The Commercialization of “Gay Pride”

by BURKELY HERMANN

This month is gay pride month, a time for gay pride marches across the country. It is also a time to discuss the truth about the mainstream movement that pushes for LGBTQ rights. Over two months ago, Glenn Greenwald, who has a gay partner in Brazil, wrote a column in The Guardian on March 26th declaring that American public opinion now favors gay equality, however this does not threaten elite factions but rather bolsters their power.

Since then, I wrote a short article on Nation of Change investigating those claims. I showed that big business uniquely corrupted Gay Inc. or all of the big gay non-profits: the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out and Equal Workplace Advocates (Out and Equal), GLAAD, Family Equality Council, the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce (NGLCC), Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Log Cabin Republicans, Freedom To Marry, Equality Forum, Lesbian Victory Fund, and the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

I wrote that “the sponsorships of Gay Inc. give further insight. The banksters who helped plunge the world economy into economic crisis sponsored a number of organizations [along with] companies and devised the authoritarian copyright alert system.

How do these groups pay back their sponsors? It differs from group to group. The NGLTF backed Obama’s healthcare “reform” bill while the HRC’s ‘corporate equality index’ gave the highest ratings possible to their corporate sponsors.  Out & Equal (which tries to help LGBTQ people find jobs) has corporations on their “LGBTQ CareerLink” page that include BP, Bank of America, GE, Comcast, PNC, and Clorox—half of whom are their sponsors. NGLCC is even making an effort to make corporate America LGBTQ “certified”, while Freedom To Marry praised Mayors Emanuel and Bloomberg, as well as  Glenn Beck as voices for equality!

I concluded thatwe’d be better off without these groups, just like the Gang Green groups that dominate the mainstream environmental movement” and that the corporate leeches must be thrown away. I also argued that LGBTQ people and their allies must stand side by side and push for full liberation—not policies that promote assimilation.

With further investigation I discovered that IBM, Comcast, and AT&T all sponsored four mainstream gay organizations with Wells Fargo sponsoring five. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Target came next, sponsoring three organizations each. In simple terms, this means the big banks & telecoms bankrolled Gay Inc., having more than a shady hand in their support for gay rights. This resulted in proposals like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which doesn’t stop the discrimination of trans. people in workplaces and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell instead of ending all LGBTQ discrimination in the military. Let us also not forget that mainstream  organizations refuse to support gay whistleblower, Bradley Manning, possibly because his revelations threaten the bottom line of their sponsors. This is the problem with Gay Inc.’s concocted version of “equality” sponsored by the multinational corporations: it rejects gay liberation.

Back in the 1970s, things were very different. As Peter Tatchell said in 2002, “there were no calls for equality; our demand was liberation. We wanted to change society, not conform to it.”  The specifics demanded by the radicals of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) must be heeded today. The manifesto of the GLF, written in 1971, argues that gays are oppressed through the patriarchy, school, church, in the media, employment, physical violence, psychiatry and self-oppression. More importantly it says that gay liberation does not just mean reforms. It means a revolutionary change in our whole society because reforms may make things better for a while, but it will take more than reforms to change this attitude that homosexuality is inferior because it is rooted in the patriarchal family.  It goes on to state that we must work alongside the feminist movement since their oppression is our oppression, and by working together we can advance the day of our common liberation.  It also makes the point that “the starting point of our liberation must be to rid ourselves of the oppression which lies in the head of every one of us.”

In today’s context, there’s been a complete departure from the GLF. “Gay pride” parades have become more common and are sponsored by the wealthy corporations that control our lives and promote the destructive force of consumerism. The mainstream movement is co-opted by these forces and those of the Democratic Party, meaning that Gay Inc. is pushing to assimilate gay, lesbian, trans., queer and bisexual people into society.

After writing about the corporate sponsorship of the Baltimore Gay Pride Parade, I found an interesting radical alternative: an anarchist and queer living space, community center and collective in Brooklyn called DUMBA, designed for those of all ages. It existed until 2006. Starting in 1998, these “Gay Shame” events promoted counter-cultural ideologies and radical expression. The San Francisco Wiki says that the group engaged “in highly visible and performative acts of protest and resistance, including street theater…[and] was created as a protest to the overcommercialization of pride events and opposes queer assimilation.” Activipedia writes that the group, which uses consensus, also rejects “homonormativity, and challenges consumer driven gay politics, most notably in its demonstrations around the Gay Pride Parade…[by aiming]  to create a “new queer activism” that foregrounds race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Sadly, in San Francisco the most active chapter—non-hierarchical and involved in direct actions—has petered out. In an interview with the main organizer of the group, Mattilda Bern Sycamore, she said that “this activist group that meant so much to me, that challenged and inspired me in so many ways ultimately failed me. There is so much self-congratulatory rhetoric in San Francisco, especially in radical-identified queer spaces, and we’re never going to get to something beyond a cooler marketing niche unless we can examine the ways that so often in radical queer spaces people treat one another just as horribly as in dominant straight culture or mainstream gay culture. And it hurts so much more when this kind of viciousness comes from people you actually believe in.” Fortunately some have picked up on this: a blog popped up recently to demand Gay Shame, started by a 48-year old queer male DJ.

