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Before Spending Your 'Rainbow Dollars' For Pride Month, Check Who's Selling First

LGBTQ+ books at Lit. on Fire on W. Main in Peoria.
Lit. on Fire Facebook page
LGBTQ+ books at Lit. on Fire on W. Main in Peoria.

All across America, corporations are putting LGBT merchandise on their shelves and changing their logos to more colorful ones. While this allows shops to show how welcoming they can be to all customers regardless of their sexuality, it’s also seen as problematic "rainbow capitalism."

Jessica Stevenson, owner of Lit. on Fire Bookstore, says as a queer woman, she tries to highlight gay and minority authors year round. She personally has curated over 10,000 books for her shop, with shelves of non-heterosexual stories from floor to ceiling. Stevenson said that corporate rainbow capitalism is more of a cash grab.

"Pay attention to where you're buying your pride flags from and your T-shirts that are all rainbow colored. Because you may not be supporting someone who is an LGBTQ community member," Stevenson said.

The issue, as Stevenson explains, isn’t about pride merchandise itself, but the actions of companies beyond Pride month and where their stance is after the month of June is over.

Jam Rohr is a bisexual woman that is the owner of a vegan meal preparation company called Up Beet Jams and co-owner of Black Dog Metal Arts. Rohr says many companies aren't putting the earned profits back into the LGBTQ+ community.

"It is nice to see corporations that are putting their money back into the communities in a way that shows that they do care," Rohr said. "And they are allies and they do stand up for and support LGBTQ communities and people."

Some companies, like PetSmart, Old Navy, and Mattel, are collectively donating millions of dollars to organizations involving LGBT groups.

But for smaller businesses that want to show their support, donating millions, or even thousands, of dollars isn’t feasible. When Rohr was starting a Google page for Up Beet Jams, Google allows the option to list the business as LGBTQ friendly.

"Another thing I think businesses can do is just really listening to these communities and these people and hearing like what is it that we would like to see, what is it that you're doing wrong, that you can do better and improve on, or who can you be working with?" she said.

Owner of Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats, Riley Greenwood, identifies her company as an ally for the community. She remembers an LGBT customer that was cautious when ordering.

"I actually had a customer asked me once, 'Do you make cakes for everyone?' And I could kind of tell that he was kind of hesitant to say that the cake was for his partner and that he was wanting to order a wedding cake," Greenwood said.

From that experience alone, Greenwood says she makes it a priority to make her business a safe-space for everyone. Greenwood has heard of other bakery businesses indirectly turning away gay people by saying that they're booked in advanced or incapable of the cake design.

Greenwood says her mother's business, Sweet Cakes by Rachel, has supplied sugar cookies for Transgender Remembrance Day for around five years.

"I love that because we do that our name kind of ripples through the community of people knowing that, you know, we see we're here for you," she said. "We support you, and if there's anything that you know we can do to help you celebrate a day that's special for you, call us anytime."

Stevenson says while Peoria has been historically conservative, the city is making progress in becoming more inclusive. She says customers should research where their money is going.

"It's just really smart to look into where you're spending your money during Pride Month, because everyone wants your rainbow dollars. But not everyone should get it," Stevenson said.

Stevenson suggests families with LGBT struggles should be especially supported especially this month.

Pride events in Peoria are being hosted hybrid style throughout the rest of June with drag shows, brunches, karaoke and pride nights. More information can be found on the Peoria Proud Facebook page.

Valerie Vasconez is a student reporter at WCBU. She joined WCBU in summer 2021. She is a student at Bradley University in Peoria.