I Want to Be Free!

PRIDE!

One of the most significant months for the queer community worldwide happens to be June, regardless of when any country holds their respective Pride parades. And for the longest possible time, June has also been an essential month for corporations to showcase their “support” to the community.

Credit: @mattxiv on Instagram

But before we jump into that, let’s take a minute to understand WHY June is even considered Pride Month.

A Little Respect

I haven’t posted as often as I’d have liked to, and ironically, the last thing I ever talked about on this blog happens to be an article I wrote on June 29th, 2021. And this particular blog talks about the very topic we’re going to dissect, yet again.

Stonewall Inn. Credit: CNN.com

For as long as we can remember, there have been numerous examples of June being the perfect time for corporations to come out in support of the Alphabet Army. However, one of the many iconic things that went down in June all those years back was a little incident most don’t even know or bother to look up.

The Stonewall Riots are a prominent piece of history for the queer community, and to this day hold the torch for everything we’ve accomplished or continue to fight for. So, what are the Stonewall Riots? As stated in one of my previous articles, Truly Biconic:

The Stonewall Inn was a popular establishment in the community back then. However, it used to be exclusively for gays. But things seemed to change, and lesbians, drag queens, male prostitutes, homeless youth and more could make their way to Stonewall. Since very few establishments allowed gay people in the 50s and 60s, Stonewall Inn was where people could be themselves. But with how regressive people were back then, police raids were a routine. And usually, the owners could just buy them off. But on the fateful morning of June 28th, 1969, things went awry.

But it didn’t just end there. With how high tensions were between the New York City Police Department and the gay residents of Greenwich Village, protests just erupted night after night after night for 6 nights. But these riots truly helped make a change because, within weeks, residents were to create comfortable spaces for gay men and lesbians. They formed activist groups that concentrated on establishing places for gay men and lesbians to enjoy and express their sexual orientation without the fear of being arrested.

However, this isn’t all. There’s a small yet integral piece of history that brought attention to the community. And all of this is because of a virus that people didn’t know much about.

The world was cowering from what they considered a dangerous disease during the 80s. The reaction to the epidemic is pretty similar to how we reacted to the current pandemic. The reaction to the HIV epidemic was a mixture of chaos and homophobia.

Men protesting in support of more money for AIDS research marched down Fifth Avenue during the 14th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in New York in 1983. Credit: NPR

Why? Solely because the early cases affected gay men. They even referred to the epidemic as the ‘gay cancer’, and by 1982 it was referred to as the ‘gay-related immune deficiency’ (GRID). However, a year later, people soon realised that it could affect heterosexual individuals just as much.

I Will Survive

The epidemic affected so many gay men, and it wasn’t the easiest for them to get treated. We know now that you can only contract HIV through bodily fluids. However, back then, opinions were a lot more important than facts. And this affected the quality of life for many gay men. Not only were gay men ashamed of having the disease, but they had to live in fear of not having any help dealing with what eventually could and would lead to their demise.

At a time, when trained professionals were afraid of entering rooms with HIV inhabitants, the queer community decided to step up and help those in need. When doctors were afraid to do their jobs, groups of lesbian women came together to tend to and look after those dying from the epidemic.

Credit: DAP Health

And while this doesn’t seem like such a big deal but it was monumental for the community. Why? Gay men would refer to them as ‘Butch Dykes’ in the bars and call them ‘fish’ to make fun of them. But despite all of that, they decided to step up and help them. Not only did they give their time and care to the cause, but they also took it a step further by donating their blood as well.

Credit: iNews

It was due to the MSM banning “men who have sex with men” from donating blood to prevent HIV through blood transfusions. And that ban stands strong to this day, so guess what happened? Not only did the reserves, but due to experimental treatments and a battery of blood tests, HIV sufferers were left anaemic and in need of regular transfusions. HIV patients were in dire need of blood. And the solution to this was ‘Lesbian blood drives’. While people were hoping for numbers under 50, more than 200 women came forward to donate blood. And this movement helped establish a lot of similar blood drives all across America. It showed gay men all the love they didn’t know they had, and they didn’t have to deal with HIV in fear and shame. These groups did a lot more than fight AIDS. It was more about uniting a community, fighting AIDS, and showing the authorities that family isn’t always blood, quite literally.

Only Time Makes It Human

What started as a movement and celebration for the queer movement soon became one of the biggest brand holidays and an opportunity to cash out for many corporations. While there is nothing wrong with that, many of these corporations have openly been homophobic.

