Its June, which means its Gay Pride Month (or LGBT Pride, or LGBTQAAI Month, or whatever). Most cities, large and small, have some recognition of the month with a parade or festival of some kind. This year (as with many of the past several years) I will be avoiding these celebrations.
This has nothing to do with the fact that my partner is now a man. I still identify very strongly as a queer person. It is not because I think gay folks have now achieved equality and liberation- we haven’t. It is because gay pride celebrations have made themselves irrelevant to queer liberation and life.
My first gay pride I went to was in 1990. It was a fund raising dinner and awards celebration in San Jose, CA. The emcee made a joke that the parade in San Francisco that year was huge compared to the one she started going to a decade earlier which involved a dozen people meeting at someone’s house, walking around the block, and then toasting “Yay! We’re gay! in the backyard.”
Gay pride has grown exponentially over the past two decades. In some ways this is great. Being gay is more acceptable than it was when I came out in 1989. We are more visible. There are a few more legal protections. Yay!
Gay Pride, however, has made itself irrelevant to the liberation movement. I am not alone in my view of pride events. Many of us in the community now avoid these events and see them as simply vending and marketing spots.
Gay pride parades and festivals developed to provide a public place to assert that gay people were people, deserving of rights and protections and that we existed. Gay pride was to celebrate our humanity and dignity, something so many of us had been denied. Gay pride was about resistance and the right to live an “alternative” life.
Today, gay pride is largely geared toward couples getting married, adopting kids, trans folks who can pass gender muster, and the “normalization” of queerness. I am not against gay couples who want to marry, have their 2.1 kids, get a pet or two and settle in the suburbs. I am against reducing pride to a marketing fest to these folks.
Forgetting Our History
The gay movement is doing a very poor job of teaching the next generation our history. If your first pride event has been in the last decade, you would think the sum total of gay pride involved donating to HRC, buying rainbow colored crap, overpaying for beer, and partying with the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
There are a few groups that try and get out to promote gay history and knowledge. There are a few groups gathering oral histories, a few archives and libraries dedicated to queer knowledge, and a few groups that are promoting “alternative” versions of queer. Their booths are the least trafficked and often the worst-placed at a festival. Even in San Francisco, our mothership, kinky queers have a tiny, tiny space at pride.
Promoting an understanding that gay pride was originally about the right to live and love as you felt right without threat of harm by individuals or the government is vanishing. The need to be family-friendly and attract large marketing companies means that we have to push out our fringe members. Married queers with stable jobs and two kids are much more attractive to vendors than queers struggling to make a living, sex workers, and trans folks not wishing to pass as cis.
This need to draw national marketing firms and companies to support pride events meant we have changed our political fight. The multi-billion dollar wedding industry in the United States loved it when gays got the right to marry. Within two hours of the announcement of the Court decision that gay marriage was now legal, I started getting targeted ads on Facebook and Twitter for “Lesbian Wedding Dresses!” and “Gay Wedding Events Managers!” Seriously. Two hours. These businesses were ready to pounce on gay dollars as soon as it was no longer a risk to their bottom line.
However, in the movement’s pursuit of the right to a wedding dress and white picket fence, we forgot that things like jobs, and housing, and adequate health care are pretty fundamental to our lives. Mostly we forgot because the upper-middle class gays took over the movement and the organization of pride. They have jobs, and healthcare and stable housing. What they didn’t have was marriage and adoption rights. So….
The gay movement has gentrified like so many cities. It is pushing out the poor, the artists, the alternative folks because they don’t look good in our yoga studios and can’t afford organic kombucha. We body-shame those who can’t afford the $200 a month gym membership and fail to have the perfectly sculpted body that appears in GQ and in the pages of fitness magazines. We are horrified at those queers who- gasp! – shop at thrift stores that don’t have “Exchange” or “Boutique” in their name.
What This Means to a Movement
None of this rant is new. We have known for years that queers are gentrifying and selling out and pushing our “fringe” members to the margins. We have done this in the name of “acceptability” and “political progress.” There are plenty who have argued for four decades that first we get the most “acceptable” queers rights then we reach down to help the more fringe folks.
What I see is that we as a movement have simply decided to get the rights for the “acceptable” queers and forget the rest. We may support an organization for “non-mainstream” queers if we can write a check or attend a black-tie benefit where there will only be a few members of the group we are actually supposed to be supporting.