Reclaiming Pride: Queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism. | Leandro Justen / via Reclaim Pride Coalition
After a pandemic-enforced two-year hiatus in many parts of the world, Pride is back this summer. Pageants, parties, and parades are in full swing once more, putting the vibrancy and diversity of the LGBTQ community front and center. From longtime gay sanctuaries like San Francisco to small towns like Seward, Alaska—population 3,000 and hosting its first-ever Pride parade this year—the community and its supporters are out on the streets embracing one another again.
Also back is the phenomenon of “corporate pride.” Almost every big company imaginable now slaps a rainbow across its logo on social media every June. There are exceptions, of course. Like Chick-Fil-A. One of the fried chicken firm’s franchisees recently tweeted out “priDEMONth,” a Christian fundamentalist take on “Pride month.” Or oil giant Exxon Mobil, where executives still ban LGBTQ employees from flying the Pride flag at company facilities. Or the dozens of other major corporations and thousands of small businesses that deny their queer employees equal rights, protections, and benefits.
As for the corporations that do participate, however, the multi-colored marketing blitz is surely a sign of our community’s growing normalization, but it’s right to remain skeptical of big business motives. Especially when retailers proceed to peddle merchandise bearing generic themes like “Love wins” in the hope of scoring some pink dollars while remaining just inoffensive enough to avoid catching the attention of the enforcers of heterosexist norms.
A welcome antidote to this capitalist co-optation, though, is the long tradition of Pride as protest, which is gathering fresh recognition and support thanks to groups like the Reclaim Pride Coalition.
For generations, queers had to fight just to exist and be seen, let alone be welcomed or celebrated. As an old button slogan goes, “The first pride was a riot,” and indeed it was. Stonewall 1969, the protest widely seen as launching the modern queer liberation movement, was an uprising against racist and homophobic police repression in New York City—led by trans women of color. (By June 2024, visitors will be able to learn about this uprising at the new Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center being opened by the National Parks Service.)
When coronavirus canceled most of the official festivals and corporate sponsorships in 2020 and 2021, the movement to return Pride to its protest roots garnered more of the spotlight it’s been denied for years. A part of the growing progressive and left consciousness sweeping the nation and a companion to other people’s movements like Black Lives Matter, the fight for women’s lives, and others, this trend has put the call for “Queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism” into wide circulation.
With the victory of marriage equality in 2015, too many upper-income and (especially) white gays and lesbians concluded the struggle was over and directed their political donations accordingly. Long-overdue court rulings against discrimination on the job and in housing, while certainly welcomed, reinforced the notion that the community could hit the cruise control button.
Of course, the struggle never ended for working-class queers, queers of color, and particularly the trans community. In reality, it didn’t end for those upper-income professional types among us, either.
A quick survey of the political landscape right now confirms that. Though corporate pride may have taken a break during the pandemic, the Republican apparatus of hate and division remained highly active.
- An avalanche of anti-trans legislation is pouring out of Republican-controlled statehouses across the country. Over 300 bills targeting trans athletes, gender-neutral or non-binary restroom facilities, health and gender-affirming care for trans youth, gender-accurate IDs, and more are in various stages of the legislative process, with some having already become law.
- Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the homophobic equivalent of the right wing’s racist crusade against Critical Race Theory, is prompting copycat efforts in several states. It bans even letting schoolchildren know that LGBTQ people exist and is the kind of legislation that paves the way for the suffering of LGBTQ kids and violence for years to come.
- In the face of an epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings, the GOP in Texas thinks it’s more important to keep young people out of drag shows than gun shows. It’s a diversion tactic to keep the focus off the Republican-gun manufacturer-NRA triple axis turning the nation’s schools and streets into killing fields in pursuit of profit.
- The Supreme Court’s ruling to throw out Roe v. Wade directly impacts queer women, non-binary people, and transgender men who need the abortion providers and reproductive health clinics that will shutter as a result of the ruling. Further, it puts many other LGBTQ rights in jeopardy that rest on Roe’s protections of privacy and personal autonomy. As Kierra Johnson, director of the LGBTQ Task Force, recently said, “There’s so much about LGBTQ liberation and reproductive justice that connects us…and connect our movements. The foundation of our movements were built on sexual freedom.” And now Justice Clarence Thomas admits that the overturning of Roe will allow the Court to next target marriage equality and gay sex.
- On top of these political and legislative assaults, there’s also the open and direct violence targeting the LGBTQ community, such as the white supremacist band of fascists in Idaho who were stopped just before attacking a Pride parade or the Texas pastor who wants to round up every gay person in America and shoot them in the back of the head.
For all these reasons and more, it’s important to keep in mind that Pride is a season of celebration but also a season of struggle. When the parades are over, we have to keep our marching shoes on because we are in the midst of a many-sided fight that will determine whether not just our community, but indeed our country and our world, progress or sink backward.
The November elections have the potential to shift the balance of forces in Congress, breaking the Republican filibuster in the Senate and sidelining renegade Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Stopping the right-wing’s blockade in Washington would open the pathway for passing key priorities for LGBTQ people and all working people in our country like the Equality Act, the Build Back Better Act, the PRO Act, and making abortion rights permanent and irreversible.
And with at least 104 LGBTQ people running for Congress in races across the country, there are even more reasons to vote.
The LGBTQ community has never known a moment when it wasn’t struggling, and the current period is no different. It’s time to act up and fight back, just like previous generations.
March now, love now, vote now.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.
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C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. C.J. Atkins es el editor gerente de People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
People’s World, June 24, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/