Rain on my Pride Parade

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.

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30 Responses

  1. Li
    Li June 29, 2011 at 4:42 pm |

    Thanks for this Anoushka. I’ve done some work in the last few years helping organise student floats for Sydney’s Mardi Gras, and how to engage with an increasingly corporatised parade has been an ongoing issue. In the end I’ve decided that the work has been important not because of any message we get out, which is really difficult and limited anyway, but in allowing queer young people, especially ones who have just excited high school or who are newly out or from regional areas to access the kind of mass community that Mardi Gras can provide. Which, like, I kind of buy all of your critiques of Pride and see them as they apply to Mardi Gras, and it’s kind of frustrating to me that I have to look at these small positive impacts within this giant storm of money and corporate sponsorship. Yeah. Umm. Thoughts not fully formed there yet? I like your brain.

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm |

    I agree completely, but am not sure how this process doesn’t inevitably happen in a capitalistic society. Companies have realized that catering to queer customers isn’t just fair and equitable, it’s also good business sense. But if it stopped there, as you pointed out, then there wouldn’t be substantial problems afoot.

  3. Jadey
    Jadey June 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm |

    “Wow. It’s just like national geographic.”

    Sigh. And goddamnit.

    A short while ago I was trying to compose a comment on the toplessness thread about how breaching the barriers on that front was still really heavily weighted in favour of women who are “socially acceptable” in every other way (i.e., white, conventionally attractive, not visibly poor or disabled or neuro-atypical, etc.). I gave up on the comment because I couldn’t articulate my point to my liking, but one of the things I was going to put in it was that publically topless WOC would probably be more likely to catch comments that dehumanized/animalized their bodies and sexuality. In fact, the very example I thought up – and later decided was too icky to put into print even as an example – was a shot about National Geographic.

    How I loathe being proved right.

    This is a great post, Anoushka. I’m so sorry about your pride experience getting shat upon like that. I guess radical is where we realize that small changes and liberations aren’t ever going to be enough – either we’re all equal, or no one truly is.

  4. Maggie
    Maggie June 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm |

    Yes. Thank you, Anoushka. I was at Seattle’s pride this weekend, which basically began with a bunch of corporate floats that don’t need any extra promotion here from me. But it gave me hope also to see some of my friends in the parade with local grassroots queer organizations like Bent Writing Institute. Like you, I think my participation in Pride in the future will be an act of resistance, and an act of queering Pride for myself.

  5. Jadey
    Jadey June 29, 2011 at 5:09 pm |

    Jadey fail html go corner now.

  6. doublenerds
    doublenerds June 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |

    Ugh. I am sorry you had to have other people’s racism thrown at you when you were trying to enjoy the parade.

    I was there too and I came home to my spouse and said, “you know, gay pride was a lot more GAY 20 years ago”.

    Where I used to see glorious variation in gender expression, I now see walls of matching t-shirts and corporate haircuts. Instead of “die-ins” by hundreds of outraged ACT UP activists and the fantastic, fire-swallowing Lesbian Avengers, last weekend I saw Mastercard, various insurance companies, and PepsiCo.

    While it was a thrill to experience the joy that permeated much of the crowd thanks to Friday’s events, I left the parade feeling a sense of loss. It’s like we’ve been swallowed up by IKEA and the people on the edges have been disappeared just as completely as they are in so much the rest of the country.

  7. BigTake
    BigTake June 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    Thank you for this. I have a lot of similar feelings on the corporatised nature of Pride out here in San Francisco. During training for assisting with a local group’s booth, one of the organizers said what was one of the more depressing things I’ve heard this year: “without alcohol sales, we can’t put on Pride.” I really wish Gay Shame SF had put on a protest like they did last year.

    Trans and dyke march were both rather pleasant, thankfully.

  8. Dao
    Dao June 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm |

    Everything you said I completely agree with. It expresses many of the feelings I have about Pride in the Twin Cities.

  9. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles June 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm |

    At my local pride festival this year, a drag queen was talking on stage and said “I’m sweating like a r****d at a spelling bee”. I still enjoyed the shit out of that day, but that really, really pissed me off, especially since the motto that day was “accept all, no exceptions”.

