Pride activism is more than just a rainbow flag

Pride is becoming a commercialised, corporate spectacle that is leaving its radical roots behind.

(Photo courtesy of Jim Gerhz/StarTribune)

Written by: Winona Young, Staff Writer

What do we remember most from Pride month?

Maybe it’s seeing friends and family post about marches, countless parties, family friendly outings, and all the food and free stuff from corporate sponsors or vendors, etc. But where are the protests?

Nowadays, Pride is a huge spectacle and a celebration — but it is also a social rights movement. With the Vancouver Pride festival only one month away, it’s best that we remember where Pride began. The first Pride parade was held in 1970 in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, which were first and foremost, a form of protest. Attention to this particular social movement since the twentieth century has increased enormously. This begs the question: how commercialized has Pride become, and what does its commercialization risk?

Pride is now largely commercialized, but not necessarily through the fault of the LGBTQ+ community themselves. With the rapidly increasing commercialization of Pride these past few years, allies and members of the community should remember that despite Pride’s celebratory nature, it was born out of a protest. Thus, we mustn’t forget the necessity of protesting for rights despite the progress made.

The commercialization of Pride isn’t new. As writer Kanti Chhetri for Affinity magazine defines it, “pink capitalism” (also known as “rainbow capitalism”) describes the phenomenon of LGBTQ+ inclusivity used to benefit the capitalist economy. Prime examples included LGBTQ+ bars and nightclubs and ticketed Pride events.

Pink-washing on the other hand, as Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos describes it, is the creation of products centered around a movement (ex. pink items for Breast Cancer; rainbow-coloured merchandise for Pride) to create a supportive image for the community. Companies sell LGBTQ+ products in order to be seen as allies to the community. Think of Facebook sporting rainbow filters, Surrey having a rainbow-coloured crosswalk, and Nike adding a pink triangle to its “BeTrue” collection.

I’m sure such efforts are well-intentioned. If anything, representation of a minority group as the LGBTQ+ community can be encouraging, as it shows support of their struggles. But slapping rainbows on clothing, merchandise, and logos, or tweeting #LoveIsLove, is not automatically activism. We must scrutinize such rainbow capitalism, otherwise, we risk throwing support to organisations who exploit Pride as a marketing campaign or trend.

YouTube, for example, released a Pride video called #ProudToCreate, showcasing the wide range of LGBTQ+ creators present on YouTube. However, YouTube itself is in the midst of a controversy involving discriminatory behaviour affecting LGBTQ+ content creators and audiences alike. The Verge reported that YouTube has been demonetizing and restricting “controversial” videos that are all primarily about LGBTQ+ issues, as well as allowing anti-gay ads within videos.

YouTube stands as a prime example of rainbow capitalism. Just because they dedicate or acknowledge LGBTQ+ creators during Pride month does not mean that they are a good ally.

Mic released a comprehensive list of companies who have released Pride products, including information on how much of the proceeds from the products would be donated and what organisations that were associated with such products.

Such widespread commercialization of Pride is obviously through no direct fault of the community as a whole. However, individuals do hold the power to reassert the political nature of Pride, commercialization aside.

For instance, The Georgia Straight conducted an interview with Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) co-executive director Andrea Arnot about a number of concerns; namely, the legitimacy of corporations being present during Pride parades/events, as well as the legitimacy of the importance of partying over politics.

Arnot told The Georgia Straight that VPS upped the standards for sponsorship from companies. A corporation’s status as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community would be determined by a number of factors like whether or not their company’s values align with VPS, what organizations they are affiliated with, etc., rather than just their advertisements. Arnot demonstrated how Pride can be supported monetarily while still maintaining the integrity of the LGBTQ+ community.

If the commercialization of Pride continues to run rampant, the movement risks preferring less outspoken acts of Pride. No longer would protests — which embody the spirit of Pride — be welcomed. If the community’s message becomes watered down, sanitized, and grossly generalized, progress cannot be achieved.

People within the LGBTQ+ community have been holding alternative events rather than just Pride, like the Dyke March. Vice recently published an article on an interview with Lourdes Ashley Hunter, director of the Trans Women of Colour Collective. They discussed the current corporate-centric nature of Pride. Hunter emphasised that Pride must be centered on “activism.” And Hunter is right.

Inaction, shallow allegiance via rainbow flags, and commercialization of the LGBTQ+ community remains a detriment to Pride’s values and its journey towards rights for all queer people. By shifting away from a Pride that is too commercialized, Pride can remain a movement filled with activism and integrity.