Marketing the Rainbow

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Allowing discrimination 

The Apple conglomerate has grown into a very diverse and large set of products and business models, each with their own set of rules. The Apple App Store has quite a restrictive policy as to what apps are allowed, and which are not - because the access is public-wide without screening or age restrictions. Their guidelines for which apps are allowed read: ‘Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm’s way will be rejected.’

However, even though Apple has in the past removed anti-gay apps, and the company has spoken out against Proposition 8 (the law that sought to outlaw gay marriage in California), they were ignorantly (?) lenient in another case. Religious group Exodus International launched an app in 2011 which claimed to give users “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus" and said that "homosexuality is a sin that will make your heart sick”. Apple allowed this app to be place in the App Store. 

A campaign was started on, which secured 146,000 signatures in support of the removal of the app. highlighted the surge of gay teen suicides in the US, pointing out that this app was the sort of thing that legitimised the ostracism of gay youth. Only after this heartfelt complained, Apple decided to remove the app - without notification to Exodus, or explanation why the app was admitted in the first place


Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. It is considered one of the Big Five companies in the U.S. IT industry (along with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook). Apple was founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in April 1976 to develop and sell Wozniak's Apple I personal computer, though Wayne sold his share back to Jobs and Wozniak within 12 days. It was incorporated as Apple Computer, Inc., in January 1977, and sales of its computers, including the Apple II, grew quickly.

In 1985, Wozniak departed Apple amicably and remained an honorary employee, while Jobs resigned to found NeXT. CEO Gil Amelio led Apple to buy NeXT in 1997, also  bringing Jobs back - who became CEO in 2000.

HR policy. Different together.

Apple employs 147,000 full-time employees and maintains 510 retail stores in 25 countries as of 2020.

On more than one occasion they received significant criticism regarding the labor practices of its contractors, its environmental practices and unethical business practices, including anti-competitive behavior, as well as the origins of source materials.

In August 2011, Jobs resigned due to health complications, and Tim Cook became the new CEO (more about Tim Cook below). Jobs died shortly afterwards.

Apple's products include the iPhone, the iPad, the Mac, the iPod, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV, the AirPods, and the HomePod. iTunes Store is the world's largest music retailer. As of January 2020, more than 1.5 billion Apple products are actively in use worldwide. The company also has a high level of brand loyalty and is ranked as the world's most valuable brand. 

In August 2018, Apple became the first publicly traded U.S. company to be valued at over $1 trillion and just two years later became the first $2 trillion U.S. company. Apple's 2020 worldwide annual revenue totaled $274.5 billion. In March 2021 it became known that Apple surpassed Aramco as most profitable company in the world, with a $57.4 billion profit over 2020. 

A company of this size is an industry leader and a role model, and deserves extra scrutiny as to policy and behavior. 

A 2018 research from Brand Innovators and Grindr's INTO magazine ranked Apple as the second most LGBT-friendly brand (after Absolut).

Tim Cook

Cook joined Apple in 1998 and became CEO in 2011. On October 30 2014, Cook publicly came out as gay in an editorial for Bloomberg Business. He said: "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." He consulted with CNN's Anderson Cooper, who had publicly come out himself, on aspects of the statement, and cleared the timing to ensure it would not distract from business interests.

The development of the logo

The rainbow logo

People still remember the rainbow logo, which was used from 1977 until 1998. Steve Jobs was not very happy with the first logo design (Newton sitting under a tree). He wanted something more compelling and artistic, and assigned Rob Janoff with the job. There was a marked improvement in the design.

Apple's new logo used an Apple that was bitten from the right side, while it used rainbow colours to make it more user-friendly. The new design invoked the curiosity of the people, and they started making speculations. Some thought that the use of Apple is a tribute to the demise of Alan Turing who died after eating an apple that was considered to have cyanide. 

As for the colors in the logo, people thought of it as representative of Apple's transition to Apple II which was the company's first computer that supported the use of colours.

However, it was not the LGBT rainbow that was used, which also has 6 stripes - but not in this order. 

Same-sex marriage

In 2015 Apple joined Dow Chemical Company and the Levi Strauss & Co. in officially supporting the Equality Act, proposed legislation that would establish federal equality for the LGBT community in the U.S. In a statement given to the Human Rights Campaign, they said, “At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.”

Apple Watch

A 2015 clip for Apple Watch called "Berlin" features what seems to be a lesbian couple.

Since 2017 Apple releases a special rainbow bracelet for the Apple Watch on the occasion of Pride Month. This would be matched with a screen of the watch. This actually started in 2016, when the bracelets were made in a limited edition for Apple employees during San Francisco Pride.

