The Commercialization of Pride

“People don’t even understand why there was Pride to begin with and why they’re celebrating. So what was supposed to be a celebration centered around the liberation work that was led by trans women of color and marginalized people as a riot has now turned into a party that is being perpetuated by white cisgender gay men.” 

-Ernest Owens

 

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Philadelphia Pride Route with major LGBTQ businesses

In recent years, Pride has become increasingly commercialized. Capitalistic exploitation and losing sight of its radical beginnings has lead to a purely symbolic weekend and month. A party, a parade, a rainbow flag, a hashtag. For this reason, many in the queer community have begun to boycott these massive, corporate sponsored festivals. We spoke with Ernest Owens, a prominent journalist on LGBTQ issues in Philadelphia, about the past, present, and future of Pride.

Corporate Sponsorship at Pride
“If you’re really an ally, give your money, and go.”

Superficially, corporate involvement at pride may seem beneficial. However, companies are only lending visibility as way to shape their brand, and treating their support as a transaction. This is especially harmful, since their support is completely front-facing and therefore a misrepresentation. If you look at their hiring practices, their corporate policies, their lobbying, nothing has changed. As Owens put it, “They want to sell to you, but they don’t want to include you,”. Big corporations, instead of spending money painting the Ben Franklin Bridge rainbow, could be spent lobbying for the Equality Act in congress, which would provide protection against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The has been a shift from activism to symbolism, which is the antithesis of Pride and its origins. If businesses truly wanted to support LGBTQ issues, they would give their money and go, without asking anything from the community.

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Social Media and Symbolism
“The rainbow doesn’t mean shit at this point.”

Social media has contributed to the inflation of symbolism as anything more than a nice gesture. Hashtags are easy, and they allow people to publicly support a message that their behavior and beliefs don’t reflect. Ernest uses the example of Don Cheadle’s PROTECT TRANS KIDS shirt, which he wore during his time hosting Saturday Night Live, juxtaposed with Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem at an NFL game. Being part of or supporting the LGBTQ community can be an act of protest, but much less so in a liberal TV show in New York City. The power of these actions and these symbols is much greater when they are disruptive, when there is risk. When looking at the current state of Pride in Philadelphia, Owens asks “Where is the defiance?”

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Capitalism and the Community
“They’ve commodified the experience.”

The community is not immune to this commercialization, and the prioritization of money over inclusion. In many minds, white cisgender gay men are the demographic with money, so that’s who is catered to, even though they’re the minority. This comes at the cost of alienating those who don’t fit that description, and has lead to racial discrimination problems in LGBTQ organizations and in the Gayborhood. Unfortunately, money has also been the most effective way to combat this. Owens tells us “If they continue to do this, they can lose their license. Unfortunately, you have to scare people through capitalism. You just have to say “we’ll take your money away” and it’s like “okay I’ll be a better person”. They’re not a better person because they care, they’re a better person because they could actually lose money. Unfortunately that’s the only way you can scare people into doing the right thing.”