Is Pride Too Commercialized?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hi, y'all. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and welcome back to The Takeaway. The first Pride marches were radical acts for gay, lesbian, trans, and non-binary people to occupy public space openly and proudly. It was a kind of embodied resistance to the common practices of shunning, arresting, and brutalizing queer folk simply for existing. Today, Pride Month gatherings are more likely to be described as parades than marches. With rainbow flags adorning the storefronts of big corporations, it might be easy to think the struggle is over.
Which is part of why in 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, the Reclaim Pride Coalition held its first Queer Liberation March as a parallel and alternative demonstration to New York City's annual Pride parade. This year, both events are slated for June 26. Jodi Nicole is a Black non-binary femme, cultural organizer, photojournalist, and visual storyteller with Reclaim Pride. Jodi, thanks for being here.
Jodi: Hello, Melissa. Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. What are some of the key differences between the Queer Liberation March and the official Pride March?
Jodi: I will say the first that's most pressing to me is the relationship with the New York Police Department. Historically the official New York City Pride Parade would be much more intertwined with the NYPD, even to the point of having uniformed police officers participating in and included in the parade. That was one of the major issues that Reclaim Pride organizers were pushing back against.
I do want to be transparent that I'm actually a newer organizer as of within the last year, and so I'm still myself learning all of the institutional memory of Reclaim Pride Coalition, but I definitely know that that was a major one. Even this year I've attended other Pride parades. The sight of NYPD cop cars that are performatively decorated in rainbow lettering, it really is jarring for so many people in our communities that are really still having such antagonistic and violent experiences when interfacing with the police.
That contradiction is definitely something that Reclaim Pride Coalition really wanted to push to the forefront of okay, what responsibility do we have to always be challenging the ways in which the NYPD is treating people in our communities?
Melissa Harris-Perry: There's this no cops, no corpse language that seems to be reflecting both a question of the role of law enforcement but also of corporations. How is the Reclaim Pride Coalition also thinking differently about corporate sponsorship?
Jodi: Reclaim Pride Coalition has absolutely zero affiliation with any large business, major corporation, anything like that, and so we are completely and totally funded by individuals. Then also aligned foundations here and there in terms of arts and cultural organizations that might be a part of or serving our community will definitely also contribute as they can as well. Besides that, it really is about getting individual support from people in our communities. What that means is that we are not at all sponsored by any corporation.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's bring in another voice. Also joining us now is Dr. Katherine Sender, professor of Communication and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. Thanks for being here, Katherine.
Katherine: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Right. Jodi Nicole was just walking us through some of the challenges of corporate sponsorship. Corporations like Mastercard, Delta, Chase, Target, they're just one small fraction of corporate sponsors. I guess there's a part of me that thinks don't we prefer to have major corporations publicly stating support rather than what could clearly be on the other side of this? Talk to me a bit about this.
Katherine: I agree with many of Jodi's points. I think that there has been this enormous corporatization of Pride and that that has really had some detrimental effects in terms of pricing out nonprofit groups and other community groups that really just can't afford floats and so on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Actually, pause right there for a second. We're broadcast all over the country. For folks who maybe haven't got, what do you mean priced-out floats? What are you talking about here?
Katherine: For instance, in New York City it costs many thousands of dollars to have a float in Pride, and the more money a company puts forward the further forward they get in the parade. What happens is that there are these huge corporate floats from-- Jodi mentioned AT&T, Toyota, Procter & Gamble. All these people with these huge decorative floats and then struggling at the back are all the other people who can't afford to buy that place at the front of the parade.
Because these parades now are getting really big and really long, it's maybe many hours before community groups actually get to walk down the main site of the parade, and so really aren't getting the visibility that they may have got in a less funded situation, and I would assume would get them in the Reclaim Pride event that's happening on the same day.
Melissa Harris-Perry: God, that makes perfect sense to me. Jodi Nicole, jump in here for me on this because-- Again, I presume you're not saying, "We're hoping that these corporations stand in resistance to us," but this point being made that it actually literally pushes to the back of the line grassroots-based organizations, that's really pretty compelling to me.
Jodi: Yes. To even further clarify what I was touching on before, for me, I'm a type of person where I actually do believe in radical wealth re-distribution. Let's say that any individual within any of these corporations, or even perhaps the corporations as an entity, wanted to be providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in more meaningful ways to our communities. That would be one thing in terms of saying, "Okay, here's some money." But really what we have seen historically is what's being mentioned. It's not a situation of okay, here's $10,000. Here's $50,000.
