This piece is a guest submission by Matt Massaia. Matt is a New York-based poet, artist and activist who writes about queer identity, long-form poetry, cultural hegemony, and the liminal nature of sexuality in Dionysian ritual. You can see Matt’s previous guest submissions on The Radical Idea here.
During the 2013 NYC Pride Parade, I was standing street-side against the barricades outside the Stonewall Inn. A whole mess of summer sweaty, heavily rainbowed queers clustered on Christopher St in the late afternoon. Roving sidewalk carts purveying Pride-themed beads, flags, pins, wings, skirts, whatever. Secret Coke bottles full of rum. Inexplicable teenagers asking me if I had weed to sell. And then the onslaught. Little promotional giveaways thrown from floats, motorcycles, Andrew Cuomo’s ilk, the requisite Lady Gaga, glorious high heels, beautiful boys dancing in their underwear, lovingly protected by the NYPD.
Then comes the Citibank float. I’m checking my phone to find where my companions are and I hear from the DJ a very loud, very exuberant “WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET!” People on the street echoed. I wanted to leave. The “who’s street? our street!” chant brought me back two years prior, when Occupy Wall Street began its marches around Manhattan. I remember being in that no-barricade mass, the fed-up “whose street? our street!” circling the Stock Exchange. Hearing this at Pride coming from a float backed by Citigroup (who, after helping crash the market in 2008, received a measly $476.2 billion bailout) was just a little too uncanny for me.
While for us this is some kind of cruel irony, for various corporations it’s an attractive selling point. Not only have pride events nationwide become more corporate oriented—“Pride” is now a marketing strategy. From VIP post-Pride dance parties and night clubs to fashion and drugs to prevent the spread of HIV, gay culture privileges money. Those with money and societal privilege are able to live desirably while ignoring the ever increasing population of queers who are women, trans, of color, undocumented, or poor. “The Gays” are a demographic to sell to.
Thanks to increasing cultural acceptance, (predominantly white, affluent, male) gays are now welcome to be complicit in the capitalist consumer system just like every other good-hearted, red-blooded American. And what better way to let you know that you’re welcome? To hire a drag queen to toss you a frisbee that has “TD Bank” printed on it. Some cute twink wearing only a pair of red briefs chucks a Delta Airlines stress ball at you. Election year politicians hand out stickers. All of this operates under the assertion that we can market to the queers by making them think we’re on their side. Corporate entities appropriate remnants of counterculture, subculture. Revolutionary scraps are repurposed into something that is not only digestible but sellable.
Corporations and celebrities prey on the aesthetic of Pride as well. At my first Pride, I heard “Born This Way” play eleven times throughout the parade. Media, such as Macklemore’s “Same Love,” panders to queer people, using the illusion of superficial support to draw in consumers. Looking at the list of this year’s NYC Pride official sponsors, I question why the organizers of NYC Pride would accept sponsorship from companies such as Wal-Mart (which employs the forced labor of incarcerated women to “demanufacture” products for resale), AT&T (which has dumped union labor in favor of prison labor), and Citibank (which, thanks to its policies, might be the biggest money launderer in the world for sundry violent drug cartels).
We are “winning” the fight for “marriage equality,” which is going to predominantly serve rich, white gay people. Let’s not forget that the first Gay Pride was a riot at the Stonewall Inn, where working class queers, undocumented people, trans individuals, and people of color fought back for the right to be public with their identities. But now we can go corporate and praise these companies who profess that they care about equality. According to The Wall Street Journal, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat received a $4.5 million dollar bonus on top of a $13.5 million dollar salary. That just reeks of equality to me.
I believe that Pride events are beautiful things or can be beautiful things when we act in solidarity with all queers who have been marginalized and demand actual revolution. I want to see Pride honor lives lost to disease and police violence. It should nurture sex and body positivity. Include, rather than exclude. Amplify the voices of undocumented and working class queers. It should be a time when we celebrate the victories that we have made and acknowledge the places where we’ve fallen short, where our actions haven’t matched our rhetoric. When that Citibank float rolled by me, I heard “whose street? our street?” become not a call for radicalism and change, but a haunting reminder that yes, these are their streets and G-d help you if you’re not ready to comply.