Taking Pride back from the corporations

Sadly, over the last few decades, Pride has been hijacked.

When I first came out in 2012 as a trans woman, I knew little about Pride, but I was met right away with images of rainbows in every store as many corporations and brands began supporting Pride. At the time, I thought this kind of corporate support was a great thing. I was a very naïve, freshly hatched transwoman who still had so much more to learn.

I thought it was some sort of kindness being shown by corporations. Similarly, seeing police at various Pride marches gave me the illusion that they, too, supported LGBTQ2+ people. Now, almost a decade later, I think this was a grave mistake and a terrible misunderstanding.

When I started talking to other LGBTQ2+ people within my friend circles and doing online research, mostly consisting of scouring YouTube and whatever I could find on Wikipedia as starting points, I soon discovered a far more militant, radical, and even revolutionary history of Pride that capitalism had hidden from me.

Perhaps even worse, I came to find that capitalism perpetuated a very distorted and pink-washed history of Pride that was meant to stifle and defang any-and-all revolutionary spirit that LGBTQ2+ people may have at their time of coming out. The subversive story of Pride is regularly downplayed.

In short, on June 28, 1969, there was a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan. There had been many raids before, but on this fateful day, the patrons at the Stonewall had had enough. They fought back—to the point of overpowering the police and locking them in the bar for well over 45 minutes.

Eventually, more police showed up, of course, and that’s when the beatings and arrests started. This was a pivotal moment. It was led by many LGBTQ2+ people, along with houseless people as well.

Two major figures emerged from that moment—Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two amazing and strong transwomen who had had enough of the rapes, beatings, and jailings. They would go on to blaze a trail for gay and trans liberation, like nothing ever seen before in America. This would also kick off many gay power marches, eventually becoming Pride.

It is important to note that Johnson and Rivera would also go on to found the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, for short. Theirs was a struggle for not only survival but liberation as well since the capitalist system, combined with white supremacy and bigotry, made it almost impossible for many LGBTQ2+ people to find work, let alone housing that was safe.

STAR provided housing and food to LGBTQ2+ people thanks largely to the donations made by Johnson and Rivera, often the proceedings of sex work, which provided the capital to care for those whom no one else would.

Both of these transwomen were truly revolutionary figures. They gave everything they had and endured the horrors of capitalism and white supremacy so that I and countless others can one day live in dignity in a society where we are accepted, with our full humanity respected.

Modern corporate-sponsored Pride parades are slap in the face to everything Marsha and Sylvia and so many others have fought for. The absolute worst corporations—like Raytheon, the Pinkertons, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and the list goes on—have the audacity to slap a rainbow on their social media profiles or try selling us their products at marked-up prices because they have “Pride” stamped on them, all the while donating money to anti-LGBTQ2+ candidates across the country.

Then there is the issue of police wanting to march in our parades or have a presence at Pride. News flash: Pride is not for cops, Pride is not for corporations, Pride is not about commodification, Pride is not about capitalists putting on an act one time a year to get our money. Pride is about OUR rights and OUR liberation from this capitalist hellscape which continues to oppress so many of us.

We, as the working class within LGBTQ2+ community, must reject what Pride has become. Instead, we must try to organize marches and demonstrations during Pride month that are anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist-centered, with the goal of maintaining intersectionality with allies and other leftist movements that share our views and want to support us in our quest for LGBTQ2+ liberation and rights.

In this moment, many of us should look to our comrades in Cuba, which despite grave errors in its early treatment of LGBTQ2+ people. Fidel Castro, for instance, later apologized for the revolution’s early homophobia, and today Cuba has embraced LGBTQ2+ equality. Much of this is thanks to the work of Mariela Castro, daughter of former President Raul Castro, and her solidarity with our LGBTQ2+ comrades, not only in Cuba but worldwide.

Cuba is not only far ahead of the United States in terms of providing gender confirming surgery for trans people and life-saving medicine like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but that medicine is provided free since Cuba recognizes access to health care as a human right. In Cuba, it is not left to private insurance companies to decide whether you get to live or die.

Some final thoughts: We also must never lose sight of the fact that many LGBTQ2+ people of color are still struggling while many white LGBTQ2+ people have far more access to resources. We must correct this contradiction within the movement.

A Black or Indigenous transwoman will always face far more violence and discrimination than a white transwoman. So, for us who are white LGBTQ2+, we must always stand in solidarity with them and use our privilege to speak up when they cannot, and lastly, stand side-by-side with them in this fight against white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism.

As Sylvia Rivera said, “This movement has become so capitalist, it is a capitalist movement. The first four years were basically fun, I mean the festival took place right on Christopher Street and everything was moderately priced. I did not believe that I would have to sit here 32 years later and basically bitch about the fact that they have become so capitalist. This is no longer my Pride, I gave them their Pride, but they have not given me mine.”

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.     


Raina Overskride
Raina Overskride

Raina Overskride writes from Maine.