rainbow capitalism

LBGTQ Politics Beyond Rainbow Capitalism

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Colin Gill

Unapologetically queer, world-traveling, feminist writer.

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June 2014 was the last time I attended a mainstream Pride Parade. Pride has a rich history — it started as protest in New York City, spearheaded by trans womxn of colour, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

But Pride’s revolutionary past might not correspond with its politics today. I can distinctly remember feeling something inherently wrong with things I was seeing over the years at Pride events.  Conspicuously present was rainbow capitalism, with large corporations and banks proclaiming their diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, alcohol companies producing rainbow colored bottles, and throngs of advertisements of gay friendly luxury resorts across the globe. But for myself and many of my other LGBTQ+ identified friends, those things at Pride did not speak to our values — nor our financial statuses.

After I learned more about the insidiousness of capitalism and its co-optation of the LGBTQ+ community, I lost all interest in attending mainstream Pride Parades.  What bothered me the most was the obliviousness and defensiveness I received from LGBTQ+ people who failed to see the links between oppressive capitalism and its creation of homonormativity.

rainbow capitalism
Lisa Duggan pictured above

Homonormativity is a term that was coined by scholar Lisa Duggan to describe:  “A politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.”

I have had discussions with white, cis-gender LGBTQ+ people who failed to see that even though they’re minoritized and oppressed based on their gender and/or sexual orientation, they still benefit from white privilege and being complacent with the exploitation of black and brown people.  Look no further than the pinkwashing practices of Israel, branding itself as a safe haven for gay people in the Middle East, while simultaneously denying human rights to Palestinians and telling 38,000 African migrants and refugees to leave Israel by the end of March or face arrest.

rainbow capitalism

It’s important for us to recognize these cracks in society. It further demonstrates how legal gains — such as the legalization of gay marriage — are only one piece in the puzzle of dismantling oppressive power structures.  Laws protecting minoritized populations are certainly important, however, they do not entirely abolish the existing structures of oppression and societal biases.  For example, within the United States same-sex marriage was passed into law in 2015, yet, homophobia and transphobia still persist — especially for trans women who are physically attacked and murdered at a very high rate both in the U.S. and across the globe.  Additionally, the U.S. still does not have a single-payer health-care system nor accessible higher education for the majority of its people — and with the current administration is being made even more privatized. This is not the true queer liberation or face of equality that we’ve been asking for.

I think at this particular point in history we — particularly those of us involved with social justice movements — need to acknowledge the shortcomings of being included within the state.  It’s time for us to ask questions.

We need to reflect deeply and ask ourselves: 1) What has the state, especially a capitalist state, done throughout history? 2) Who will and will not benefit from inclusion within the state? 3) What is the difference between representation, such as having a person of color as a leader of a company, and dismantling of oppressive structures?  By this last question, I do not mean to imply that representation isn’t important, it certainly is.  However, it is only one step in the direction towards liberation; and it isn’t quite enough when the representative figure is added as a token of inclusion to a structure that continues to be oppressive.

What does this mean for the future? And can there be an LGBTQ+ movement that works outside of capitalism?  I think these are questions that weigh heavily for many of us, especially leftist queers.

There are models we can look at for envisioning a movement outside the framework of mainstream Pride.  In 2006, Madrid began having an “Orgullo Critico” or “Critical Pride,” hosted by LGBTQ+ activists in the community who felt that mainstream Pride had deviated too much from its original purpose and becoming too commercialized.  In their manifesto they state: “In 2006 the Alternative Block of lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals arises, with the motto ‘Pride is Protest’, questioning the mercantilization and depoliticization of the official LGBT movement and with the intention of recovering the combative and political origin of the Pride…The Alternative Block wants to be ‘a common point for the Madrid activist mosaic, beyond sexual dissidence’ because, they say, ‘that true sexual liberation is necessarily linked to other transformative struggles.'”

rainbow capitalism
Pictured Above: Critical Pride takes to the streets of Madrid during World Pride 2017.

In June 2017, Madrid hosted World Pride, a massive scale Pride event held in a different city each year, promoting LGBTQ+ issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. The event was founded by Paul Stenson.  During this event, many activists in Madrid were wary of hosting the event due to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ struggles into oppressive capitalist structures (e.g. businesses that exploit labour in the Global South).  Not to mention companies that promote Pride products (such as rainbow-colored alcoholic beverages) having homophobic and transphobic practices, yet see Pride as an opportunity to make money off our oppression.

Another example of opposition to mainstream Pride was in Toronto in 2010 and 2016.  In 2010, the group “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” struggled to be included in mainstream Pride. In 2016, the “Black Lives Matters” chapter of Toronto interrupted mainstream Pride for over an hour, bringing attention to the problem of racism in the LGBTQ+ community. They stated that LGBTQ people of colour did not receive adequate funding or as much space within the parade. They additionally criticized the number of police officers present at the parade, since many people of colour and transgender people are imprisoned or murdered by the police.

Divesting from capitalism and neoliberal order are difficult tasks and may seem impossible. However, I think that we need to continue to interrupt business as usual — because out there, people are listening, watching, and reacting.  The reaction may be of disgust, inspiration, or curiosity — and those reactions create important dialogue and opportunities for growth.

We cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into believing that marriage “equality” was the end point of the fight.  Nor should we allow ourselves to be lured into the individualistic ideology of being comfortable while others in the LGBTQ+ continue to struggle and fight to exist. This means understanding the difference between being included in an oppressive structure and dismantling the oppressive structure. This also means that we need to listen to the perspectives of various LGBTQ+ people, in particular, amplifying the voices of the more marginalized LGBTQ+ people in the community.

I stand in solidarity with the groups challenging the status quo.  I know it is a daunting task to take on such oppressive forces that have dominated our globe, but we must keep fighting for the future — and when I say future I mean tomorrow and hundreds of years from now.  I will continue screaming out in the streets with you all, because “We’re here, We’re Queer, Don’t Fuck with Us!”.

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