PUTTING THE PROTEST BACK IN THE PARTY: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER PRIDE’S ACTIVIST ROOTS

Key Stonewall activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Source:  Pink News, 2018

Key Stonewall activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Source: Pink News, 2018

THE BUSINESS OF PRIDE

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, a series of demonstrations led by LGBTQ people of colour in response to violent police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York. The first Pride parade happened the following year to commemorate and celebrate those who stood up for their rights. Pride events now happen in every continent of the world, in hundreds of cities and towns throughout June. However, in recent years, Pride has come under criticism for becoming over-commercialised, being complicit with ‘pink washing’ and ‘rainbow capitalism’ and forgetting its radical political roots.

As leading LGBTQ rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, argues ‘the parade needs commercial sponsorship to fund it, but corporate floats now dominate the event. They’ve got the money, so they have huge extravagant floats that outshine and overwhelm the LGBTQ community groups’. He suggests ‘compared to 20 years ago, Pride has been dumbed down. For many people, it is now mostly a gigantic street party. Big corporations see it as a PR opportunity’ and ‘the ideals of LGBTQ equality are barely visible’.

The number of sponsors of New York Pride has doubled since 2012, with companies such as Walmart, Netflix and Disney sponsoring the event. London Pride has seen similar growth, with its sponsorship revenue increasing by 250% since 2013. Though some donate a portion of profits from their Pride collections to LGBTQ charities, brands capitalising on Pride are not always consistent in their support of the LGBTQ community. As journalist Alex Abad-Santos argues ‘some companies who are promoting LGBTQ Pride - and ostensibly cashing in on Pride merchandise or retail - aren’t doing much for the LGBTQ community beyond contributing to this vague notion of “awareness” around the issues that affect that community’. Brands are becoming increasingly aware of the financial benefits of aligning with progressive causes and critics suggest that companies are more focused on appealing to LGBTQ consumers and cashing in on the profitable ‘pink pound’ than supporting the ongoing battle for LGBTQ equality.   

RECLAIM PRIDE

In response, there is a growing movement to re-politicise Pride. The Reclaim Pride Coalition is a New York based organisation which is holding a counter-march to the official New York Pride parade this year. They say they want to bring back a spirit of protest to an event they say has become too money-focused, and they will not allow corporate floats. Organisers state ‘Reclaim Pride wants to make sure that Stonewall 50 lives up to the spirit of what happened here 50 years ago’. They want to centre the most marginalised members of the LGBTQ community and highlight the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights. One of the volunteers for Reclaim Pride, Robin Scott, stated ‘today, my trans siblings and I still face constant assaults from police in this city. We’re still struggling with rampant homelessness. We’re still suffering under discrimination, lack of access to medical care. As much as I would love to simply celebrate in a sea of rainbows, this does not to me feel like the time to celebrate - or simply to celebrate - this is a time of unprecedented crisis’. Journalist Owen Jones similarly argues that in the face of large scale attacks on LGBTQ rights by the Trump administration and a surge in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes in the UK, bringing the politics back to Pride is more important than ever.

THE FIGHT FOR RIGHTS

Members of the LGBTQ community still face employment discrimination and housing discrimination, as in many US states discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity remains legal. Members of the LGBTQ community often have unequal access to healthcare and 37 states do not prohibit health insurance discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. LGBTQ people are also at greater risk of having mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and stress. In the US, 41% of trans adults have reported attempting suicide, compared to 4% of the wider population. Furthermore, 40% of homeless youth in the US identify as LGBTQ and the LGBTQ community are overrepresented in prisons, with 20% of people in juvenile detention centres identifying as LGBTQ and 8% in adult prisons, despite constituting only 4% of the wider population. In the UK, 41% of trans people were the victims of hate crime in the past year and 12% of trans employees were physically attacked by a colleague or a customer at work. 35% of LGBTQ staff in the UK have hidden their identities at work due to fear of discrimination. These statistics demonstrate the continued injustices and discrimination facing the LGBTQ community and that the fight for LGBTQ equality is far from over. 

PUTTING THE PROTEST BACK IN THE PARTY

Of course, Pride is a positive celebration and should be a happy and enjoyable occasion for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies. But celebration and protest are not mutually exclusive, as journalist Shannon Keating states ‘queer joy has always had a radical role to play in the face of institutional violence and neglect. From the ballroom scene to the basements of dyke bars, queer people have carved out their own spaces for community-building and celebration in spite of a world that has refused to make room for them’. In this way, celebration and politics have often gone hand in hand in the LGBTQ community and as Pride Sheffield states, Pride should be ‘about protest as well as celebration’. By emphasising the continued injustices facing the LGBTQ community, centring the most marginalised members of its community and reasserting its traditional political nature, Pride can become the powerful political force it once was.

COMMUNITY BEYOND THE PARADE

The celebration and activism that is the core of Pride, has the power to bring the global LGBTQ community together. Pride celebrates diversity and raises the visibility of LGBTQ communities around the world. WERKIN is helping LGBTQ people across industries come together to support each other in their careers through mentorship beyond Pride. Having a mentor or mentee who has traveled a similar path makes a huge difference. If you’re interested in finding an LGBTQ mentor or mentee beyond Pride in NYC, apply to WERKIN’s WorldPride Mentoring Program here.