Every June we are bombarded by constant ads, billboards, and signs with slogans such as “We welcome all at” plastered over rainbow-coloured billboards. These slogans and rainbow plastered windows have become a sign of summer as companies gear up to make a profit of the LGBTQIA+ communities activism during the hot weather.
The Development of Pride Month
The LGBTQIA+ community has a long history but pride hasn't always looked the way it does in 2021. The origins of the pride movement in the Americas comes from the 1960s most notably with an event known as “The Stonewall Riots” (herein Stonewall). Stonewall took place at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, New York 1969. Police raided the bar and female officers took female-presenting people to the washroom to check if they have female sex organs to arrest anyone 'crossdressing'. However, the patrons of that night refused to be taken into custody.
This escalated into a riot when officers became violent and nearby citizens stepped in. During the second night of rioting, Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans-woman dropped a bag onto a police vehicle and broke the windshield. This action inspired demonstrations of gay liberation activism throughout the following week. Over time, the activism and riots won victories for the community and led to the pride parades that we see today.
The pride marches of the past came from grassroots movements rooted in activism and liberation. As the LGBTQIA+ community gained more symbolic rights such as marriage rights and pronoun options on Instagram, pride became a celebration of these rights and gratefulness to the system that allowed for change. Businesses realized that there was a widening market in the community.
The Modern Problem
Pride saw more and more businesses involved in the movement and has devolved into a mass parade of companies using the event(s) for personal campaigning. More and more politicians and corporations took advantage of rainbow capitalism to show their support for the community while proposing policies that actually endangered the community. These corporations then support homophobic politicians or groups, as seen through examples such as Chick-fil-A, an organization whose owners were found donating to anti-gay establishments and groups. Current pride parades have tickets that are sold to attend, and even city bills to pay to use the sidewalk.
This consistent domination of companies is leading to them speaking over systematic problems that the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face today. One such example is found in the perspective of being attracted to someone of the same gender. Homophobia and transphobia are intrinsically linked to racism and sexism. As gayness became more accepted in society the trope grew to be white cisgender gay men, these men benefit from privileges unavailable to other groups. The need for intersectionality at pride comes is shown by that fact that 47% of Black trans-women in the United States have reported being harassed or physically assaulted for being transgender. These injustices are not being addressed because of the focus on pride as a marketing campaign.
Listening to the Community
The Altruist has reached out to members of the LGBTQIA+ community and I, a queer writer, was able to sit down with Shantelle Bron another queer person, to discuss pride commodification and what we can all be doing better this year. When asked what pride month meant to her, Bron replied," [For me], growing up it was a lot harder to be openly gay than it is today, so it’s about celebrating being comfortable in myself and my queerness." This celebration of self-acceptance is a common feeling during pride but Bron adds that for her, “...pride is about queer liberation before anything else”, and urges others to "put liberation before celebration”.
This concept of liberation over celebration is truly at the heart of pride, and comes in direct conflict with the ideas presented by rainbow capitalism. When asked about the overlap between liberation and its limitations due to rainbow capitalism, she asserts, "...it does nothing for queer people, and in areas such as fast fashion it's actually harmful [to BIPOC and the environment]." These companies aren’t doing it for the queer community, rather they are doing it for monetary gain. Bron expresses her frustrations when she says, "[The fact is that] we have to explain that we don't want companies to pander to us, we want them to prioritize people instead of their bottom line." If they wanted to spread awareness it would be far more beneficial to “promote something made ethically, and by a queer person, [because] that would be actual ally-ship."
From this conversation with Shantelle Bron, it is clear that If corporations want to appeal to the community they virtue signal to, there needs to be genuine activism and support for queer people going on behind the scenes, not just reusable slogans plastered on billboards.
Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community say that the commodification of pride has diluted the importance of LGBTQIA+ activism and exists to support the capitalistic agenda as well as other oppressive systems, such as systemic racism, that are all reliant on each other to function fully. These claims seem to be coming true as pride is more widely celebrated than ever before whilst 2020 saw the death of 44 transgender people in the USA, making it the worst year recorded for violence against the trans community. This year as we celebrate the victories achieved by the community, we must remember to listen to the voices that are most often silenced. At the same time, we encourage you to recognize and call out organizations that fail to continue 'rainbow initiatives' outside of pride month.
Happy Pride from The Altruist!