  10. miga
    miga June 29, 2011 at 8:01 pm |

    The night gay marriage passed in NYC, I went out to party in the Stonewall…and sadly got harassed by some of the same male bodied people who were out celebrating acceptance and new strides toward equality. I had my ass slapped, my hair pulled, my face pinched, booze thrown on me, and men grinding up against me- all strangers, all without my consent. And of course the exoticising comments. Oh well…

  11. tg
    tg June 29, 2011 at 8:01 pm |

    Please don’t try to fuse gay equality with anti-american socialism. There are many gays who believe capitalism, corporations, and America in general are forces for good. The pride parade is just as much a celebration of them as it is about you.

  12. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage June 29, 2011 at 8:37 pm |

    Heh. I didn’t know you were completely familiar with Toronto’s corporate-sanitized Pride celebrations and semi-regular conflicts with radical and POC-focused groups. Between several years of relegating the African diaspora-focused celebration Blockorama to beer store parking lots in favour of big mainstream performers on the main stages (thankfully, the party is back to the central location it held for many years this year), and a huge dustup over Queers Against Israeli Apartheid that the mainstream media and reactionary politicians inflamed and got the group booted, the politics have been bled from Pride. A radical group put on a march of their own last weekend since the official parade was pushed back a week to coincide with Canada Day weekend, instead of the Stonewall anniversary like practically every year prior.

    It doesn’t help that the recently-elected mayor can barely hide his homophobia; he isn’t attending the Sunday parade like every mayor has for the last decade (no kidding, he says it’s his family’s yearly vacation weekend and that’s his higher priority), hasn’t attended any Pride week events, and still hasn’t said he’ll bother showing up at anything. Prior to his rise to mayor he expressed some rather prejudiced opinions about LGBTQ people.

    I’ve heard many of the same things expressed above by friends.

  13. Dao
    Dao June 29, 2011 at 9:30 pm |

    “There are many gays who believe capitalism, corporations, and America in general are forces for good. The pride parade is just as much a celebration of them as it is about you.”

    But where was this celebration of Anoushka when people in her queer community, my queer community, think that making racist comments is okay? How does capitalism, corporations, and America in general that still continue to support the privileges of the white, the rich, and male support those who don’t fit into those molds? That was the point I got out of Anoushka’s writing. Perhaps those groups do help some in the queer community, but they also aren’t helping many in the queer community.

  14. Kelsey
    Kelsey June 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm |

    This is a great post. I’m really glad that other people are just as bummed out about the corporate co-opting of gay culture. I knew that there would be a huge business presence at the parade, which in of itself persuaded me not to go. I also looked at a list of the after-parade parties and events in my area, and, with very few exceptions, they all took place downtown in really dumb bars. So the only thing that anyone can think of to do post-Pride is to drink overpriced beer, listen to terrible music, and maybe grind on strangers? How boring and uninspired is that? Fuck corporate culture, and fuck bar culture also.

  15. Azalea
    Azalea June 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm |

    The LGBTIQ communiy is not immune to racism. A person can be gay misogynist and racist and ableist and classist and all those other isms. It isn’t fair to look at any one group and expect for them to not have bigots within that group, even if it is a marginalized group that is no stranger to oppression.

    I am sorry that of all those there, you had the misfortune of being near racist assholes.

  16. Li
    Li June 29, 2011 at 10:28 pm |

    tg: Please don’t try to fuse gay equality with anti-american socialism. There are many gays who believe capitalism, corporations, and America in general are forces for good. The pride parade is just as much a celebration of them as it is about you.

    Personally, I’m for queer liberation, not gay equality, but I can see how you’d make that mistake.

  17. Gretchen
    Gretchen June 30, 2011 at 3:30 am |

    “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.”
    This.

    And

    tg:
    Please don’t try to fuse gay equality with anti-american socialism. There are many gays who believe capitalism, corporations, and America in general are forces for good.

    Really?

    But I guess I’m with Annoushka on the fiercer levels of radicalism and cynicism of capitalism.

  18. groggette
    groggette June 30, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    Azalea: It isn’t fair to look at any one group and expect for them to not have bigots within that group, even if it is a marginalized group that is no stranger to oppression.

    From the post:

    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.

    Where are you getting that Anoushka’s being unfair here?

  19. Matt
    Matt June 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm |

    Gretchen:
    “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.”
    This.

    And

    Really?

    But I guess I’m with Annoushka on the fiercer levels of radicalism and cynicism of capitalism.

