Has LGBTQ Pride Lost Its Way?

Where is Pride going?
06/02/2017 07:32 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2017

June is national LGBTQ pride month, though you wouldn’t know it if you only followed the White House feed. But despite the administration’s act of erasing pride by omission, or commission, the celebrations continue in cities around the world.

In 2016, the L.A. Pride celebration turned into a commercialized music festival that detractors called “gay Coachella,” and sparked weeks of protests. Those critics may welcome the new change this year, as the L.A. celebration drops the “celebration” altogether to become a resistance march. Not resisting ant-igay bigotry, but resisting Trump (whom many in the community consider to be an anti-gay bigot, among other things).

L.A.’s first parade in 1970 was nearly stopped by the city’s police commission, fearing that those who participated would be attacked. So, LGBTQ Pride has come a long way.

But, where is Pride going? The whipsaw planning of L.A. Pride over the past two years shows that Pride generally – and not just in Los Angeles ― may have lost its way.

Turning Pride into a protest or resistance event, even if the activism is against Trump’s policies, rather than anti-gay societal attitudes and laws, as it was in the beginning, does somewhat return the event to its urgent and angry activist roots.

There are many who say Pride has been a victim of LGBTQ success in the broader culture. We’ve been hearing for years that corporate sponsorships of Pride events ― banks, beer manufacturers, you name it ― represent a sellout, even the assimilation of queerness into the mainstream. But is there anyone out there old enough to remember when the first politicians who rode in a Pride parade, or the first corporate sponsorship, was a very big deal? I do.

It’s important to remember that these corporations help underwrite many of the Pride events, and that’s not a cheap undertaking.

Others have derided Pride celebrations as a bacchanalia, a “gay Christmas,” a frivolous event that is untethered to the original intent of the event. They have a point. There are young gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer and gender non-conforming people who have grown up not knowing the kinds of societal discrimination that the 1970 marchers faced (though it’s important to add that there’s still discrimination, homophobia and hate, even if it’s frowned upon by most Americans).

There are some who say that Pride should be scrapped altogether. The argument is that, when you have openly gay couples in beer commercials, well, you’ve made it. I don’t think so. That argument is the flip side of the call for a Straight Pride Month; you know, because straight people – men mostly ― feel beleaguered by gays that get to celebrate who they are, out in the open. Will the straight men have to, I don’t know, hide in the shadows? Change the pronouns when they speak of their girlfriends so nobody knows they’re straight? Or are they, as they say, angry that The Gays keep getting all those “special rights.”?  Like the right to not be fired for who we are. Or murdered.

There’s also been criticism of Pride events for being not only too corporate, but too white and non-inclusive. There are some Pride alternatives that have sprung up over the years, and, not without controversy, the injection of Black Lives Matter into events. This year BLM successfully pushed Toronto to disallow a police float in that city’s parade, prompting criticism that the event had “lost its way.” Remember, the original Stonewall riot of 1969, and the emergence of Pride parades the year after, were primarily about the abuse of LGBTQ Americans at the hands of police. There’s a deep irony in that, and the exploration of the nexus of BLM and Pride deserves its own op-ed.

But I don’t think that BLM has caused Pride to lose its way any more than I think same-sex cuddling in Ikea commercials – Ikea has been out-front in gay inclusion for decades – or corporate sponsorships, or 20-year-olds who never heard of Stonewall, makes Pride events any less necessary.

LGBTQ Pride in the U.S. turns 47 this year, and like someone nearing fifty, is facing a midlife crisis. But it hasn’t outlived its purpose. For those who roll their eyes at the excesses of “gay Christmas” in the U.S., it helps to get a sense of perspective by looking at countries just launching their first Pride parades. Like India, this year, where an estimated 300 turned up.

Or one could look at countries like Indonesia, where LGBTQs are under attack, or Chechnya, where the mere request for a Pride event can get you imprisoned or killed.  

If L.A. Pride organizers want a protest march, maybe they could protest the dangerous conditions LGBTQ people in many countries face, in addition to the actions of Trump. At the risk of defending the administration (something I would never do), let’s face it, there are LGBTQs in many countries who would be thrilled to have the comparably mildly anti-gay policies of someone like Trump.

And for those who insist that Pride should be put out to pasture, think of the Pride newbie, venturing to the (rapidly de-gaying) big city gayborhood, somewhat nervous, clutching a rainbow flag, fresh from a small town or gay-hostile family, hoping to find belonging. As long as there’s a fresh crop of them every year, Pride has a purpose. 

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