It’s not about being an ally or being supportive of the community. It’s about being honest about where they stand. It’s crazy how as soon as it’s June 1st, many of the logos we know so well have an element of the pride flag or are a version made entirely of the rainbow colours. And this doesn’t just stop at the logos. They often integrate the rainbow into their products. I’ve seen the Yaseline, Rainbow coloured sausages, and even the odd rainbow-coloured mayo, or Gayo.

And if it isn’t the rainbow packaging or products, many brands have even taken it a step further and integrated the whole “Love is Love” message, like these images by Burger King and Mcdonald’s. Yes, I can already hear you say, “But Simone, there’s nothing wrong with these playful ads or products”. I would agree that it isn’t “performative” if this wasn’t Pride month.

But unfortunately, the world we live in has always been performative for many other situations, just like they have been during June. What would’ve been revolutionary years ago for the alphabet army seems nothing short of “rainbow capitalism”, a term they came up with for this odd phenomenon.

Most of these corporations wouldn’t care about the community or the message it’s trying to send any other time of the year. However, this only comes up once a year, in June. And the purpose of this marketing ploy is to increase consumerism without working towards any improvement for LGBTQIA+ communities. What happens to the money we spend on these products? Where does it go?

But more importantly, how do these corporations help make a safe space for their queer employees or consumers? Are they working towards eradicating any anti-LGBTQIA+ laws?

And I’m sure you’re thinking, why would it be their job to do so? When most of these corporations pretend to be allies during June, they go back to donating all of their profits to anti-LGBTQIA+ organisations. And this has been an ongoing thing for years. Most big corporations are well-known for being anti-LGBTQIA+ or showing support to similar organisations – CEOS, Founders, and more.

What’s worse is that the very people who started this movement wouldn’t be able to enter or even be able to purchase merchandise from most of these corporations claiming to be allies. So, what do we expect from these corporations? I understand that many believe these rainbow logos or products help show their support for every community, and not just the alphabet army. However, they can showcase their support by keeping their normal logo year-round. It would still show their acceptance and inclusivity without being performative. I don’t expect everyone to donate or even work towards making the world a better place for the queer community, it isn’t hard to do that, but I don’t and won’t expect it from them.

Marsha and Sylvia. Credit: Netflix

You Need to Calm Down

I come across so many arguments about gay rights or pride month. Here are a few of them:

– “I don’t particularly care about what anyone’s sexuality is, but they can keep that in the bedroom.”

– “It’s hard to understand the community because most gays are extremely dramatic. And we always have to walk around them on eggshells.”

– “There are so many more important matters to tend to than what an individual’s gender is or who they can love. Why are we still having this conversation?

– “Who cares if corporations have rainbow logos?”

– “Why do you feel the need to let the world know your sexuality or gender? No one has or will ever care about that.”

– But my personal favourite is “You want to be referred to as Plural? Because grammatically that will never make sense.” Only because I told people what my preferred pronouns are.

And these usually start as “I’m not homophobic, but…”. Many people have taken offence to this and say things like, “Oh, I didn’t know having an honest opinion makes me homophobic.”

While I’d like to say that it doesn’t, most often, looking at the context, some opinions do make certain people come across as homophobic. And most of those times, they are! I understand where most of their concerns come in from, but more than often, I usually don’t. Not because I’m a part of the alphabet army, but because it seems incredibly odd that something as simple as asking for basic rights can come across as whiny and annoying.

When Trans folx ask for something as simple as a separate, safe space to take care of their basic needs – It’s performative or unnecessary. When Queer folx have to fight for the right to do something as standard as adopt a child – It’s looked at as ridiculous. In fact, I happened to speak to someone about the right for gay men to donate blood and how ridiculous that rule is, and all they had to say was, “Maybe if they didn’t announce their sexuality like their life depends on it, it’ll be easier for them to donate.”

How is that any better? Have any heterosexual men dealt with any discrimination for basic tasks like these? It isn’t about throwing our sexuality in people’s faces. It’s more about being accepted in society. Not only do we want basic rights, but we want to be able to celebrate who we are as people without having to hide in the closet or behind this pretence of being someone we aren’t.

And maybe now isn’t the right time to have this conversation. But if it isn’t, when do we have this particular conversation? Because even though it doesn’t seem as important to many people, it truly is vital for people in the community.

The community still has a lot of things to tackle, and yes, talking about something like rainbow logos may seem irrelevant for many right now. But should Rainbow Capitalism continue to be a thing in the foreseeable future? Let me know in the comments below!  

And if you enjoyed this and want to read more of my work, you can find them here.

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