It's a situation of here is this funding as a dangling carrot, and then these are all the things that we are going to either explicitly or codedly imply that need to be done to be able to continue receiving this. That's more so the problem. It's not necessarily inherently the passing off of the money itself, but the ways in which that is then wielded as a problematic power dynamic and really a tactic of manipulation. Because then, like I was mentioning, there are demands that, for example, Reclaim Pride Coalition and the tens of thousands of people that have marched in the Queer Liberation March in previous years, there are demands that we have not only of capitalist corporations but also of elected officials.
There really comes a point where the contradictions start to emerge because it isn't only so much about the money, but the reality is, I think, we as adults know how society functions. These corporations, they're not being as benevolent and altruistic as they want us to believe.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Katherine, I want to bring you in as well. I hear from Jodi Nicole at least two interlocking intersecting concerns. That's also been discussed, for example, in the context of October Breast Cancer Month; this kind of pinkwashing. We might call this corporate sponsorship lavender washing or rainbow washing. This idea that just by using the symbols of or doing these symbolic things it keeps meaningful reinvestment or meaningful work of the corporations making sustaining contributions to community-based organizations rather than just being afloat in the parade.
The other concern I hear is this idea that money is flowing in both directions, both to the symbols of Pride but also to the public policies that make LGBTQIA+ resistance necessary. Can you walk us through some of that, Dr. Sender?
Katherine: Yes. I think what we can look at in terms of the history of sponsorship of Pride, it used to be that corporations would advertise Pride and Pride parades as a way of being under the radar. They hoped that if they did this very specific event-based marketing they wouldn't get the attention of the religious conservatives and the right-wing politicians. That never actually quite happened but that was the fantasy. The biggest risk was getting boycotted by the evangelicals.
What's happened since around the early 2000s is that the tide has really changed, and now what companies are really worried about is looking uncommitted, inauthentic, and doing this rainbow-washing thing. Marketers who advise corporations who want to get into the LGBTQ market say that they have to be sustained through the whole year, not just June and not just the parade, but that they have to have consistent messaging through the whole year. That they have to include LGBTQ people in the creation of their campaigns. In effect, that actually usually means the G and the L in there. More diversity behind these campaigns is more unusual.
That they have to recognize the diversity and intersectionality of LGBTQ consumers. We're seeing much more mixed racially complex representations in marketing. Also that they have to have these corporate relationships with nonprofit groups to signal a real commitment to the community. That said, most of those nonprofits are fairly uncontroversial. Still important, but they tend to be around youth and media visibility and things like that.
The point Jody makes about basically talking out of two sides of their mouth when they're giving corporate sponsorship but also then sponsoring right-wing politicians is really a big deal. One of the things that really gives me hope is that social media is so effective now and really calling out corporations who are demonstrably being cynical and hypocritical. That really has yielded quite a lot of backlash.
Both AT&T, for instance, and Toyota have been called out for giving money to particularly state-based politicians. This is because those right-wing politicians are more likely to give these companies tax breaks. What that then means is that the money that might come from corporate taxes to help support the most vulnerable people in those states, including LGBT people and people of color don't come through. Those kinds of corporate decisions has very real impact on LGBTQ people's lives.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jodi Nicole, talk to me then about what it means or the challenges or maybe the opportunities engaged with creating and producing an event where the resources are coming directly from community, but again, from community where, as Katherine was just pointing out, often for queer folk of color, for young queer folk, for trans and femme folk, there may be fewer dollars. What does it mean to also rely on that community to resource an event?
Jodi: What it means is it really is necessary to be a lot more creative and flexible. Even in terms of how Reclaim Pride Coalition puts on the annual Queer Liberation March, yes we rely on monetary support from our communities, but also even essentially throughout the year and especially picking up closer and closer to the march we have regular meetings where people can support not only by donating but also even by really joining us in the effort. Actually participating in these conversations, providing their insights, volunteering for certain key roles that might go unfilled if no one stepped up to be able to do them.
It's about also just a whole infrastructure that really is saying that, one, we rely on our community, but also there is a level of reciprocity where we're also hearing our community and where we're also really trying to as much as possible have our organization reflect what our community wants and needs from us as well. I think that's also even another key difference with some of the major Pride parades is there is a greater level of collaboration and back and forth with the individual organizers or the coalition members that show up to different meetings and different committees because there is just really always an ongoing exchange.
We're really always challenging ourselves to do better at hearing what our community wants, even from us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jodi Nicole, cultural organizer, photojournalist, and visual storyteller with Reclaim Pride New York City, and Dr. Katherine Sender, professor of Communication and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. Thank you both for being here.
Katherine: Thank you, Melissa.
Jodi: Thank you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: For The Takeaway family, we want to hear from you on this. What do you think? Has Pride become too commercial? How many Pride demonstrations, marches, parades are you heading out to? Give us a call.
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