On Corporate Pride and Reclaiming Pride’s Radical Past

Damian Algabre

Summary: Discusses the meaning of Pride, and its revolutionary potential.

To begin, I write here about “Pride” as it refers to two items. Pride refers chiefly to a feeling of solidarity and resilience in the Queer community. As an extension, Pride often refers to the events associated with the concept itself. My intention is to reflect on recent local Pride events in the hope that it can shed some light on how the concept of Pride itself continues to change and who is allowed to share in it.

Coming into awareness of my gender and sexuality in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, I had the notion that Pride, along with its related events and merchandise, were nothing more than a celebration. I had no idea of the depth of history that underpinned the concept of Pride, but what I did understand very fundamentally was that Pride celebrations weren’t meant for poor, brown Queer people like me. For as long as I’ve lived, LA Pride has taken place in the affluent, predominantly white neighborhood of West Hollywood. And in this time, I have witnessed the commodification of LA Pride become more overt, with corporate sponsorship dominating the parade and changing the structure of the event entirely.

Since its conception, LA Pride has been cleaved into a free parade on the street and a paid-entry musical festival. Both are saturated with corporate advertising. Of course, the effect of the commodification of these events doesn’t simply have the effect of making pride inaccessible or, at the least, a burdensome expense for many Queer people in the Los Angeles area. LA Pride is just one example of Pride events which have lost a meaningful connection to the community itself. In creating an environment that circulates around consumption, and in which most of the interactions between strangers are mediated by capital, the event turns the once central notions of solidarity and resilience into a matter of lip service. Even in non-transaction interactions, this mentality seeps into the way in which people within a festival environment see each other. In the rush of it all, people are less interested in acknowledging each other in a frank and honest way– instead, they are encouraged to see each other as means to an end: ‘How can this interaction make my experience better?’ In this way, LA Pride is a pinkwashed microcosm of corporate Los Angeles and the transactions that comprise it.

In a meticulously constructed corporate jungle, Pride ceases to genuinely reflect the Queer community itself, and instead reflects the ideal LGBTQ+ consumer. If the myriad vendors and sponsors at such festivals are to be believed, the ideal Queer consumer is a chronically drunk, reasonably affluent, able-bodied, and effusively youthful worker, without any of the inconvenient oppression that may stop them from buying into the absurdly curated lifestyle presented in each festival. As more corporate entities have steadfastly targeted advertisements at Queer demographics during pride month, the connection between Queer folks and their celebration becomes shallow and off kilter, the forces of capital abstracting international business’ ideal consumer from their human reality.

Within the last decade, however, criticisms of both corporate and police presences at pride parades have made their way into mainstream discourse along with an emphasis on the radical origins of Pride itself. (The words “the first pride was a riot,” have become something of a rallying cry for this generation of Queer folks.) Through reincorporating this history, Pride becomes something more human again. This evolving concept of Pride in the United States re-centralizes the legacies of the Stonewall Riot. It also emphasizes that the riot was enmeshed with race and class struggles, and that Queer history in the US has long since found an enemy in law enforcement.

But the intertwining of class, race, and queerness aren’t simply being relegated to history. Given the intersections between Black and Queer struggles, and especially their intersected histories in the US, it seems salient to note that this effort to re-frame Pride as more overtly political has taken place alongside the development of Black Lives Matter. In fact, the Queer women co-founders of Black Lives Matter – Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza – have, since the movement’s inception, each emphasized the need to not only include but to center Queer people in it. With this ethos, Black Lives Matter has had a profound effect in aligning Queer and Black struggles, something visible in the rise in demonstrations against police presence at Pride marches and activist prioritization of intersectional Queer struggles.

Within the last few years alone, the contradictions between LA Pride and the needs of the actual Queer Angelenes have bred alternate events centered in and organized by communities of color. Two notable new Pride events, DTLA Pride and Compton Pride, illustrate this best. DTLA Pride, established in 2016, is hosted in Pershing Square, in the heart of Downtown LA, and remains more accessible and lower cost than the historical LA Pride. Compton Pride, which hosted its first event this year, was cost free and successful in terms of turnout.

And while these planned events are small steps in creating spaces for resilient and strong Queer communities, it is important to note that Queer Angelenes have also shown a capability for rapid and effective organizing this year. On August 24th, transgender women organizers working with DTLA Pride celebrated the first day of the event at a local tequila bar. After being harassed by transphobic customers, the organizers were then kicked out by bouncers with excessive force for causing a “disturbance”. Within a day, the organizers were able to circulate the news widely, take control of the media narrative of the event, and organize a powerful protest against the bar. In watching everything unfold so quickly after the incident, I felt as if the organization of this protest was an encouraging exercise of some long-lost ability for the Queer community at large. Not only were these women able to engage and connect Latine and Queer Angelenes with all the speed and breadth of a technology-based organization– the protesters were also able to articulate demands, grievances, and solidarity with each other with impressive clarity in such a small amount of time.

The bar in question had long been a symbol of the uneasy pattern of gentrification in Los Angeles. While using the Chicane imagery and culture of downtown LA, the bar was one of many new bars opened in Los Angeles under a single corporation which capitalized on the characteristics of each neighborhood. It was through this incident that latent tensions of class, race, gender, and queerness in the area coalesced, in turn encouraging solidarity between locals of different demographics. I believe that it is crucial that Queer politics in the US have more explicitly taken on and incorporated an awareness of issues for other oppressed groups. The sheer existence of these people stands in contrast to the white nationalist identity in the US today, and it is crucial that this “difference from” is concretized into a unified and active “opposition against,” if oppressed groups are to be able to gather enough agency against the societal forces which work against them.

As if the urgent need for unity between groups wasn’t clear enough, the US’s first Straight Pride Parade took place in Boston on August 31st this year. More than a plea for cis-heteronormativity, the event was laden with signs that read “Trump 2020”, “Build the Wall”, and white nationalist and Alt-Right imagery and rhetoric. This event wasn’t a reaction to the liberal Pride of the last decade, which sought acceptance uncritically– “Straight Pride” is an acknowledgement and refutation of a burgeoning, radical Pride which more readily engages with the broad effects of structural inequality.

As a transgender person of color, I find myself living at a time where it is impossible for me to be apolitical. As a Marxist-Humanist, I find it vital not to broadly dismiss Queer politics as bourgeois identity politics. Gender and sexual diversity exist in great profusion all around us, while the stigma against this diversity remains a pervasive fact of life. Pride may have long been co-opted for financial gain, but recent resistance to this has challenged the legitimacy of corporate Pride. Pride today, despite its shortcomings, shows promise for the future: a future in which it will truly speak to the whole spectrum found within the Queer community, as well as to the original legacy of the event itself.


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