Pride Month was here again, and for every activist drive, there’s always a marketing campaign looking to cash in on the pink pound. In 2022, after two years of disruption, Pride in London—usually the largest Pride event in the UK—returns to its slot in the first weekend of July. And this year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever before, marking 50 years of London Pride since the first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held on 1 July 1972.
Regent Street is already decorated. Specifically, with the intersex-inclusive Progress Pride flag designed in 2021 by intersex columnist and media personality Valentino Vecchietti. Predictably, this has caused outrage and consternation amid the habitual right-wing commentators. But this isn’t about them.
The usual suspects—think supermarkets, big banks and multinational conglomerates—have changed their social media profile pictures to rainbow variants of their original logos. Typical Pride campaigns have also been rolled out, many that are thoroughly style over substance. On the other hand, however, some brands are actually willing to put their money where their proverbial mouths are.
Aesop, for instance, is presenting the second iteration of The Aesop Queer Library in London from 28 June to 5 July after successful outings in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto from 20 June to 26 June. For one week, Aesop Soho will be offering complimentary books by LGBTQIA+ authors—no purchase necessary. It has chosen 50 books by predominantly British authors to mark 50 years of Pride in London, from Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper and Douglas Stuart’s award-winning Snuggie Bain to new releases like Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong and 100 Queer Poems by Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan. All of the books have either been bought from London’s legendary queer bookstore, Gay’s The Word, or donated by Penguin Random House.
The skincare brand is also platforming three queer writers of colour on their website: Travis Alabanza, Sharan Dhaliwal and Paul Mendez. Now, this is a good instance of how to do a Pride campaign 101: raising awareness, using their platform to promote up-and-coming talent and celebrating creative culture. Aesop isn’t coercing you into buying something and donating a minor per cent to charity or even lazily proliferating rainbow designs. The Queer Library is instead founded on the “belief in the transformative power of queer storytelling—its ability to broaden minds, embolden individuals and unite the community and its allies.”It’s hard to argue with this! Meanwhile, The Queer Library is set to debut in Berlin later in July too.
Elsewhere, Tinder has partnered with Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ+ and civil rights organisation in America, to protest against the ban on gay and bisexual men—technically, men who have sex with men (MSM)—from donating blood.
Tinder’s CEO Renate Nyborg wrote an op-ed for Fortune Magazine, explaining: “As the leader of a company built on the magic of human connection, it confounds me that people who desire to help those in need are held back by prejudiced policies.” She added that “the ban was implemented in September 1985, at a time when HIV was fundamentally misunderstood and feared. Today, the ban doesn’t make sense, particularly when you consider the advances in HIV/AIDS prevention, detection, and treatment. All blood collected in the US undergoes rigorous testing for HIV.”
Within its app, Tinder is promoting a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) funded study, Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility’ or the ADVANCE Study, to its users to raise vital awareness.
In the fashion world, it has become pretty standard practice for brands to drop a Pride capsule collection. Some put in more care and effort than others though—championing queer designers, artists and models. Coach, for instance, has a small Pride collection, with its signature canvas print given a rainbow makeover. The Coach Foundation, alongside many other initiatives, has partnered with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, Point Foundation and CenterLink Community of LGBTQ Centres, which create and provide supportive environments where young LGBTQ+ people can thrive.
For several years, Levi’s has sported an annual Pride campaign with colourful variations on its denim standards. This year, the brand is also championing a variety of activists, including Alex Locust and Cecilia Chung. And every year, it makes a donation of $100,000 to OutRight Action International, “a global organisation working to advance human rights for LGBTQIA+ people.”
Diesel has perhaps the most provocative Pride capsule: a unisex line of clothing and accessories produced in collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation, featuring artworks by Tom of Finland and contemporary artists supported by the Foundation, like Michael Kirwan and Silvia Prada. Diesel has also supported and sponsored a two-part exhibition in Paris and Venice by the Tom of Finland foundation, AllTogether—showcasing and celebrating queer erotic art.
Goguy and Ellesse are also on this list of shoutouts, who have together collaborated with—wait for it—the Teletubbies on a Pride collection that includes fans, gloves and skirts. They worked with queer models to promote the clothes and had a number of British drag queens at the launch event. The photographs are both incredibly lovely and wholesome.
