The first Pride was a riot. On Saturday June 28th 1969, members of NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, a known gay bar in New York City. Frustrated at the constant harassment by the police, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and the patrons of the Stonewall Inn hassled the police back, lit garbage cans on fire and caused an uproar we are still feeling the shockwaves of today. Queer* activism existed before Stonewall, but it is unrecognisable to the organisations and activists that grew up in a post-riot world. The first Pride parade in North America took place on the anniversary, and it’s the legacy of this direct, radical action that we all carry with us when we march down the streets of Dublin, London, Oslo or Tuscaloosa Alabama.
Pride is a protest; Pride is punk rock – but you could be fooled if you walk in pretty much any Pride parade, at least in ones with big companies in the area. Dublin Pride this year, according to its parade order, had a total of 163 groups/floats march – and that’s including the Grand Marshall. Of the 163, 88 were for-profit companies. That number excludes for-profit LGBT-centric groups like The George (okay, they’re kind of the only group of this variety), non-profit groups like the RNLI, student-led groups like SUs and LGBT societies, community/activist groups like ARC & Bi Ireland, media organisations (radio stations, mainly) and political parties; that eighty-eight – 54% of total groups marching – are companies like Amazon, KPMG, Google and Facebook. The header image for the parade order (and the third Google Image result for ‘Dublin Pride 2018’) is even a photo of a Microsoft delegation. Despite the work of groups like Radical Queers Resist, it is clear who the face of Pride in 2018 is: large, massive multinational corporations.
Not all the companies marching in Dublin Pride were multinational conglomerates, of course; I had never heard of Pawtrait Ireland – a company who specialise in pet photography – before now, and to be honest I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get to see their delegation in person (surely there was just lots of dogs, right?), but a good deal of those groups were massive, unethical juggernauts of capitalism. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earns more in 9 seconds than his workers make in a year; AirBnB, another group who marched on the day, have been named as a contributing factor to rising rent prices in places like Dublin, which itself has contributed to the homelessness crisis we’re currently in the middle of. This is why, if you ever wondered, people don’t like pride being centered on companies. Jeff Bezos is $50 billion richer than the next living person (who is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, if you were curious), and could affect real change for millions if not billions of people living in poverty in the world – he could effectively end world hunger today, and still live more than comfortably for the rest of his life if he retired tomorrow – but he doesn’t. While people like Bill Gates (and probably Bezos, to some extent) do some great charitable work, they could always do more, and, due to the vast swathes of their wealth, they should bear a bigger burden in helping their fellow man. This is why companies should not have a place in pride. The intentions of the people on the ground, the employees, are great, but when their company does nothing more for the LGBTQ community, and other disadvantage groups, than put a rainbow filter on their logo for a month, then they (the company) have no place at pride.
This is where you’re probably confused, especially if you do work for a large tech company (sorry, you’re not coming off well here), having read the title. I do believe that pride, in 2018, has a place for corporations. In fact, I don’t think anybody else should go to it. In Ireland, since the 2015 referendum, there has been a sense of complacency and atrophy of action in the community. The marriage referendum became representative of the place of LGBT people in Ireland rather than being about the actual issue contained, so when the referendum was passed there has been a vague sense of everything having been sorted, despite the following issues still being there:
- lack of real access to healthcare for transgender people.
- no legal recognition for non-binary people.
- no bodily autonomy for intersex people at birth.
- no hate crime legislation.
- unscientific one-year blood ban for men who have sex with men (gay, bi, queer etc. men).
- lack of supports for the elderly within the community.
- domestic abuse within the community.
- open & flagrant racism on dating apps (and beyond).
- lack of (state) supports for LGBT homeless youth.
- reductive legislation relating to sex work.
And I’m sure I’m leaving something out, there’s lots of systemic issues affecting LGBTQ people in Ireland that the ‘gay male votes Fine Gael‘ portion of the community either just don’t know about or simply don’t care. But pride is no longer a protest, it’s no longer a riot, and no amount of line-toeing or waiting for some power on high to reward us with our rights will get things done.
