By Walter Beck
June is upon us and that means Pride season is here! The time where we gather the tribes and unfurl the banners to commemorate our foremothers and forefathers who rioted at the Stonewall Inn and ushered in a new era of liberation.
At least I think so.
It’s hard to tell these days, to be honest with you, because a lot of what I see Pride becoming is nothing more than a mass marketing opportunity – our own version of a President’s Day sale, where corporations wrap their wares in a rainbow flag and expect us to pony up the cash to “Show your Pride!” Oh, and we get a parade, too.
So what happened? I think our faults were twofold: We wanted to appeal to Main Street USA, and we got drunk on our victories and we’re dealing with one unholy beast of a hangover.
I have mixed feelings about our attempt to appeal to Main Street USA; in order to get our legal victories and finally receive our rights as citizens (which we’re still fighting for, more on that in a minute), we had to appeal on a certain level to the average Joe and Jane. We had to show them that we weren’t freaks or dangerous or any of that other right-wing propaganda horse crap.
But at what price? We sanitized ourselves to the point of white-out. What do you see in the advertising at Pride? You see one of two kinds of LG folks – either slim cut pretty boys strutting their stuff in order to get you to drink this beer or buy this underwear, or the clean-cut all-American couple who just happens to be the same gender in order to mortgage with this bank or buy this blender. That’s what you see: a Madison Avenue hallucination in a pair of rainbow-tinted glasses.
I’m pretty sure if you looked up “sellout” in the queer dictionary, that’s the definition right there. We made ourselves in the image of American middle class credit card debt and bank loans.
And it’s not just advertising. That’s a lot of what you see at Pride. What about the rest of us? Where are the bisexual brothers and sisters? Where are our trans siblings? Where are the working class queers who have no money to pony up for the Official Pride T-shirt, but have the hearts of lions?
Now, as far as dealing with the beast of a hangover after getting drunk on our own victories, I can already hear some of you in the back: “But Walter, we won! There’s no need to be so militant anymore!” Horse crap.
I won’t try to denigrate our hard-won victories over the last few years. They were tremendous, and I would be lying if I said my heart wasn’t alive on that day in June last year when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges. That was one hell of a way to end the Pride season and we had every reason to break out the champagne.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over – no, not at all. Nor does that mean we sand our Pride celebrations down to where they lose their fighting edge. We need to be strong and militant now more than ever.
As I type these words, I’m seeing videos online of street preachers harassing customers in Target over its new inclusive restroom policy; I’m watching North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory prepare to duke it out over the state’s blatantly discriminatory HB2; and, of course, I still see way too many stories of young brothers and sisters who were murdered by society’s hands.
It breaks my heart to see that’s what we’re becoming, brothers and sisters. Don’t get me wrong, I have Pride, but it’s Pride born of a warrior’s heart, earned through smashing through a closet door, terrified of what was on the other side; earned on sweaty picket lines; paid in marching boots and many long lonely nights. That’s Pride paid for, and not by a MasterCard.
We can do better than a sanitized Pride, brothers and sisters. We can go back to our grassroots; we can have tables from local activist groups who teach us how to keep up the good fight; we can raise our banners and Colors with love and solidarity without the corporate bumper stickers attached; we can stand with our brothers and sisters who are marginalized, even in our community.
Stand tall again, brothers and sisters. Honor our foremothers and forefathers from Stonewall. Honor our brothers and sisters still fighting today. Honor our fallen, who were murdered by society’s hands.
Make Pride ours again!
Walter Beck is a local queer journalist, activist, poet and performer. In addition to The Word, Beck also freelances for Omnibus Journal and the Pink Panthers Movement, and performs regularly as a member of Transylvanian Lip Treatment, Indianapolis’s Rocky Horror Shadow Cast.