WE’RE A MOVEMENT, NOT A MARKET
What would Pride look like without corporate America’s stamp of approval?
With professional athletes coming out, gay characters popping up on mainstream TV shows, and a president vocalizing support for same-sex marriage, it looks like we’ve entered an era of unprecedented acceptance and equality. I hate to be the dark stormy raincloud rumbling over your gay Pride parade, but lez be real: we are no longer participating in a progressive or inclusive moment. The reality is the gay community has become one of the worst offenders in keeping health, safety, and social acceptance exclusive to those deemed worthy.
Boston’s first Pride demonstration in 1970 was a group of 20 protestors who marched from Cambridge to an anti-Vietnam War rally on the Common, adding queer voices to the many others protesting the endless war. Cut to present day Boston: weapons manufacturers, military organizations, cops, and corporations fly rainbow and American flags to praise diversity, tolerance, and above all, the gay consumer.
It’s not hard to understand why flag-toting military folks and big banks aren’t exactly at the heart of queer liberation, but what’s the harm in these groups showing their support at Pride?
A business sticking a rainbow on their logo is known as “pinkwashing,” the common strategy of coming out in support of gay rights to distract from all the other fucked up practices a business has. For example, Human Rights Campaign (HRC, the blue and yellow equal sign, AKA the 1% of gay people) gives Nike, Apple, and Bank of America high ratings in their guide to gay-friendly businesses. But each of these companies engage in questionably legal and undeniably unethical business practices including running sweatshops, underpaying their workers, and foreclosing on people’s homes. When we praise these businesses for their rainbow flags, we turn a blind eye to their true colors and commit to a status quo of cultural and economic violence and inequality.
You might notice that gay people featured in advertisements and mainstream media all fit a similar profile: they are usually clean-cut, fit white men. They might be making eyes at another dude, but look, they are red-blooded, handsome American men! Is that the only profile the American public will accept for gay people? This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but queer people are as diverse, complicated, and messy as straight people. We come in every race, gender, size, class, and ability, and some of us claim more than one “minority” identity. We also face all the challenges straight people face, and then some – including mental illness, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The LGBTQ community is really a collection of communities. Holding up the marginalized-no-more white man image of what a gay person should be makes LGBTQ communities as racist, sexist, classist, and exclusionary as any mainstream group.
But we have so many “allies” who want so badly for us to believe in these illusions. Gay millionaire celebrities like Dan Savage embrace corporate partnerships and proclaim “it gets better!” But that’s not true.
It gets better for white, cisgender gay people like Savage whose class privilege grants access to healthcare, education, and the security of gayborhood communities. But for transgender people, gender-non-conforming people, queer people of color, and homeless youth, gay culture’s celebration of corporate sponsorship assures that it gets harder. It gets violent, it gets gentrified, it gets more difficult to survive.
Queer and trans* youth take some of the hardest hits from gay culture. Because so many queer young people face rejection from their families, they end up homeless, and many are forced to turn to sex work, selling drugs, and hustling just to survive. “Gay-friendly” businesses are just as eager to call the cops on loitering youth as they are to sell expensive products to yuppies, gay or straight. And every one of us who’s been harassed or assaulted by a cop knows that police presence makes the streets more dangerous for many.
You don’t have to have radical politics to see how Pride’s corporate sponsorships hurt LGBTQ people of all ages. We as queer people suffer disproportionately from addiction and substance abuse. Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are deeply embedded in the culture of gay bars and social events, and are also frequently used as a coping mechanism for the discrimination and violence LGBTQ people face. Naturally, booze and cigarette companies sponsor every city’s Pride celebrations, guaranteeing many queers’ lifelong dependency on their products. How do we expect queer youth who face bullying, family rejection, job discrimination, and violence to rise up against these factors to live long, healthy lives if we celebrate companies who don’t give a fuck about them?
These days, the events at Stonewall get watered down and whitewashed, but the truth is it was a riot led by transgender women of color in response to frequent police raids, profiling, and violence. When the AIDS epidemic struck our communities in the 1980s, we watched hundreds of thousands of people die while the government remained silent. The radical activism that sprung up in response to this systemic, state-sanctioned violence was true cause for pride and celebration of our lives.
Our values aren’t defined by those with wealth. Our pride isn’t legitimized by corporate sponsorships. This isn’t a parade for straight people or white culture, even though we elected Mayor Menino to honor as Grand Marshal. So what does Pride look like without these corporations and politicians’ stamp of approval? What does it look like when it’s all the beauty and messiness of all LGBTQ people?
We have so much to celebrate, especially our struggle and revolt against everything Gay Corporate America wants us to be. We should indeed be filling the streets en masse, with our bodies black and brown and white, fat and skinny, young and old, American-born and undocumented, crippled and able-bodied – we should be celebrating our sexualities, our genders, our sex lives and commitment to keeping them consensual and safe. We should be shouting – not for marriage, but for EVERY individual’s right to access healthcare, education, and housing, regardless of their class, race, or marital status.
Sometimes the greatest act of self-love is honoring your rage. The true spirit of Pride lives in protest – where we care enough about ourselves and other communities to stand up and tell pinkwashing corporations and politicians, we’re not buying it. If you show up to Pride, don’t show up as a consumer – show up as the complex person you are. Show up to celebrate what you share with others in your communities and show up to embrace what feels unique to yourself. Only then can you guarantee, however you celebrate your pride, you will be fucking fierce doing so.