First Ireland and then in the United States, legal recognition of same-sex marriage has given the Pride movement something to shout about this year, or so you would think. Synonymous with the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation, Pride is more than just any old parade. It is a statement, and a bold one at that. On the 28th June 1969 the Stonewall Riots, with a cry of dissent, put issues of gender and sexuality on the political map. Its successors, our present-day marches, bear witness to that legacy of protest.
And I repeat, protest – for to many that is what is now at stake. As of late, key activists have voiced their discomfort at the noticeable trend of corporatization. Big brands see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and they want to cash in. Advertising and sponsorship, merchandising and float fees – gone are the days of ‘rough and ready’ revolution, of union alliances and solidarity. Just ask Owen Jones. Or Judith Butler for that matter, who recently turned down the Prize for Social Courage at Berlin Pride’s Christopher Street Day festivities.
Yet, it remains to be seen: is this a whitewashing of the LGBTQ+ movement or a pink-washing of corporations? If it is the latter, then surely acceptance is acceptance regardless of what form it takes? Indeed, that Pride, like all else in our society, shows little immunity to corporatization is indicative of the times. In many ways, the marketability of a movement, to some extent or another, evidences its ‘normalisation’ in the collective consciousness. The real question, to my mind, is whether or not corporate involvement dilutes or rephrases Pride’s mission statement.
Oddly enough, the LGBTQ+ movement’s greatest strength often proves to be its greatest weakness. I speak, of course, of its unity. Not of its unity of purpose and voice, but of a presumed political leaning. Since when has taking a stance on an issue signed you up to some kind of ‘package deal’, as if being an LGBTQ+ person carries with it a compulsory set of viewpoints? What madness! Most certainly, as Jones rightly points out, there is a need for a politicized LGBTQ+ movement, but one that allows for more than diversity of everything but opinion. Pim Fortuyn, in falling far right of the political spectrum, was no less of a homosexual for rejecting multiculturalism or espousing sectarian positions. Inevitably, as more people come out and feel comfortable being LGBTQ+, there will be a plurality of voices, each with their own unique politics. Attempts to shoehorn people into proscribed categories are utterly useless.
But still, others may come at this from a different perspective. Arguing from intersectionality, the thought of fighting against one instance of oppression is meaningless if one does seek to tackle oppression in all its manifestations. Undoubtedly people do not slip seamlessly into neatly defined groups – the experience of a poor LGBTQ+ person of colour is remarkably different from that of a rich LGBTQ+ white person. However, while we may agree on the effects, the causes and their remedies are open to debate. To suggest that there is one clear-cut method of dealing with racism or poverty, in conjunction with LGBTQ+ discrimination, is highly disingenuous, and it does not necessarily entail an anarchist or communist utopia.
At this point I wonder if there is a distinction to be drawn between the amorphous LGBTQ+ movement, as I perceive it, and the specific groups behind Pride. What is Pride – a cross-section of society or a political party? Who does it speak for? Does it speak at all? My response: the more the merrier. Rather than a party procession, Pride ought to be an exposition of the infinite variety of LGBTQ+ life. Its message is an impression of the community in its totality, not an ideological manifesto. For one thing, prejudice cannot withstand proximity and in that simple regard, Pride serves a vital role. It gives pause for reflection. Yes – corporations have now gotten in on the action and yes – Pride has a commercial streak to it but who cares? So long as they contribute and contribute fairly, either by raising awareness or promoting LGBTQ+ rights I see little reason to fault their inclusion. I trust also that the organisers, impassioned activists in their own right, exercise discretion in which corporations best advance their interests. The LGBT Awards echo similar sentiments in placing a value on categories such as ‘Corporate Rising Star’ and ‘Best Brand’. If anything, this showcases the positive steps taken to improve the lot of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. Where there is cause for concern measures should be taken accordingly, and ultimately LGBTQ+ people themselves ought to have the final say on how they, as a diverse group, wish to be represented.
With 35,000 cases of hate crime against LGBTQ+ people going unreported each year [Stevie-Jade Hardy, University of Leicester’s Centre for Hate Studies], few will deny the task at hand or the struggles ahead. In the words of Caroline Waters, deputy-chair of The Equality and Human Rights Commission, “We must all redouble our efforts, and work together to give LGBT communities a stronger voice and put an end to the hatred that is a blight on modern society.” The Pride movement, now as ever before, is every bit as relevant in effecting these outcomes. Born not out of a need to celebrate LGBTQ+ identities but to assert their right to exist without persecution, I believe this legacy endures today. Again, pride must be matched by another important ‘p’: protest. Having said that, we should not feel guilty for celebrating the triumphs of the movement thus far. A balance must be struck. Joy need not be marred by tragedy, as São Paulo Pride has aptly demonstrated in scheduling an empty float to symbolise all those lost to HIV and homophobic violence. Pride is an opportunity to take stock of where we are, where we have come from and where we are going – a mindful eye to the past and a hopeful one to the future.