In 2018, iOS developer Guilherme Rambo discovered that the Pride Apple Watch face was “hardcoded to not show up if the paired iPhone is using the Russian locale.” This was in spite of Apple launching the watch face and accompanying woven band as part of its “unwavering commitment to equality and diversity.” Here, Apple wavered. Needless to say that strap was not on sale on Apple’s Russian store at all.

2020, for the first time, also saw a special strap for the Apple Watch Nike.

Cook had been open about his sexuality "for years", and while many people at the company were aware of his sexual orientation, he sought to focus on Apple's products and customers rather than his personal life. He ended his op-ed by writing, "We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick." Cook became the first and only openly gay CEO on the Fortune 500 list. In September 2015, Cook clarified on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, "Where I valued my privacy significantly, I felt that I was valuing it too far above what I could do for other people, so I wanted to tell everyone my truth."

In 2019, he received the GLSEN Champion award for his commitment to fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. Cook talked about the coming-out decision and remarked on how it was thanks to LGBT+ people who had fought for their rights before him that paved the way for his success, and that he needed to let younger generations know that - in a coding analogy - he saw being gay as a feature his life had to offer rather than any problem. He hoped his openness could help LGBT+ youth dealing with homelessness, and suicide hope that their situation could get better.

Note: promptly after Cook's coming out, a St. Petersburg memorial built to honor Apple founder Steve Jobs was taken down 'in protest' by the very group that had it put up in the first place in 2013.

In 2017 there were the infamous discussions about 'transgender bathrooms'. Apple joined 52 other corporations (including Amazon, Airbnb, eBay, LinkedIn, PayPal, Gap, MAC Cosmetics, Williams-Sonoma, Twitter, Yelp and Microsoft) in signing a brief initiaed by the Human Rights Campaign to the Supreme Court, in supporting Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy in his fight against his school district over which school bathrooms he may use. Grimm’s case was sent back by Supreme Court to lower court for review when the Trump administration rescinded Department of Education’s earlier protections for trans students.

Apple also weighed in on this discussion in North Carolina, contemplating the withdrawal of the planned building of a corporate hub that would create 5,000-10,000 jobs.

Tim Cook spoke out strongly against President Trump's plans to limit transgender rights. 

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In 2015, to be more inclusive, Apple introduced a number of emoji's that depicted same-sex characters holding hands and kissing. They were built into Apple’s iOS version 8.3.

In Russia, media reported that Apple would be under investigation for this, as a potential violation of the country's laws against "illegally promoting homosexuality." Russia later opted to drop their lawsuit.

2018: First Dance, Australia

Apple celebrated the hard-won same-sex marriage in Australia, in a fantastic way. The ad for the iPhone X, titled ‘First Dance’, featured footage from a number of same-sex weddings. The clips were filmed on the phone, set to a cover of the track ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, sung by Aussie musician Courtney Barnett. In addition to the 1-minute ad, the company also released three shorter clips focusing on one couple each – ‘Meg and Ann-Marie’, ‘Nick and Rob’, and ‘Antony and Ron’. The company threw its support behind equal marriage in Australia in 2016, signing onto a list of big businesses calling for equality.

2014 San Francisco Pride

In June 2014 Apple, including CEO Cook (who made a surprise appearance to greet employees and their families early in the morning, but did not march in the parade himself), participated in San Francisco's Pride parade with around 5,000 (!) employees and their families. It was the company's first ever officially sanctioned Pride parade. The participants came from around the world - from cities as far as Munich, Paris, and Hong Kong - to celebrate Apple's commitment to equality and diversity. "Because we believe that inclusion inspires innovation." The video is set to Coldplay's "A Sky Full of Stars".

Participation was repeated in later years, but often with less participants, as there were other Prides they were present at as well. Cook and other high ranking managers participated i.a. in 2018.

App Store

In light of WorldPride 2019 and '50 years Stonewall' they set aside a featured spot in the App Store to commemorate the civil rights struggles of the LGBT community. The section features an assortment of books, movies (like ‘Milk,’ ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’), music, TV shows (such as ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘Queer as Folk’), info (the Edge news magazine), podcasts and apps (like the UCSF Pride Study health and fitness app)

that relate to different aspects of this multifaceted community.

This article was last updated Mar 20, 2022

The HR policy includes a strong chapter about Diversity and Inclusion. "At Apple, we’re not all the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone."

Apple has earned a perfect score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for 19 years: they have been at the top of this list since 2002, when only 5% of CEI companies had non-discrimination policies in place for gender identity and zero percent had transgender-inclusive health care benefits. They were rated among the "Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality 2021". 