    Ahem, cynicism of capitalism? Really? Or did you mean to say cynicism of any systematic set of rules that governs, with human leadership, any organization of any size, which is composed of other humans? Because claiming the problem is one particular system of all the hundreds of systems, all of which contain systematic oppression is stupid. You can get a different system, oppressing different minorities, based on different reasons, but you aren’t ever going remove oppression as a whole.
    Even having a gay pride parade is oppression. You know why you have the leisure time, money, and rights to have and attend a gay pride parade? American/Global North economic oppression. That oppression provides you all the resources you are using to organize, advertise, run, and attend this parade where you were so upset about a racist comment. Your life sure is tough, being upset by a single comment at an expensive, extravagant, entertaining celebration. I’ll pray for you that you can survive the horror and trauma.
    Also, after wards coming on here to blog about your terrible experience and getting a group of people validating your every thought.
    Btw, if those guys who made the nat geo comment are isist assholes, every commenter in this thread/post is an isist asshole. Finally! Equality! We can all be isist assholes together!

  20. Sarah
    Sarah June 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm |

    I was really bummed to have missed out on such a historically-timed Pride celebration as I was away from NYC on Sunday, but reading this makes me feel a whole heckuva lot better about it all.

    For years I’ve found Pride really dull and corporat-ized – and always thought it was just me getting old and crotchety and cynical. It’s good to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that buying rainbow-colored Wells Fargo key fobs and $12 beers isn’t in any way related to queer liberation (and is also really freakin’ boring!).

  21. Li
    Li June 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm |

    Matt: Ahem, cynicism of capitalism? Really? Or did you mean to say cynicism of any systematic set of rules that governs, with human leadership, any organization of any size, which is composed of other humans? Because claiming the problem is one particular system of all the hundreds of systems, all of which contain systematic oppression is stupid. You can get a different system, oppressing different minorities, based on different reasons, but you aren’t ever going remove oppression as a whole.
    Even having a gay pride parade is oppression. You know why you have the leisure time, money, and rights to have and attend a gay pride parade? American/Global North economic oppression. That oppression provides you all the resources you are using to organize, advertise, run, and attend this parade where you were so upset about a racist comment. Your life sure is tough, being upset by a single comment at an expensive, extravagant, entertaining celebration. I’ll pray for you that you can survive the horror and trauma.
    Also, after wards coming on here to blog about your terrible experience and getting a group of people validating your every thought.
    Btw, if those guys who made the nat geo comment are isist assholes, every commenter in this thread/post is an isist asshole. Finally! Equality! We can all be isist assholes together!

    Because there couldn’t possibly be any connection between to corporate-oriented culture of the global north, racism and the economic exploitation of the global south. And certainly, people of colour in the global north should stfu about racism because they have access to the internet. Matt, I don’t know what privileges you experience, but your douchbaggery at least is showing.

  22. Jenae
    Jenae June 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm |

    Maggie:
    Yes. Thank you, Anoushka. I was at Seattle’s pride this weekend, which basically began with a bunch of corporate floats that don’t need any extra promotion here from me.

    Me too. I was really disappoint in all the corporate crap and not enough floats. =D

  23. Azalea
    Azalea July 1, 2011 at 9:17 am |

    groggette: From the post:

    Where are you getting that Anoushka’s being unfair here?

    That was a general statement, not meant to her in particular but n general I have heard the expectation that the LGBTIQ community be free of racism as if you cant be both LGBTIQ and racist or classist etc.

  24. bhuesca
    bhuesca July 1, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    Reading this, I feel strongly pulled to ask Anoushka to read Clarisse’s recent piece, and apply it to the Pride Parade situation vis-a-vis:
    Some queers are liberal, some are conservative.
    Some support corporations, some do not.
    Some benefit from corporations, some do not.
    Some are, as you rather critically say, white males, and some are not.
    Some are there with marriage on the mind (the aforementioned white male queers) and are happy with the passage of the NY gay marriage bill, and some do not have this on the mind personally and are annoyed with the presence of white males.
    Some are racist/sexist/ableist/classist/looks-ist, some are not.

    The NYC Pride Parade was for ALL. Just as all women are not alike (Clarisse’s post), not all queers/LGBTQIAA people are alike.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 1, 2011 at 11:14 am | *

      Good thing Anoushka wasn’t trying to say that all queers should be alike, then!

  25. bhuesca
    bhuesca July 1, 2011 at 4:08 pm |

    No, but I got the distinct impression she was saying that increased corporate presence was detrimental to all queers.

