This time of year we have reason to look with rejoicing at Gay Pride celebrations around the world. Their number, persistence, and exuberance were unimaginable to this lonely queer kid growing up in the 1970s. To think there was any place you could be openly, even flagrantly gay was like oxygen. Today, hundreds of pride celebrations offer queer kids almost anywhere the hope of finding a place of relative freedom.
Yet in spite of our advances, we still live under the threat of violence driven by hate. Not two weeks ago, we marked the first anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the deadliest mass shooting by one person in US history. Barely a week seems to pass between reports of vicious and deadly attacks on transgender women. Stonewall may have been nearly 50 years ago, but we are still awash in hate. Experience shows that facts and argument don’t counter hate, but knowing a queer person and feeling empathy can. Decades of painful, frequently dangerous coming out have given many of us a world where queer people can hope to find a place to live and prosper. The importance of showing pride to the world hasn’t become any less urgent.
Even so, Gay Pride is season of ambivalence for me. Early on, it represented a radical demonstration that queer people not only refuse to be silent, but insist on making their presence undeniable. In the years since, it has become something distinctly different. What once celebrated the freewheeling sense of possibility at the heart of queer life has become an opportunity for corporate marketing and for solidarity among queers who happen to live and look like the majority.
This was demonstrated recently by the interruption of Washington Pride by a radical group called No Justice, No Pride. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/12/get-corporate-america-police-units-out-pride-marches.) Primary among their issues was the inclusion of the police in Pride, with its obvious approval by Pride organizers. It’s stunning: never mind the obvious fact that the police have long been one of the threatening forces queer people battle to live normal lives, Washington Pride (and others) included and celebrated an institution that regularly murders African Americans. Yet there was widespread condemnation of No Justice, No Pride for interfering in the party, not for the organizers who planned a party that pointedly included racist killers.
Then there is the corporatization of Pride. These celebrations nearly always include corporate sponsorship, i.e., plastering the event with company logos for advertising. Washington Pride was sponsored by a number of corporations, among them Wells Fargo Bank. On the surface, this is normal: the bank is looking for customers, the organizers are looking for someone to pay the bills. But No Justice, No Peace was aware of something critical that Washington Pride organizers ignored: Wells Fargo is an investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is being built by force with (of course) police protection next to the water supply of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, while the pipeline studiously avoids the white city nearby. Wells Fargo has also been forced to pay $175 million for discrimination against Black and Latinx customers.
Thus, with the police/corporate invasion, Pride has become an opportunity for pinkwashing, the use of gay inclusion to cover institutional misdeeds. In the cases of Wells Fargo and the police, the cover is for murder and economic violence committed by powerful institutions at the heart of the establishment. And it isn’t just corporate sponsorship or the welcoming of authoritarian institutions that mark Pride’s dedication to established power, it’s observable in the make-up of Pride organizers and celebrants, who are mostly white and cis, and often mostly male. Why would Pride be any more responsive to the needs of outsiders than Wells Fargo or the police when all three are overwhelmingly run by insiders?
Even tragedy has not moved Pride. The victims and survivors at Pulse Nightclub last Pride season were mostly Latinx. The murdered transwomen mentioned above have mostly been women of color. The names of Black people murdered by police—the ones deemed newsworthy enough—appear in the media almost every week. How do we celebrate Pride when so many are ignored as Pride celebrates the wealthy and powerful?
All I can offer is a reminder of the outsiders who gave us the origin of Pride, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn who, early on the morning of June 28, 1969 decided they had had it with police harassment and rioted. That is, they protested with violence, smashing windows, setting fire to cars, and throwing pieces of the street at police. The rioters were not polite, well-connected cis gay men in suits, but marginalized queers, trans women of color, butch lesbians, and drag queens. And they did not quit, as the rioting continued a second night and went on to inspire the gay liberation movement in ways polite white homophile organizations like the Mattachine Society never did and never could.
These queer forbearers showed us that change does not come from appealing to wealth and power, but from standing against them and fighting without apology. The struggles for Black civil rights and the history of the labor movement showed us the same. To ignore the struggles of trans people and queer people of color in planning Pride is unconscionable, as is including the corporations and police organizations which have done so much damage to them. Their struggles must always be at least as much a part of Pride as the accomplishments of the past.
Red Rose Socialists stands—always—with the marginalized, the powerless, and the voiceless in their struggles.