Pride, Protest or Profits?

New York, June 28 1969, 1:20am. As the NY police shoved their way into the Stonewall Inn and began to arrest patrons, little did they know that they were the catalysts to what would become a pivotal moment in our rainbow community’s history. Dubbed The Stonewall Riots, it was clear we could not, and would not, be silenced again. Later, the first Pride march was born as a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the raid.

But it wasn’t Pride as we know it today. There wasn’t to be overt revelry – no blaring music and partying in the streets. No rainbow-clad floats lining the road. No, this was to be a fiercely political statement designed to gauge reactions from all quarters; political, social, and legal. It asked of the masses and of the decision makers ‘we’re here, so what are you going to do about it?’. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Pride marches take place around the world. In the West at least, we have made strides upon strides in legislature, social acceptance and rights. But we’ve also reached a point where there’s a growing and nuanced disenfranchisement amongst our ranks, and many LGBTQ+ activists fear we’ve sold our sense of unity, our sense of self, in exchange for sponsorship. For some time now there has been discomfort around the increasingly visible role that capitalism has played in our Pride events.

Grassroots groups across the UK and the US have begun to press organisers to think about what (or who) they might be sacrificing in exchange for the deep pockets of their benefactors and, for the last couple of years, radical queer groups such as No Justice No Pride have interrupted and called out the issue of ‘pinkwashing’.

It seems that over time Pride has become less about liberation, and more about partying and profits.

Yes, we should be celebrating how far we’ve come, and the sacrifices that have been made along the way, but let’s not forget how far we’ve got to go – particularly if we happen not to hold the position of relative privilege within the LGBTQ+ community, or come from one of the more liberal parts of the globe.

What message are we sending to our community, our allies, and the general public when we welcome corporations that still stubbornly perpetuate structures of oppression in their everyday policies, from hiring patterns and unconscious biases through to their investments in the arms trade? What message are we sending to the corporations that see us accepting their money? Are we adequately conveying the fact that, at its heart, Pride is about protest and claiming our rights across the globe – rights that many still do not have today? Or are we simply projecting the image of ‘it’s great to be gay’, and that we’ve nothing left to do but raucously celebrate?

We shouldn’t kid ourselves that by sponsoring us these corporations are doing anything inherently radical and brave. It is convenient and useful for corporations to co-opt our movement. The pink pound is as valuable as the gold one, and the groundwork has already been laid to smooth the way for ‘progressive’ corporations to proudly pronounce themselves as allies – at least for one day a year.

Yes, we might argue that many companies have played a part in ‘normalising’ our community, and shaping positive opinions about LGBTQ+ issues. And individuals within those corporations are our brethren and our allies – true ones. Some might even argue that we should be grateful for the work done in boardrooms – that without the backing of big names we wouldn’t be where we are today.

But in the words of LGBTQ+ activists throughout time “there is no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us“, and until these big corporations make it their business to fight injustice and oppression throughout the year, not just when it makes for good PR and boosts profit margins, we need to keep having difficult conversations about the risk of putting profit over people.

[This article was originally published in DIVA’s July 2018 issue. Read my latest column in DIVA, on sale now at divadigital.co.uk]

Cerian Jenkins

All views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and not that of my employer, academic institution, family or pets.

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