Why do we celebrate LGBTQ+ pride?
Pride is a celebration of LGBTQ visibility, community, and resilience.
The exploitation and persecution of LGBTQ+ people by bigots and the American state has been persistent, strategic, and often violent. Not long ago, police raids on LGBTQ gathering spots were common; raids in the 1960s at places like Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles, and the Stonewall Inn in New York City resulted in riots, ultimately birthing the gay liberation movement in the US.
The struggle for social and economic justice for LGBTQ+ people has been shaped by many fights over the decades since. Our battlegrounds have been in streets, bars, hospitals, schools, churches, courthouses, and countless other fronts. And these struggles are far from settled. At pride, we commemorate the long and ongoing fight for freedom: freedom from the hetero- and cisnormative structures that complicate and threaten the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ+ people of all walks of life.
How do corporations relate to LGBTQ+ pride?
While tech behemoths, big banks, and multinational corporations may come together to sponsor pride parades and debut rainbow-colored logos for the month of June, many have fraught relationships with LGBTQ+ people and communities.
Social media giants like Facebook have damaging policies about name usage that have silenced transgender users, drag performers, and sex workers alike. YouTube has repeatedly demonetized channels and videos that discuss gender and sexuality, which are crucial sources of income and information for LGBTQ+ people. Real estate companies and platforms like Airbnb profit off of rental offerings in “gayborhoods” and actively facilitate their gentrification. Payment processors like Paypal and Stripe and platforms like Patreon discriminate against sex workers, who are disproportionately LGBTQ+.
Large, rich companies often provide a platform for employees to enjoy pride festivities, but expect them to adhere to company codes of conduct. What kind of liberation is that? And if the t-shirt with the rainbow logo goes straight from the staging area to the thrift store, was it really worth printing?
Rainbow Capitalism is still Capitalism.
It is no less unjust or exploitative. Rainbow-splashed goods and services are produced and provided by exploited workers. A sprawling surveillance platform celebrates diversity in one breath and deplatforms and marginalizes LGBTQ voices in the next. A military contractor embraces gay rights at home — once it’s politically expedient — while selling weapons of war to repressive regimes abroad. Big banks profit off our housing crisis while the police harass and dispossess our homeless neighbors, queer and straight alike.
Pride weekend festivities are a financial boon for San Francisco, and the SF Pride organization donates annually to community partners. But while it may be an opportunity to participate in charity and generate goodwill, pride at heart is a celebration — and a product — of struggle that is still ongoing. Capitalism is complicit in our exploitation — we shouldn’t be so quick to welcome its agents at our celebration.
Our pride is not for sale.
Throughout our history, LGBTQ+ people and communities have been faced with the task of defending our mere existence. Despite recent victories for some queer people — same-sex marriage upheld at the Supreme Court, the slow advance of anti-discrimination ordinances and conversion therapy bans in cities and states — inequality for LGBTQ+ people still persists, and we still face threats to our livelihoods, wellbeing, and personal safety. It’s not just about marriage licenses and wedding cakes: sexual orientation and gender identity have a real impact on where you can live and work, how you get treated when you seek health care, both physical and mental, and how you are treated, by strangers and acquaintances, in private and public. It’s our collective duty to fight alongside one another against violence, harassment, and discrimination.
It’s reassuring, in a sense, that even in the Trump era, LGBTQ+ acceptance has become sufficiently mainstream — to the point where some of the world’s most powerful corporate institutions are demonstrating their support. But is acceptance alone enough? Is acceptance what we want? Is the world we live in — one rife with exploitation, with illness, with rampant and skyrocketing inequality, where we designate a month to fly rainbow flags over it all — one we want to accept in the first place?
LGBTQ+ history and struggle tells us that it is not. We are not content to celebrate pride while pride’s messengers are corporate exploiters like health insurance and real estate CEOs, gatekeepers to tech-sector media and finance platforms, military contractors and the police. We are fighting for a world free of exploitation, where things like housing and healthcare and education are provisioned based on need, not greed. That’s what we celebrate during pride, and why we organize year-round for a better world that we know is possible.
Matt McGowen is Co-chair of DSA SF’s Healthcare Working Group and a member of DSA SF’s LGBTQIA caucus.