Why Pride Needs Both Support and Criticism From Allies
by Arish Mudra Rakshasa
June is celebrated as Pride month in many countries, but especially in the United States. Queer-identifying individuals gather in the streets of many big cities to participate in magnificent Pride parades and festivals, and these events shine as beacons of solidarity and hope to many other queer individuals who find themselves living vicariously through the news reports and social media coverage of Pride in the U.S. However, Pride, much like any other social movement or celebration, is built upon the privilege possessed by some individuals and the oppression of other groups. Many liberal or far-left Americans are beginning to criticise Pride as too commercialised, too sexualised, too whitewashed, and too male-dominated – and they are often right. And while I will actively advocate for more inclusivity and respect in the organisation of Pride events in the US, I will also continue to support them. Here is why.
A major flaw with Pride events in the US (and often in other countries) is that they function based on many of the same oppressive systems as the rest of society: racism, sexism, cissexism, and sexualisation. Consequently, Pride parades become almost as marginalising as many other events, even though the significance of Pride is to advocate for inclusion and acceptance. There is an exaggerated focus on gay men during Pride, and primarily white gay men. Images of Pride that surface on digital media during the month of June more often than not feature white gay men wearing rainbow-coloured accessories and celebrating their struggle and their freedom. These images, and Pride events themselves, fail to understand the much greater struggle of queer women-identifying individuals, of queer people of colour, of trans individuals, and of asexual individuals.
Pride is unable to address the intersectionality of oppressed identities, and fails its purpose of truly celebrating diversity and uniqueness.
Queer women-identifying and trans individuals are marginalised at Pride because of the attention that is given to gay men, and the natural entitlement that comes with cis and male privilege. People of colour are marginalised because of the ‘white is right’ standards of attractiveness that pervade Pride parades and festivities, and are only seen as part of the celebrations when they are needed to ‘bring colour’ to a whitewashed space. Asexual individuals are marginalised because of the inherent sexualisation of Pride and all associated events, as if queer Pride necessitates a celebration of sex. As a result of these systematic and often subtle oppressions, Pride is unable to address the intersectionality of oppressed identities, and fails its purpose of truly celebrating diversity and uniqueness.
Not only is Pride ostracising many minority groups, but it is also being used to drive agendas of apartheid in many parts of the world. In Israel, specifically, Pride is used as a means for ‘pinkwashing’: washing away a government’s human rights abuses by emphasising it’s pro-queer stand. The Tel Aviv Pride festival, which has become a very popular destination for queer people celebrating Pride, is increasingly being accused of pinkwashing, by taking the spotlight off the oppressive Israeli occupation of Palestine and portraying a progressive, accepting government to the larger world.
While the media serves as a tool for pinkwashing, many believe that it is the government that orchestrates it. Though some argue that claiming the Israeli government engages in pinkwashing detracts from the progress that has been made there in terms of queer rights, others say that there isn’t much real progress to be seen. The welcoming nature of the Tel Aviv Pride does not truly reflect in Israeli laws: same-sex marriage remains illegal in Israel, while conversion therapy remains legal. Recently, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force demanded that the government allocate NIS 11 million (US$2.9 million) to LGBT rights organisations, after the government budgeted that amount to advertise the Tel Aviv Pride in other countries. Instead of allocating that money for real progress for queer Israelis, the government took away the advertisement funds, essentially proving that it cares more about pinkwashing its other human rights violations, and less about queer people.
Despite the many severe institutionalised flaws in today’s concept of Pride, there are still grounds for support for its celebration. Pride is the only opportunity for queer citizens of many countries with oppressive laws to benefit from the anonymity granted by a parade or a festival and freely express and experience their sexual orientation. In the United States, Pride proves to be the time when queer people can be completely free with their sexual orientation and sexuality: heteronormativity is disregarded, and people of many sexual orientations feel comfortable publicly displaying their affection to others who share their orientation. This freedom in the Pride parades of the United States, while often elitist and exclusive, provides inspiration and solace to queer people in countries whose laws criminalise their very identities and declare their existence an abomination. It also depicts a stark contrast between the rights queer people had, say, a hundred years ago, and those they have today, highlighting the struggle that has led to much progress (although not a complete victory). This contrast, too, lends people in countries with oppressive queer-related laws to gain some comfort that though the struggle is hard and long, there is hope for advancement.
In moments such as those after Orlando, the media at Pride parades becomes a powerful tool to humanise and celebrate queer identities, and although lawmakers and government officials continue to simply offer ‘prayers’ for the queer community, Pride offers real, physical comfort and security.
Furthermore, in trying times such as those that followed the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Pride proves to be a source of solidarity and hope for queer people around the country and beyond. In moments such as these, the media at Pride parades becomes a powerful tool to humanise and celebrate queer identities, and although lawmakers and government officials continue to simply offer ‘prayers’ for the queer community, Pride offers real, physical comfort and security. It is at Pride that queer people, following such a brutal attack on their identities, find the opportunity to gather, contemplate, organise, and advocate for themselves. In countries such as India, where homosexuality is illegal and no other sexual orientation is even addressed publicly, Pride remains the only way for queer people to gather in large numbers – after the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in 2014, the Delhi Pride parade became a place for the Indian queer population to organise and protest. For extremely heteronormative cultures such as India’s, Pride is also the only opportunity for queer people to let their guards down and celebrate themselves, and dream of celebrating as openly as people in the United States do.
Pride is flawed. Pride marginalises large groups of people. Pride pinkwashes human rights violations. Pride is elitist, classist, and inaccessible. Pride is complicit in the same institutional oppressions that other movements perpetuate. And yet, Pride is often the only source of comfort for oppressed queer people. Pride brings them together, and helps them celebrate themselves. As queer folk and as allies, we must give Pride what it needs: both criticism and support.
Arish is a rising sophomore from Ghaziabad, India studying at Earlham College, Richmond, IN. He plans on double majoring in Biochemistry and Neuroscience and is on the Pre-Medicine track, aspiring to obtain an MD and a PhD. He is also quite passionate about politics and social justice, and wants to enter international politics to counter hate, prejudice, and fear in the world. He likes ‘science, languages, and occasionally people’, and enjoys pushing the liberal agenda on Facebook and binge watching TV shows with ice cream in his free time. He is excited to draw on his experiences to discuss global issues through the lens of a young immigrant for the column.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.