June is Pride Month, and I have already tendered my annual resignation from gay and queer life until July 1. Every year I withdraw from being gay in the month of June because what we can only call ‘Corporate Pride’ cannot and does not address the kinds of concerns that are important to my queer life. Corporate Pride, with its many big business sponsors, turns Pride activities into one large party and not much else. That Pride is now an officially designated month and labelled a festival is a sign of its takeover and political decline and most importantly its retreat from a future of sexual liberation. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with parties—in fact I am a devotee of the feminist anarchist Emma Goldman who famously remarked, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Queer and trans people know only too well that dance floors are potentially revolutionary spaces of intimacy, sharing and community making. Dancing, then, is essential to our politics and our dancing is always political. But there is more, too.
What I am opposed to about Corporate Pride is that queer and trans people are now uniformly turned into entertainment for the heterosexual gaze. Even if we, queers and trans people, continue to think we are doing it for ourselves—adorned with rainbow colours, donning drag for the parade, exposing tits to challenge the patriarchy, wearing assless chaps, or showing off chiseled bodies—Pride has now become a festival of performative queerness with no program or even a hint towards liberation. Hedonism without a politics is not a transformative politics. Queer clowning is not something I can ever be down with. On the other side of this dynamic is the fact that corporate sponsorship prefers queer clowning rather than a queer project rooted in a desire for liberation. Queer liberation would be a challenge to the kinds of corporate and government sponsors that affix their names and logos to local pride organizations and skillfully influence what the festivals might be and can be. These institutions and companies take the political aspirations out of pride without having to ever offer a directive. Their money does the talking. I resign from being gay during June because I want no part of a Pride festival that cannot dance and do politics at the same time. Pride should be a glimpse into the radical revisioning of the world we actually need. And if Pride can’t provide a glimpse of that future then we should abolish Corporate Pride once and for all.
Some will say that given the rise in attacks on queers in the current moment that Pride parades are even more important and needed this year. I too am down with symbolic gestures, sometimes. But what happens when corporations and governments put money behind Pride while stripping it of any coherent political message, leaving only symbolic gestures? How can we tolerate such “partnerships,” as corporate donations are typically called, as if they are innocent, when actual queer and trans lives are on the line? Do you see the conundrum? I have marched in Pride with and in support of people fleeing homohatred; with others against Israeli apartheid; in the heat of the Black Lives Matter activism; and with others to just party and have a good time. Pride is for me a time of potential queer vitalism where the party is always political and the politics is always a part of the party. Politics and partying sit at the intersection of radical community making where we know our sexual practices, chosen families and other radical social forms of living remain suspect for many still. Corporate Pride is therefore an attempt to rob us of the ethical underpinnings of Pride. It is that queer collusion with that theft that rubs me the wrong way. Queer and trans people are not simply niche markets for capitalism. I find Corporate Pride deeply distasteful and a betrayal of all those before us who gave much—including their lives—that we might live out and proud.
We have seen recently how quickly capitalism is willing to throw queers and trans people away when the bigots wave their cash, too. Recent marketing campaigns by Bud Light and Target are just two examples of the fickleness of queer and trans inclusion. Let’s be honest: only a certain kind of gay and lesbian has been included anyway. The rest of us have been suspect, maybe tolerated and surely not included because our sex practices, our gender presentation, our race, our class, our type of work, our immigration status, our refusal of normative respectability has been too threatening to a still heterosexual, capitalist, white supremacist world that would extract labour and capital from our bodies regardless of how we fuck or what our pronouns are. Queer and trans lives cannot be an item on corporations’ balance sheets where we become a lost leader for their moral reputations. Big business cannot trot us out for symbolic and actual gain and then throw us away when other items on the balance sheet waver. In the post-gay marriage context a kind of malaise set in where some queers felt we had reached an end-point. Many of us insisted on being vigilant, pointing out that “the end of gay,” as one book named it, had not yet arrived. We were castigated as committed to identity politics and ghettos. This moment of queer and trans attacks feels like an “I told you so” moment but there is really nothing to gloat about. Lives are not just at stake—lives are literally being lost.
And because lives are being lost queer and trans people need to be even more cautious on all fronts, even in our communities. Of course, queer and trans people should be safe when they march in Pride and throughout their everyday lives. But that safety does not begin with being a part of the alibi for the expansion of the security state. Recent federal emergency funding of $1.5 million to provide better security at Pride events across Canada is a case in point. Instead of beginning with political leadership that challenges the genocidal claims being made around trans and queer life they instead usher us further into the gravitational pull of the surveillance and carceral state. The acquiescence of queer leadership to the security state’s apparatus for support (as the executive director of Pride Toronto has done) fails to understand how such subservience can compromise us when matters of state security arise. Ultimately, Corporate Pride organizations are not about liberation but about keeping the potentially unruly in line. If Pride must maintain its government and corporate sponsorships, then I can only work to abolish it in the same vein as I work for police and prison abolition. This June I will be attending Abolition and Anti-Fascist Pride events for the second year in a row in Toronto, where politics and a good party are intimate partners.
Rinaldo Walcott is a writer and critic. He is professor and chair of Africana and American Studies at the University of Buffalo (SUNY).