  26. DouglasG
    DouglasG July 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm |

    Now I’m feeling nostalgic for the days when the celebration could be held on a tiny lawn and one could see how cute most of the interpreters for the hearing-impaired were, or the year in a community college auditorium and a clever woman’s parody On My Twelfth Day Home for Christmas about all her mother’s different topics for nagging her (the equivalent of Five Golden Rings was Still No Boyfriend), or the year that we’d been relocated to a larger park and, annoyed that the press had finally moved from reporting the number of participants from 200 (for many years running) but only to an approximation of 600, I got to the end of the parade route early and personally counted 3,786 people arriving.

    New York had spectacular elements to it the couple of times I went, but I always thought the parade seemed designed mainly for those people who watched it out of their apartment windows.

    It just makes me feel a little sad that everything’s about marketing now – much the way that even major golf and tennis tournaments have title sponsors. The Ford Australian Open or Weetabix Women’s British Open might not be that bad, but the McDonalds LPGA just doesn’t sit quite right. It’s best swallowed by contemplating how much worse the prize money disparity would be otherwise.

  27. EZ Writer
    EZ Writer July 2, 2011 at 1:15 am |

    PLEASE reconsider, anoushka:
    My 1st March was Chicago, ’75 as a “Straight 4 Gay Rts,” having made my first lesbian friend. There were 25 of “you” & only one “me.” Together we withstood the epithets & insults of the ugly, angry crowd.
    In ’79 I fell in love w/ a woman &, after endur’g my last Chgo blizzard, “The Blizzard of ’79”, we sold what didn’t fit in her car–and, w/ barely enuff room for my border collie to squeeze tween our belongings & the roof, we moved to the SF Bay Area. (Along w/ 1/2 of the Midwest, it seemed.)
    Too sick to march in ’80, in 1981 AIDS had finally been ID-ed & I donned my rainbow suspenders over an “I’m Fired Up” Act-UP tee-shirt, w/ the number & names of our dead on the back & painted a rainbow on my face–from the top left of my forehead, arcing across my rt eye & ending at my jawline — my bare eye had a large red teardrop, “dripping” from the inside corner.
    I drew a lg red heart on the palm of my left hand; another rainbow on the palm of my right & marched w/ 1000s of my new Brothers & Sisters thru the streets of SF while the crowd, packed 10-deep on both sides roared its approval, til I drew close enuff for them to see my teardrop. Over & over the same scene– from cheers to eerie silence that slowly spread over the crowd.
    The media would eat it up as I’d then slowly raise my clenched fists high for those on both sides to see & I’d flash the signs on my palms @ them — the universal symbols of Love & Hope, but I was seething in anger inside for the number of our ever-
    increasing dead & a president who refused to speak the enemy’s name until he was FORCED to do so by a reporter, in September, 1985.
    A year or so later, I arrived in NM to care for my dying Father.I’d yet to come out to my family–they’d enuff on their plates @ the time to deal with, w/o my adding any more to their load. (I came out after my Father had Passed.)
    I’ll never forget sneaking out to the living room that freedom wkend, trying to catch snippets of the Pride Festivities across the Country, Remembering what it felt like, to be Free…
    Just like the women’s “Take Back the Night” marches that are held every year thruout America’s deadliest streets, I offer you what we, as women, know & freely offer the same advice to you/us: “If you abandon the streets to Evil, then Evil will have won.” DON’T give up Pride Weekend. Too much BLOOD has been shed for your right to celebrate. Too many have DIED to get us to where we are….
    Don’t stand-by in silence. To do so is to condone the “isms” we must fight against. ~OUT of the CLOSETS & INTO the STREETS~
    TAKE BACK FREEDOM WEEKEND!

  28. slashy
    slashy July 2, 2011 at 5:49 am |

    Li- I also used to organise student floats for the Sydney Mardi Gras, and I’ve also spent a lot of time wrestling with whether to continue being involved in the face of how weary it makes me feel now (having the regularly cop-harassed activist groups always stuck in the ‘community’ marching block with the gay cops is always such a great decision! The sex worker marching groups really especially love being jammed in next to the cops for 8 hours of pre-parade marshalling, I can guarantee it!).

    The reason I continue is the same reason you cite: there is nothing quite as contagiously wonderful as the joy of young queers marching that parade route for the first time. Their joy is reason enough to struggle through. I do it for them, and out of respect for the 78ers. Even if this individual grumpy, anti-capitalist 28 year old finds it all a bit pink-dollar-washed and let’s-get-married-yay tedious, I can’t deny them how important it all is.

  29. Lisa
    Lisa July 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |

    Right ON, Matt!

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