Finally, a special mention has to go to Burger King Austria, who announced a “Pride Whopper”—made with either two top buns or two bottom buns to represent same-sex love. Clearly, they missed the possible double meaning. “If they spent any time talking to the queer community, Burger King would know the last thing they want is pairing a top with a top and a bottom with a bottom,” comic artist Erica Henderson tweeted.
“I see now basically people who’ve fought for the right to stand on top of a float wearing an orange speedo and take molly.”—Rose McGowan
“Waiting our turn isn’t working. Asking nicely isn’t working. What will work is what worked that fateful night at Stonewall.”—Jaclyn Friedman
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that many view as the beginnings of the more visible side of the gay liberation movement. Queer liberation began much earlier, but those protests and movements have been overshadowed by Stonewall for a variety of reasons.
Pride marches now are largely used by corporations and politicians attempting to prove their acceptance of queers. Or even worse, they are used by cis, straight people as an excuse to party. The collection of entities that have attached themselves to Pride over the years can be comical. One wonders why JP Morgan Chase has a float in a pride parade. Even the NYPD, the organisation whose violence against queers the Stonewall riots were protesting, participates in the parade. It seems ‘pride’ has become an empty signifier, and we are led to ask what exactly we are celebrating every June.
Pride, and everything it means for a population that lived through the HIV/AIDS crisis and second-class citizenship status for decades, has been co-opted by a sort of neoliberal performance of acceptance. So, what is the legacy of Stonewall? The actual bar has become a centre of identification for many queers. After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, New Yorkers flocked to Stonewall to lay flowers and light candles. A bitter irony was that the bar was surrounded by NYPD officers holding the same type of assault weapon used in the shooting. Even though the bar is seen as quite the dull tourist destination by New York queers, it certainly has its role as signifying liberation. But there is another way in which it functions as well. In many ways, Stonewall and pride parades have become a means for queers to become acceptable to normative society.
NYU Professor Lisa Duggan makes this argument when she says that queer visibility politics, in the hands of “some proponents of a narrow version of gay rights,” has become a way to build “homonormativity that mirrors dominant norms—white, middle-class and family-oriented.” These three descriptors could not be more accurate in describing contemporary pride celebrations. However, there is push back to this, and this weekend New York found out that there is an audience for such an argument.
Several organisations have been protesting the decades-long neoliberal trends in pride celebrations. Reclaim Pride is one of them. Its organisers, many of whom were involved in ACT UP, the powerful AIDS activist organisation, state their purpose: “Our organisation is working towards our vision of a NYC PRIDE that reflects our community’s heritage of activism as opposed to the Pride March’s current state of commercial saturation and excessive police presence.” The organisation sees the current state of queer politics as against the very thing it emerged to promote: liberation.
Liberation is a complicated concept, though. Is it great that corporations and the NYPD are supportive of LGBTQ rights? Of course! It is better than refusing us service and cracking our heads. The problem enters when queers are seen as only a market to be targeted or as a population used by organisations for virtue signalling, which is just another way to bring in a larger customer base.
In the 80s and early 90s, queer politics took its neoliberal turn when it dawned on people that gay rights were profitable and that queers represented an untapped market (Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out being the apotheosis of this). Much of the criticism of acceptability politics focused on the ways that this kind of politics simply shoved queers into moulds that made them more acceptable to normative society. ‘We are just like you and want the same things you want,’ was the political strategy used by this kind of politics. The movements that are pushing back against homonormativity throughout public queer life, emphasise that all queers do not want what straight people want.
Our needs—both medical and social—look quite different than normative, heterosexual people’s. Queer liberation lost its radical potential when identity was thrown into the market to be traded like any other commodity, a move only neoliberals could have dreamed up. Lahore-based trans activist, Mehlab Jameel wonders, “What happened that a potentially radical movement ended up in assimilationist notions of Pride Parades and marriage equality?”. Jameel sees the passage of marriage equality in the U.S. as the death knell for queer activism’s radical potential and calls for decolonisation of “the movement for queer liberation and transnational solidarity, and that begins when queer people collectively stand against all forms of structural violence in the society.”
Reclaim Pride is attempting to sort of stand against this structural inequality that has been absorbed by the main pride parade in NYC. The parade followed the same route it followed in 1970 and it proved the same point that was raised before, that queer liberation is not about acceptance only. It is about freedom from discrimination and violence, and freedom to live and love outside of any normative definition of what those words mean.