If you had, at the time, asked a participant in the Stonewall Riots—whose occurrence annual LGBTQ Pride parades commemorate—whether they envisioned a future where their cause was vocally supported by JP Morgan, Doritos, and the President of the United States, chances are your answer would have been a swift and sure “No.” But, in 21st century America, this is the case, and, sadly, Pride has let itself be changed by this, with little thought given to the consequences and ramifications.
Let this be said: Chicago Pride was awesome. Hundreds of thousands (850,000 by the city of Chicago’s estimation) joined together in Chicago’s Lakeview and Wrigleyville neighborhoods in an exuberant celebration of humanity. People of all races, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities celebrated the wonder of life in all its forms. Gay cowboys linedanced. Dykes occupied their bikes. Even the handful of bigots ended up looking silly, flanked on either side by a sign directed at the preacher (“Secretly Gay”) and an honest to goodness “Gay Jesus” impersonator, fabulous from beard to sandals. It really was beautiful. In one interfaith segment, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, and other groups marched, carrying signs saying, “Gays are God’s People.” Even with all the upbeat, sun-driven joy, however, there were a number of troubling elements to the parade.
Underwritten by the 1%
Pride initially represented the cry, “We exist!”, shouted from an ignored and stigmatized community to the larger population of the country. It was a celebration of the margins. While this is still the case in some ways, the LGBTQ community has now found itself underwritten by the most oppressive elements of American society—banks, politicians, and corporations, the ultimate ostracizers—and it has largely accepted this. It is a shift almost as dizzying in scope as the shift in mainstream consciousness towards LGBTQ rights. Decades ago, from the margins came a movement, one which has now, years later, unfortunately and almost unblinkingly accepted the subsidy of organizations and individuals that actively enable the perpetual, repressive “othering” of the powerless.
Accompanying the costumed dancers in Chicago Pride 2012 were a bevy of corporate and political agents, most of whose existence is antithetical to any notion of human rights that doesn’t collapse on the weight of its own inanity. American Airlines, gay pilots and all, was present, perhaps bored of cutting jobs and attacking unions. Also present was an organization with a longer track record of advocating LGBTQ equality (albeit with the emphasis on the LG): Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC fundraisers still ask, “Do you have a minute to support equal rights?” while seeking money for an organization with a considerable history of transphobia and odious political calculation. “Trans inclusion will be a legislative priority over my dead body,” former HRC Director Elizabeth Birch once said. We might ask: “A minute to support equal rights for whom?”
Even Mayor 1% himself was there, dressed in “khaki pants, a blue gingham shirt, and tennis shoes,” fawned the Chicago Tribune (with which we still have no affiliation whatsoever). Emanuel was likely taking a break from a busy (and secret) schedule of stifling free speech, racially dividing the city, and redistributing wealth upwards to celebrate… what? The political capital of wealthy gay donors? A public appearance at which he wouldn’t be mic checked, unlike here, here and here? Who knows. But equality? Unlikely.
Pinkwashing the Liberals
All of this is not a good thing. I don’t mean to write off Pride: No one can deny or disparage what this celebration has meant for all people, gay, trans, bi, queer or cis. But the unquestioning, uncritical acceptance of dubious support—even when from the devil himself, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein—is a betrayal not only of the trans, genderqueer, and other non-conventionally “gay” members of society, but also of the billions of people affected by predatory lending, reckless and criminal trading, neoliberal foreign policy, brutal sanctions, and callous war.
Speaking of imperialism, even while some supporters cheer Obama for his support of marriage equality in North Carolina—“a day after it could have done some good,” Occupy Chicago organizer James Cox reminded me—I think of the words of Mike Knish: “For every one of us cheering Obama’s entry into the 21st century, there is a pile of dead Afghani kids who don’t give a shit”… or, perhaps, a Saudi Arabian unable to marry their lover for fear of death.
Put more cynically, pinkwash the liberals until they shut up. But if gay rights are human rights, then all human rights should be honored, from the bride and bride (and groom?) to the “militants” murdered by US drones at their friend’s funeral. In the meantime, progressives are supposed to be impressed by a rainbow-colored Oreo and rush to praise Nabisco/Kraft’s open-mindedness. “So now corporations LITERALLY want to buy every identity group off with a cookie, right? That’s the new plan?” tweeted Occupied Chicago Tribune contributor Joe Macaré. “Gay crumbs! Literal gay crumbs from the table of our masters!”
The Manning Issue
And what about Manning? The now-famous (increasingly so) whistleblower who allegedly disclosed evidence of US war crimes was honored in the parade with a float from Chicago activist Andy Thayer’s Gay Liberation Network (GLN), which featured a healthy Occupy Chicago contingent among a group of roughly 35. Tunes from a previous anti-war movement—Edwin Starr, John Lennon, and Marvin Gaye—backed the group, which sought to bring political consciousness to an event that seemed, as Cox noted, “more about having fun than trying to achieve any right.” This is to be praised. The problem comes, then, in the GLN’s full and unqualified acceptance of Private Manning as a gay man and not, as is definitely possible, a transgender woman.
A Facebook event page saw heated debate in the time leading up to the demonstration, during which the GLN was excoriated for marginalizing trans issues, a claim which Thayer, testy at times, protested, citing the group’s work organizing against HRC and their video about transgender activism in Russia. Still though, there have been an number of transgender victims of violence—CeCe McDonald central among them—that have recently been effectively ignored by the group. One comment was deleted, and the page—which is still active—does more justice to the debate than I can do here. An excerpted incitement to read: “I also want a unicorn that can fuck me bareback, but that’s not revolutionary either.” Needless to say, people got pissed.
But despite the shortcomings of Pride, we should celebrate. We should revel! We should bask in the thrill of our successful steps towards equality, and in national conversations that would have been impossible 10 years ago, much less 40. But still, we can never stop asking: What’s Going On?
By Daniel Edward Massoglia (@jujueyeball)