From this, I did some quick searches on Wikipedia to see who pushed LGBTQ liberation. The first one that came up was called Queeruption. The San Francisco Bay Guardian called it “an international DIY (Do It Yourself) radical queer get-together” which has continued since 1998. An article in Volume 1 of the 2007 edition of Affinities Journal by B. Vanelslander describes the aim of the get-together as helping to create “an ‘opportunity for Queers of all genders and sexualities to gather, celebrate [their] queerness and diversity – to share experiences, fun stories, ideas…listen and learn from each other.’  This is done through a DIY festival with general meetings, workshops, (sex) parties and performances. In addition, one or more political actions that challenge sexual and gender boundaries, nationalism, class, racism, capitalism, the patriarchal structure and the gender binary. Vanelslander said that Queeruption, like Ladyfest, is non-hierarchal: “anyone can take up the general idea and search for people who want to organize [one in]…their own town”, which mirrors the decentralized approach of the Occupy movement.

As I continued to go around the wikiverse, another concept came up: queercore. Queering Theory, published by the University of Minnesota had the best definition, defining it as “the crossbreeding of the gay and punk scenes of the early nineties.  Both of which are subversive to mainstream culture and challenge norms in society. Queercore was created through an allegiance with the post-punk subculture and queer. Queercore has allowed many disenfranchised groups, such as people of color, transsexuals, transgender people, and bisexuals a space to stake their claim more than as just a part of “gay and lesbian” culture. Queercore is an anti-assimilationist culture. The whole point of it is to have a separate space for people who identify as queer and can express themselves through music, zines, and other forms of media. Queercore is distinctly separating themselves from mainstream culture. To add to this, queercore was an offshoot of the punk movement, which in its lyrics challenges prejudice and deals with issues such as gender identity. In the end this led to collectives in New England and the sustaining of a separate subculture.

From there it is important to cover two groups, Queer Mutiny and Bash Back!, which have a radical perspective in terms of  liberation. Queer Mutiny is an anarcho-queer organization in the UK that has branches in six different cities and is very decentralized. Members independently run the groups, mostly in some form of anarcho-syndicalism. Labels are rejected and there are rallies against assimilation, hierarchies and capitalism through music, zine making, film nights, discussions about one’s queer identity and establishing networks with queers who are radical. A sister group was called Bash Back! which is based in the United States. The group did anarchist-queer projects within America that criticized Gay Inc.’s ideology, which Bash Back! said pushed assimilation. Influenced by other radical queer groups like Gay Shame and ACT UP, they pushed for a number of points by which members might adhere:

1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.

2. A rejection of Capitalism, Imperialism, and all forms of State power.

3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” All oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.

4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the State deems it to be illegal.”

At one point, there were documented chapters in Chicago, Denver, Lansing, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Eugene (Oregon), Memphis, Columbus, Olympia, Philadelphia, upstate New York, DC and Seattle. During its four year run from 2007 to 2011 it engaged in a number of actions, including a march in Chicago opposing assimilation and police brutality against queers and transsexuals; the confrontation of a Neo-Nazi group; a counter-protest of a Memphis “gay pride” march sponsored by Nike; protest of the HRC for pro-war positions and corporate interests; protest of RNC and DNC in 2008; and so-called “glandalism” against the HRC headquarters by throwing blank and pink paint combined with glitter, leaving graffiti declaring, “Quit Leaving Queers Behind.” Though this group died out, its radical legacy lives on. There is still hope with the non-permitted Dyke Marches in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Chicago, mirroring gay pride marches of the 1970s that rejected conformity and pushed for liberation.

Finally there are those who believe in queer anarchism. Anarcho or anarcha-queers push for the principles of social revolution and anarchism to further gay liberation, which sought to fundamentally change societal institutions such as gender and family through direct action, among other methods. They ask for an end to fear of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans. people along with challenging the gender binary, heterosexism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity. People such as Oscar Wilde, John Henry Mackay, Adolf Brand and Daniel Guerin could be considered anarcho-queers. Originating in the late 20th century as part of those pushing for gay liberation, anarchism was seen as an avenue to bring LGBTQ people and heterosexuals together. Quickly, this ideology developed roots in the punk rock form called Queercore which was described earlier, and branched off into different groups like Queer Mutiny, Bash Back!, and the anti-capitalist and radical queer and trans. group called Queer Fist in the United States. Likely this expanded and led to LGBTQ hip hop or Homo pop. This music genre consists of gay hip-hop artists who are part of a movement that wants to transform a type of music which is often turned against gays, and to instead focus on themes that are positive toward LGBTQ people.

As always, there’s an offshoot that’s problematic: the onset of queer nationalism. Like black nationalism, this separatist view asserts that the LGBTQ community is distinct in their cultures and customs from others. While this may have some truth in it, and is a radical approach, there is much lacking because it further isolates such people from society. This is something that must be rejected, because otherwise it will be hard, if not impossible to ask for liberation of LGBTQ people being oppressed. There must instead be a push for integration.

The radical approach of gay liberation must be expanded to queer, bisexual, trans. and lesbian people, as numerous groups have already done. This could closely follow the ideas formulated in the platform of the Socialist Party USA, which demands an end to the oppression of LGBTQ people, institutionalized patriarchy and sexism, armed conflict, the American empire, and capitalism itself. Since Gay Inc., corrupted by their corporate cronies, rejects these demands, wanting “equality” rather than liberation, its usefulness has run out as it advocates for assimilation of these groups–which strengthens elite factions. In the end, as a collective group, we must demand immediate liberation for LGBTQ people through offline and online non-violent direct action.

Burkely Hermann is an online writer and activist who maintains numerous blogs in order to inform the public on local, national and international issues.



Categories: Main Page, U.S.

10 replies

  1. I said I’d bookmarked this article and would read it later…which I did. I think you got it just right. Nothing to add.

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