Early 2021, Cook tweeted about the LGBT inclusion legislation in the US, after the Senate approved it: "The Equality Act reflects in law the fact that every person deserves dignity & respect, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity—at work, at home and in the public square. We strongly support its passage, and we encourage Congress to come together and get it done."

Apple TV: Out On Television

In 2020, Apple TV presented a series called ‘Visible: Out on Television’, from executive producers Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz. Variety called this production 'a deeply thoughtful and researched look at TV's LGBTQ+ representation.' “Visible” unfolds chronologically over five episodes, each framed around a specific theme: “The Dark Ages,” “Television as a Tool,” “The Epidemic,” “Breakthroughs,” “The New Guard.” Each hour-long episode explores themes such as invisibility, homophobia, the evolution of the LGBT character, and coming out in the television industry.

Featured are celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Billy Porter, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Sara Ramirez, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and dozens more. Narrators are Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Waithe.

Transgender rights

Apple has been vocal and active in its support for ending discrimination in the U.S. under CEO Tim Cook, both before and after his coming out. Apple has participated in San Francisco's Pride parade for the last two years, releasing videos highlighting that participation. The Human Rights Campaign noted: “These remarkable companies have proven once again their tremendous leadership on behalf of LGBT Americans. Time and again, these leaders of Corporate America have asked 'what more can we do?,' and each time they've stepped up to the plate and delivered. As the fight for full, federal equality enters a new chapter, we are enormously thankful that we have these champions standing shoulder to shoulder with us.”


Apple's extremely broad presence and high visibility in society show a strong Ally in support of the LGBT+ community. The presence of gay CEO clearly shows there is no pink ceiling. This is also demonstrated by the flawless rating on the CEI, and their collaboration with a number of charities. Underneath the surface, some cracks are showing - but they are minor enough to be compensated by the overall inclusivity policy of the company and its relevant communications. However, as a role model they have failed to step up early in the game, and only joined around the watershed year of 2015.

Apple Music & Gay Times: Elevate

Apple Music instituted guest curators for their platform. In July 2019 they invited Gay Times, the European LGBT+ media brand to make a series of exclusive playlists. They also collaborated on a joint advertising campaign in the UK featuring artists including Kim Petras, Girli, Vincint and Alma, which tied in with that year's Pride celebrations.

“While launching during the Pride season, this marks the beginning of a long-term commitment by Gay Times and Apple Music to continue amplifying queer voices across their platforms,” explained Gay Times in its announcement of the partnership. The flagship playlist is ‘Queer & Now’, which is being updated weekly, with others including ‘Queeroes’; ‘The Allied Pop Forces’ and ‘Summer of Pride’.

Not much later, Gay Times set up Elevatea program for emerging LGBT+ artists. These get visibility in Gay Times magazine, as well as on social and digital platforms. The Elevate artists (starting with British musician Joesef) are featured in the Queer & Now playlist. “Working with Apple Music represents a major step forward in recognising incredible queer music talent in our community. Our curator launch was a first in celebrating queer talent in music on a global scale. Elevate is the natural next phase - a brilliant means to empower queer music talent,” said CEO Tag Warner.

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An earlier version of the iPhone (the 7) was introduced in 2017 with a clip that included a few scenes with a gay couple.

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Priced at a whopping $99, the 2021 Pride Edition Braided Solo Loop 'weaved together the original rainbow colors with those drawn from various Pride flags', according to Apple. For $49, the Pride Edition Nike Sport Loop features a nylon weave with reflective rainbow yarn inspired by the Pride flag, which is designed to shimmer when light strikes it.

Part of the proceeds go to LGBT charities such as GLSENPFLAG, The Trevor Project, Gender Spectrum, The National Center for Transgender Equality and the The Human Rights Campaign, and internationally to ILGA.

There was ample criticism as to the price of the item, which was €49-59 in Europe, and $49 in the US. People suggested that they would rather buy a cheap version in China and make a donation to the charities directly. Which, of course, did not happen. 

The previous year St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov suggested that Apple products be banned and gay Apple CEO Tim Cook be barred from visiting the country: "What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea?". Milonov has been honored by President Vladimir Putin for his work, which included the crackdown on so-called gay propaganda - he was behind a St. Petersburg law that became the model for the national one.

In 2022 more LGBT-friendly emoji's were added, such as pregnant man (with different skin colors), while Siri also got a gender-neutral version named Quinn

Case study: Apple

Branche: ICT & internet