On Sunday I went to my first ever Pride Parade in new york city, an experience that began with sunshine and happiness, and ended in frustration and blistered heels.
I’ve been to and participated in Pride Parades and events when I was living on Coast Salish Land in vancouver, so I have seen how a community project becomes overtaken by corporate entities and state agendas. The new york parade was no different- the procession was a mixture of local and national grassroots organizations, and enormous floats sponsored by banks, international conglomerates and franchises, along with quite a helping of local and national politicians gearing up for re-election. Obviously the issue front and centre was the recent passing of marriage equality at the state level, and even though marriage is not at the forefront of my own personal and political battles as a queer woman of colour, I couldn’t help but become emotional, recognizing and respecting that this is a significant victory for many people.
But then this happened:
A troupe of gorgeous and talented queer women of colour burlesque dancers twirled their tassels my way, and the white man behind me turned to his partner, also a white man, and said:
“Wow. It’s just like national geographic.”
Thus endeth my day at the parade.
In a haze of anger, I marched myself past rainbow and glitter bedecked revelers, back home. Once again, I had been made to feel unsafe in the very environment that is not only supposed to cater to my safety, but be a celebration of the person I am, of my community. I don’t know why I am always surprised by these situations- they happen so often. But I don’t want to travel through my life expecting the worst of everyone, so I keep my hopes up, glue them back together when they are dashed, time and again.
Queer people are people after all; flawed, prejudiced, we all carry and perpetuate the effects of injustice in our marginalized communities, whatever they may be. I’ve experienced racism (and all sorts of other “isms”) in queer communities before; I myself am continuing to unlearn the effects of internalized oppressions and prejudices, many of which I have no idea I am even participating in until someone calls me out, so I know the work is hard and painful and never ending. I know that no community is completely free of oppressive forces, but the point is that we work through this, that we are reflexive and respectful and humble and honest. And willing to do the work.
I think this moment was just the cap on an experience that was already grating on my nerves.
“Pride” has become an opportunity for corporations to pander and condescend to queers like they actually care about us, not our money. The presence of these so-called benevolent corporations in the parade actually contributes to a culture of false security in a “post”-homo/transphobic society; certain companies tell us that they do not use homophobic hiring and firing practices, in order to distract us from the fact that many of these same companies continue to exploit marginalized peoples (many of whom are queer and/or trans) in our own nations and the global south. Rainbow window treatments do not an ethical company make.
Politicians work for our rights often only when it’s convenient to their own agendas, and even if they are our true allies, we cannot forget that they are players in a game with the rules stacked against marginalized people- systems and ideologies of governance that historically benefit rich, straight white men. People often wax on about the ideals that form nations: freedom, equality, justice. But we forget the historical context in which these words were used, a context in which not all “people” were considered “people” or even human, and that those words, those principles, still carry a legacy of blood within them. This nation, like most nations, was founded upon the genocide, displacement and enslavement of Indigenous peoples, people of colour, women, queers, immigrants, the poor- while espousing principles of freedom, equality and justice. And this nation, and most nations, continue to build and survive because of this same process. We cannot forget this, we cannot ignore this. We are not post anything.
Starved and exhausted queer community organizations are fighting to survive in an economy backed up by a capitalist state that treats corporate bodies as if they are living and breathing, and actual human beings as if our living, our breathing, means nothing. Because when we cease, there is simply another army of consumers and producers to take our place. So when Wells Fargo, Mastercard, Delta, and Kiehl’s get louder cheers when they march in what is supposed to be our parade, because they can afford music and prizes and matching shirts, we are losing. Because these corporations are stealing and exploiting and oppressing- and distracting attention, money and support from incredible and vital organizations like Fierce, the Audre Lorde Project, Las Buenas Amigas, and The Bronx Community Pride Center.
Community and arts organizations and collectives are the first and foremost victims of budget cuts, and they/we are the ones working to save, love, advocate, change the world for us. Do we really believe that corporations have pride? We need to take back our parade. We need to reject the money and the flash that corporate sponsors bring to organizing, because that flashiness is just covering up our concessions to systems that are broken, that are rotten to the core. Pride was born out of resistance and revolution, and now the corporate colonial police state who kills and oppresses us is marching with us.
It’s not about the individual cops, the individual politicians- if their footsteps follow mine towards justice, then I welcome their company. But as long as they and we continue to uphold a state founded upon colonialism, a corporate empire that exploits the world, then we can never find justice. We give ourselves our rights, and we either watch or fight when they are taken away from us. We cannot and should not depend on our elected officials to give or maintain our humanity, we need to work them, remind them that their power is only the result of our own, and we will take it away if they threaten and abuse us with bigotry.
It’s not that I don’t think that queer and trans communities don’t have anything to celebrate- my elders and my contemporaries are incredibly brave and have made great changes for me/us in this world, and I am so grateful for that. We need to celebrate those victories, and ourselves. And I don’t want to disrespect the work of those marginalized activists and allies within institutions- I respect that fact that we are probably fighting for the same world, though our strategies differ. This year I have found myself becoming more and more radicalized (I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a radical, since I make my own concessions to systems every day, and have cis, class, academic and ability privilege, and probably more that I’m not thinking of). This probably makes me a hypocrite and at the very least contradictory and I’m trying to work through that, and not speak for others, or assume I know best, or even close to it. And I don’t have one or even any strategy in anti-oppressive activism that would be completely holistic or exist outside systems of exploitation, or offer a totally equitable and egalitarian alternative. Basically, this was a rant more than anything else. I guess what I’m saying is that the first step is knowing what doesn’t work for us, what we don’t want, so we can work towards creating movements and communities that are more inclusive and representative.
I think this might be my last Pride Parade for a while. Or maybe I will treat every step I take as a one person parade in Pride. Pride for myself. Pride for the world I want, the world I will try my best to make; pride in my successes and the mistakes I make and the lessons I learn from them. Pride in my shifting politics, in my steadfast beliefs; pride in my incomplete knowledge and unfinished work as an ally. Pride in being queer every day and in queering everyone I share my life with, my communities, my allies, my family, friends and lovers. Pride in working towards giving myself and my communities someone to be proud of.