In recent memory, in the anglophone world, there are specific examples of how the spirit of Pride & protest is dead and gone. A number of protesters were arrested at Glasgow Pride last year, having objected to the active role the police had in the parade. The issue of police at pride is, itself, another long debate for another day, but in short: some queer people believe that uniformed police, due to their role as a sometimes oppressive and subversive arm of the state, both historically and contemporaneously, have no place being an active part of any pride celebration or protest. That is almost definitely an oversimplification of a complex issue, but it is the viewpoint of a significant number of the community dating back to pre-Stonewall activism. And while you may disagree with the “radical tone” of the protesters in Glasgow (for example, one protester reportedly held a banner reading ‘faggots fight fascists’), you cannot disagree with the legitimacy of their concerns, or of their right to voice those concerns at fucking Pride of all places. Well, you can’t disagree unless you’re Glasgow Pride, who condemned this protest. A similar thing happened at Belfast Pride a month or so later, when someone who held a banner reading ‘Fuck the DUP’ (again, to briefly explain, the DUP are a Northern Irish political party who hold regressive views, and often present openly homophobic policies) was later questioned by the police, despite the DUP not being a protected class in itself under Northern Irish legislation. In fact, the only protest that seems to have gone on unabated was at last week’s London Pride, when a transphobic hate group forcefully led the parade, but unlike Glasgow they were not arrested but allowed to walk until the end of the route, handing out hateful fliers as they went. And if you think this is just an issue in the UK, you’re sadly mistaken – Izzy Kamikaze, one of the founders of Dublin Pride, has talked about how she unrolled an ‘unregistered’ banner at Dublin Pride one year, only to have someone with a clipboard rush up to her to stop it:
I went on Dublin Pride that year (I don’t usually these days) & unrolled an “unregistered” banner. A guy with a clipboard appeared instantly & started quizzing me. “Oh well, seeing as it’s you…” he said, before he slinked away. (I was one of the founders of Dublin Pride.)
Talk about missing the point! The point isn’t *me* being able to have any banner I like, the point is a couple of newly out kids from the sticks who stayed up all night spraypainting something onto a bed sheet need the right to carry their banner!
– Izzy Kamikaze, Twitter (May 11th 2018)
Despite my personal beliefs, which are largely represented by the above, I do feel there is a place for this sanitised, corporate pride in the world. For young queer people, it’s a big, open vibrant celebration from the community, and as much as I shudder whenever I hear something akin to ‘love is love’ (as if that’s all it was about), it could help future generations feel more accepted in society as a whole. Think of Corporate Pride™ as a sort-of Gay Santa – it’ll make kids think the world is a more magical, friendly place for queer people, and we don’t have to spoil reality for them until they’re a little bit older. There’s also a small part of me, and I’m aware this is naive & hopeless, that eventually being at the parades, and having queer politics more *shudder* normalised, one of the many billionaires heading these massive companies will either: a) grow a conscience, b) press the wrong button on their mobile bank app and accidentally donate a small part of their wealth (who’d notice $10m missing from their bank book?) to deserving charities, or c) some mix of the first two, and then their being at the shambling husk of the prides of Stonewall’s ilk won’t be so unethical.
The real reason why corporations have a place at Pride is, as I’ve now asserted for about 1500 words so far, the radical pride born from the ashes of Stonewall is long-since dead, and in its place is a glam’d up Paddies Day parade acting fierce but doing nothing. Many people before me have posited this, so it’s not too revolutionary of me to say that the LGBTQ community as a whole should abandon the parades to the oligarchs, and begin the march to true progress and equality; alternative, community-focused pride with a ban on corporate sponsorship, either in place of or regardless of current Pride celebrations, is the way to go for me. There is a middle ground – Reykjavik Pride allow companies to march as they want, but any display of a sponsor’s logo during the parade is forbidden, instead featuring them in the parade’s magazine and on their website. Speaking to the Financial Times in 2016, a representative from Reykjavik Pride explained the thought process behind this:
The reason is to keep the focus on the cause, what we have achieved and what is yet to be won. One of our challenges is to not get too mainstream and lose sight of our main goals; we believe it’s likely that corporate floats would outshine our important message.
– Gunnlaugur Bragi Bjornsson, August 2016
And while it’s hard to disagree with the logic there, I don’t know how viable that is for the likes of Dublin, London or even Cork Pride without a massive override in the philosophies of those groups. Call it pessimistic, but starting from scratch with an activism-centric focus could provide a viable platform for genuine, progressive, radical direct action.
*I use Queer throughout this piece, at times, as a synonym for ‘the LGBT community’ or similar terms, both for the sake of variety and to continue the process of reclamation of the term.