Pride originated in the Stonewall riots, but now it’s a hyper-capitalist holiday. Pride has changed meaning over the years, so what’s the point of it? Is Pride obsolete? Delaney Tarr writes on a reflection of June’s 2021 Pride celebrations.
Pride month is officially over. As June turns to July, the rainbow that decorated seemingly every company’s logo disappears. Crosswalks are tarred and painted over, rainbow murals ripped away overnight. The only vestiges of the month are often the remnants of Pride collections on the clearance racks.
The transition happens every year. It’s become a bit of a running joke in the LGBTQ+ community, how corporations only care about queer people when it’s convenient. Their aesthetic displays start and end in the month of June, often removed from the political reality of LGBTQ+ rights.
Even as companies show out with their gestures of support, the LGTBQ+ community is under attack. Across the country, different states have implemented laws discriminating against trans people’s rights, and queer people run the risk of hate crimes and violence every day.
The harsh reality of LGBTQ+ rights dims the shine of Pride celebrations, but it also raises the question– What’s the point of Pride anymore?
The month has grown increasingly corporate over the years, and 2021 was met with no shortage of poorly executed allyship gestures. Ikea took a chance with their “Love Seats” collection, an artistic endeavor that was immediately made fun of online for the so-called “bisexual couch”.
As well-intentioned as these endeavors might be, it’s hard to see them as anything but an eye on the bottom line. The Disney corporation released their own Pride collection this year, a grab at their large LGBTQ+ fanbase.
Yet Disney is now on its seventh iteration of “first gay character”, each time asserting that the seconds of screentime for an LGBTQ+ character is a representation landmark. The scene is there, just small enough that it can be missed– or cut for conservative audiences.
Disney and Ikea are far from the minority. A cursory stroll through any shopping mall will be met with lines from Levi’s, Primark, and even Target. It’s not always clear where the proceeds of the clothing go.
Target boats over 150 Pride-themed products on their website, but mentions nothing of the proceeds. They instead say the company has made a $100k donation to GLSEN, an organization aimed at ending bullying based on sexual orientation.
The donations aren’t bad. They’re the opposite. But it’s often notable that brands only publicize their support of the LGBTQ+ community in June, and unclear how much further their work goes the rest of the calendar year.
Not every brand even goes that far. Some are more nefarious. AT&T has littered its marketing presence with rainbows for the past month, but according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics, AT&T has made at least 327 donations totaling $204,350 to 133 anti-LGBTQ+ legislators.
Home Depot, CVS, and Walmart are all similar offenders, with many more companies using the same strategy of performative allyship that doesn’t match their financial action. It leaves many LGBTQ+ people hoping companies will actually put their money where their mouth is, take the funds they use to sponsor a Pride parade float, and donate it to a cause.
Yet this reliance on brands as the purveyors of Pride speaks to the issue of what the month means nowadays. The Pride parade has shifted dramatically from its first iterations. Attendees now watch as sponsored floats drive by declaring “Love is Love!” and pushing for celebration.
It’s at once ahistorical and a warped retelling of LGBTQ+ history.
The first Pride was a riot
The phrase “the first Pride was a riot” is one some may be familiar with, but it also carries real weight. The Stonewall riots in June 1969 happened because the police raided a beloved gay bar and its queer patrons finally fought back.
Those protests lasted six days and marked a shift in the fight for queer liberation. The most well-known of those protestors, Marsha P. Johnson, later co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Sylvia Rivera.
Johnson’s legacy is one well known by many LGBTQ+ activists and speaks to the revolutionary spirit that the Stonewall protests and early activists had. Theirs was a fight for queer liberation, the freedom of LGBTQ+ people from an oppressive system.
The history of liberation and queer activism isn’t taught in schools, so curious individuals have to rely on the information they might be able to find – and the information available to them. Yet the Pride that decorates our streets and stores is beholden to the whims of its corporate sponsors.
This pride has to be defanged. It has to be marketable. It has to be something a passerby can purchase to signal support, a rainbow on a denim jacket of a pride flag t-shirt.
Pride is a consumer’s holiday, another opportunity to buy into an issue. The celebrations can’t be too radical: New York Pride moved to bar uniformed officers from the march, but after heavy pushback reversed the decision.
Liberation seems unreachable, especially now that Pride is beholden to the desires and whims of corporations. Pride has to be defanged. It has to be marketable. It has to be something that a passerby could purchase, distilled into a simple denim jacket or a t-shirt.
So where do we go from here? The mainstream Pride parades and corporate collections don’t match the revolutionary roots of LGBT+ activism.
Some writers and organizers have pushed for a reclamation of pride that recenters BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals and their needs. Organizations like The Stonewall Riots stress messages like “Abolition is Liberation” and organize events centering on Black Queer and Trans people.
Just because Pride in the mainstream is easily packaged and sole, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is one that continues on. Discriminatory policies are being made to this day, and Black Queer and Trans people still face racism and bigotry in social, political, and financial realms.
The work for queer liberation and equity continues, far removed from the rainbows that decorate every June. These activists work year-round and aren’t so easily packaged and palatable, but maybe that’s a good thing. After all, Pride was once a riot.