I vividly remember my first Pride – it was 2015, and the commercialization of Pride wasn’t even a concept to me yet when my mom, aunt, and I stumbled upon Dublin’s first Pride parade after the referendum to legalize same-sex marriage. Like most Pride parades it was a festive occasion, full of color and joy. However, what has stuck in my mind to this day was the advertising. Every large company with a base of operations in Dublin was there — I’m talking Amazon, Dropbox, Google, Airbnb, Yahoo and more – and with their fancy balloons and limitless promotional materials, the spotlight fell to them rather than the local groups attempting to enact actual change. Since then, big businesses have begun creating special merchandise specifically for Pride month – which often really misses the point. Despite what these brands would try to lead you to believe, this visibility doesn’t typically equate to real progress. It’s important to remember what Pride is actually about, and how thin the line is between genuine allyship and opportunism.
Activism Is Intrinsic To The History Of Pride
On the morning of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York. What made this specific raid historic, as compared to the thousands of previous so-called “morality” raids, was that the patrons decided to fight back. The ensuing media attention of the week of protests led the LGBTQ+ movement to gain more visibility throughout the mainstream U.S. A year later, on the anniversary of Stonewall, thousands of people marched in New York City, and demonstrations were held in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. This was the origin of today’s Pride parade, and it’s why we celebrate Pride Month in June.
For years, these Pride events served as a way to amplify the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, from the AIDS epidemic to marriage equality. While there was always a celebratory aspect to them, Pride events were also intended as a demonstration to enact change and fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Today, however, it seems as if Pride is just a celebration, and a way for big companies to throw a party and show how woke they are.
This is where the problem lies. Are these companies showing up at Pride because they actually want to enact real change, or are they jumping on the bandwagon in order to gain more customers?
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
One of the biggest issues with companies taking part in Pride is consistency. It often seems as if these firms only care about LGBTQ+ rights in June — the moment the clock ticks over to July 1, the rainbows disappear. Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t end when Pride month does, so why does the business support? This is particularly important to recognize given that these businesses, with their themed merchandise, will make a profit off of Pride. Is it enough if the business donates 10 percent of their profits from this merchandise to LGBTQ+ organizations?
Then there’s the issue of hypocrisy. Numerous companies that outwardly show support for LGBTQ+ rights — including AT&T, Aerospace, and Deloitte — also give hundreds of thousands of dollars through their company PACs to political candidates who oppose bills designed to support the LGBTQ+ community. Others — including BMW, Sephora, and Lenovo — put up rainbow profile pictures across their social media accounts except on pages located in the countries or regions where LGBTQ+ people face the most repression. Instead of using their privilege to speak out in support of their LGBTQ+ workers in these countries, they perpetuate the silence.
‘Rainbow Capitalism’ & The Whitewashing Of Pride
The history of LGBTQ+ activism in the U.S., including Pride itself, has tended to be one of relative privilege. While queer people of color have been at the center of LGBTQ+ activism since the beginning — examples include José Sarria, the first openly gay person to run for public office in the U.S., and Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, who were integral to the Stonewall uprising — much of this history has been white-washed, particularly across mainstream media. The normative idea of someone LGBTQ+ has become someone cis and white, while Pride has become a festive party that ignores all of the actual problems facing the queer people who aren’t cis and white, such as the high levels of violence, often fatal, that Black trans women face.
Besides the lack of representation of queer people of color, there’s also insufficient representation of queer people with disabilities. Pride events are notorious for being inaccessible to those with disabilities, from the lack of wheelchair access to the increasingly common use of strobe lights. The capitalistic take on modern Pride has just exacerbated these issues. Corporate entities became involved in Pride to make a profit, so it’s no surprise that Pride events have become more expensive. In turn, this is causing Pride to become less and less accessible to those who don’t fit the normative mold and who, more often than not, need real advocacy, not a party.
The Benefits Of Visibility Versus The Cons Of Commercialization
All of this is not to say that the presence of big business at Pride is inherently bad. The fact that so many companies publicly stand with the LGBTQ+ community is a powerful statement of acceptance within society. There are also some companies that do go above and beyond in supporting LGBTQ+ rights, enacting real change. But it’s also important to recognize that for the majority of these businesses operating within a capitalist society, the ultimate goal is to make a profit. If that means publicly supporting LGBTQ+ rights while at the same time not-so-publicly funding anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, then so be it. But, as consumers, it’s important we put the pressure on these businesses to do more.
It’s time for Pride to get back to its roots – its activist roots – and for all of us to remember that there’s still so much to be done to gain true equality and equity.