When I was in the honeymoon phase of coming out, Pride festivals sounded like heaven to me. What's not to love about places where I could be free and be myself without judgment? I thought Pride would connect me with other gay youth and give me the group of friends I so desperately wanted. And, of course, most young, single gay people would be lying if they said they didn't go to these events hoping they'd spot, or be spotted by, someone cute.
Mix up some alcohol-induced traumas, homonormative influences, and give or take a few disappointing Prides, and you have a person who is pretty much done with the entire experience. I went from trying to attend as many as I could, to not attending any at all.
It didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't one particular thing that broke the metaphoric camel's back— it was a lot of little things. Microaggressions. Big things that took some time to settle in. I'm not trying to be one of those gay people who tries to separate themselves from the community (that's not what I want at all), and I don't want to be better or different than other gay people because I don't think defining ourselves by how we compare to stereotypes or societal expectations is all that smart. What I want to talk about is how these Pride events have been driven to dark places.
First and foremost, it seems to me like Pride festivals have become all about the party lifestyle. It is thrust upon us by businesses looking to cash in on our love of community. Whether alcohol is necessary is a different question, but for those who don't drink (and for those who are triggered by liquor), Pride can be an awful place to be. You can't walk a block without hearing about drink specials and passersby discussing which bar they're going to go to first. It's all about Stoli and Absolut and drinks of all kinds that are readily available to make sure your Pride is celebrated in the best way possible (because there's no better way to celebrate than getting drunk, right!?). This is not to say that drinking is a bad thing, but much like Saint Patrick's Day in America (and every other holiday), Pride celebrations seem to have become so obsessed with and focused on doing absolutely everything to the nth degree. There don't seem to be large spaces for reflection on those in the community who have paved the way, nor do there seem to be spaces at these events for people to organize for the current issues that are still stripping of the liberties and freedoms we are owed.
Instead, everything feels corporate and sponsored. People everywhere, in and out of the community, try to commodify the rainbow and the various Pride flags to make a quick buck without giving back or spreading a message other than surface level "be proud of who you are." Nike's "BETRUE 2016" is a fine example of this.
The collection utilizes a Pride-aesthetic without giving back to the community. There's no mention of profits being donated to anything other than the already lined pockets of Nike's business people. Essentially, Nike (like many others) uses Pride to make money and drum up business based on faux-activism without actually committing to real historical recognition or activism for changing moving forward. But it is far from the only culprit.
Converse did it.
Hillary Clinton did it.
Bernie Sanders did it.
Adidas did it.
At the end of the day, it appears that corporate America has figured out the formula for Pride. Slap a rainbow on products, claim it's a genuine way to show how proud you are, and people will buy it. And Pride organizations at large do nothing to locally and nationally combat this.
It seems to me, at least, that Pride is also missing out on great opportunities to bring the community together in really meaningful ways that could make life in this country better for all LGBT people. The image of Pride remains largely white, fit, masculine, and rainbow. Pride swears it loves queers of all shapes, colors, sizes, and abilities, but mostly it just loves them as a friend.
But this isn't the only reason I stopped going. One of the main reasons I've physically and mentally disassociated from Pride events is that they're often advertised as "Gay Pride." This feels incredibly outdated and exclusive to me. It feels like the gay community, as they appear to in mainstream media, take center stage and the rest of the letters in LGBTQIA+ spectrum are forced to follow behind in the shadows and take whatever scraps of attention they're given from those with the power.
This may not be true for every Pride across the nation, but speaking from a Philadelphia lens, the gay community always takes center stage. Maybe I'd feel different if I lived somewhere else. Maybe Pride isn't meant to be anything more than a party.
I don't want this to be a condemnation of all things Pride. I'm not perfect, so the problem could certainly be with me. What I hope this does, however, is encourage organizers of these events to meet with all members of the community (if they aren't already) and remember all the people that got us where we are today.
We have one month of the year for LGBT History (October, apparently), and lord knows that's not nearly enough to cover the real, gritty truths, so it's up to us to speak their names and remember their incredible actions on our own.