lesson to all other brands.

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