In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar. It was not the first time this particular establishment suffered the indignity, but for whatever reason it was on that night that the Stonewall’s patrons – many of whom were Black and Latinx trans folks – decided enough was enough. Finally tired of being maligned, mistreated, and abused by police, patrons fought back against police.
One year later, gay rights groups in New York (and across the United States) marked the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Those early celebrations of gay liberation sowed the seeds for our modern-day month-long celebration of Pride.
These days, we’re more likely to feel the virtual unfurling of countless rainbow pride flags before we even flip our calendars onto the month of June. We can practically set our watches to the rainbow-framed logo updates across social media, and our ad feeds are suddenly resplendent with a kaleidoscope of Pride-themed clothing and merchandise.
This is a good thing, right? Our ability to spend our hard-earned dollars on items that allow us to identify ourselves as queer or queer-adjacent is surely a sign of progress!
Not so fast, friends.
Pride can’t be commodified
To put Stonewall into some context: though there were earlier examples of queer folks fighting back against police harassment (riots at Cooper Donuts and Compton’s Cafeteria are two notable events), much of the work around gay and lesbian visibility focused on assimilation and respectability. The overarching goal was fitting into heteronormative society, to “pass.” Fighting back that night at Stonewall prioritized fighting back against this notion of assimilation.
An annual celebration of pride, then, is a celebration of the myriad ways we show up in the world and how we love one another. We take to the streets in hopes of fearlessly expressing the fullest spectrum of humanity – an inability to pigeonhole us all into one way of being.
Much has already been said about rainbow capitalism – a phrase used to describe the commodification and commercialization of LGBTQIA2S movements. By its very nature, capitalism insists on a level of profitable conformity; make yourself fit a particular and palatable mold. Conflating the commemoration of a rebellion against gender-based harassment with a “buy this and show off your pride!” message is a perverse bit of irony.
No better time than now to resist commodification
As we celebrate the anniversary of this watershed moment here in 2021, we must also acknowledge the enormity of what we’ve all been through this past year plus. Between a global pandemic and a long-overdue reckoning with injustice and discrimination, we’ve once again had to rethink how we show up in the world, for ourselves and for each other.
I can relate to wanting some semblance of normalcy. Returning to the celebratory nature of Pride represents that, for sure. Falling right back into the monetization of Pride? Perhaps this is the year we say no. Perhaps this is when we truly honor our ancestors with reenergized efforts towards true equity and inclusion – not to mention true reform of law enforcement so that our community won’t have to take up arms and bricks against police harassment again.
Celebrate Pride, celebrate small, celebrate local
If you’re a small business owner, you might be asking yourself, “Okay, I see your points. But what’s the harm in joining in the Pride party? We sure could use some joy, and I want to show my support!” I get that! Any time we can elevate love and acceptance, we should partake.
We shouldn’t limit our commitment to equity and inclusion to a single day, week, or month. It’s okay to acknowledge days of remembrance, or celebrate fun hashtag holidays designed to feature unique members of our community. We also have the ability to reclaim our economic and financial power, in June and always. Independent and grassroots LGBTQIA2S organizations exist in your community; make sure they’re well-funded and supported year-round. Push back against token small donations from corporations to larger non-profits (where funds may not make it to intended recipients).
Beyond external measures, we have the ability to celebrate pride simply by showing up as our realest selves. While we will always acknowledge Gilbert Baker’s contribution to queer history, your celebration may be devoid of rainbow-hued anything. And that is equally as valid.
Happy Pride, friends – now and always.