Dizmal: “Make it rain – and show us what pride is really all about. The money . . .”
Marco Mejia: “Do you really think pride is about the money?”
Dizmal: “Of course not! It’s also about cops, kink-shaming and corporate co-option . . .”
These lines are from one of Netflix’s Pride Month releases, Jordan Nardino’s Glamorous (fifth episode), a relatively fun, feel-good, laced-with-queer-people comedy. Hearing these lines from Dizmal, a non-binary nightclub host, speaking to a femme-presenting gay man, Marco, got me thinking. Are corporates really taking over the pride scene? When Tom Daley, an openly gay British Olympian, went for his first ever ‘London Pride’ in 2017, he was sponsored by Barclays Bank, UK, for which he got royally roasted by queer British comedian, Joe Lycett. Perhaps pride celebrations don’t mean as much to someone who grew up in a country that had queer rights in some part or the other throughout his life. Yet, when queer role models like Daley decide to embrace pride celebration as part of a sponsored campaign, it makes you wonder if there’s a certain detachment that has started forming between queer people and their roots in struggle and non-conformity.
June is International Pride Month. What started in 1970 as a protest march has, in many places, become a huge carnival for celebrating different sexualities and genders. This is often in the face of violence and discrimination against queer communities. Several corporates have become cognizant of the queer population within their ranks, and have incorporated diversity and inclusion programmes, while donating money to pro-inclusion political causes. Most of their branding starts wearing the rainbow flag in some form or the other. However, why does the branding have the rainbow flag for just one month a year?
What also happens, particularly for brands of consumer goods, is a wave of rainbow-washing of their stores. From rainbow banners to showcasing allyship, it makes these spaces seem more inclusive. However, all of this isn’t based on the generosity of the corporate spirit. Tons of products that celebrate pride fill the shelves. The pink dollar / rupee / rand / pound / bitcoin benefits all these organisations, as queer people hold over three trillion dollars’ worth of buying power in their hands.
Queer people have come a long way. In many countries, albeit not the majority, queer people have been finding their way into the ‘mainstream’. The queer market, initially dominated by gay men (possibly because of the higher visibility) was called the “dream market”. There has often been a need for queer people to define themselves through narratives of consumption – the more one spends, the closer one is to the ‘ideal, tax-paying citizen’ as opposed to the category of ‘deviant’ in which one was hitherto relegated to. How consistent is such mainstreaming though?
The United States has seen an upsurge in anti-queer narratives, including Bills on banning drag in some states. This has resulted in companies that have consumer goods pulling products from their shelves, boycotts against companies that have used queer models to represent their products, and more. Stock prices have crashed too, with a company like Target losing 15 billion US dollars in May 2023, among others (this drop in stock prices also comes at a time when many consumers are tightening their belts on their spending, so all of it can’t be blamed on support for queer people). Many brands backed out from sponsoring any pride-related event altogether, Wells Fargo being one among them.
There’s also the issue of corporates sponsoring anti-queer political representatives. Huge multinational corporations that have their shelves (both virtual and real) stacked with pride-colour-clad products, Coca Cola and Comcast for instance, also contribute significantly towards Republican politicians who’re doing all they can to table and pass anti-trans and anti-drag legislations all over the US.
Yet, the same corporates, thanks to their advertisements often embracing queer individuals, have made mainstream visibility possible. It hasn’t been a matter of being granted that space. We’ve had to claim it, fight for it. Because of over-corporatization of pride, the ‘New York Pride’ decided to actually let go of many corporate sponsors – a commendable action which, unfortunately, not every pride organization can afford.
Coming from India, and living in South Africa, I see pride as a march of protest, not a parade of celebration. We’re far from reaching that moment of celebration, whether in our own countries or elsewhere. The irony is how people often look up to pride parades in the Global North while overlooking the ground-level politics that’s trying desperately to pull out the rights’ rug from under the feet of their queer citizens.
Pride isn’t about stating that we’re good enough to be accepted a month in a year. Pride is about making sure we’re accepted each and every day all through the year. Corporates play a big role in making that happen. However, when we will see performative allyship, we will call you out and remind you exactly how we contribute to your market. Because not only does our money matter – we matter too.
About the main photo: Woolworths is a South African multinational company that refused to abandon their pro-queer stance despite demands from their conservative customers. The photograph was shot at a Woolworths outlet in Johannesburg. Photo credit: Debjyoti Ghosh