The PRIDE Paradox

Why Pride Needs Both Support and Criticism From Allies

by Arish Mudra Rakshasa
final flat
Art by Andrea Acevedo

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.

9 thoughts on “The PRIDE Paradox

  1. CS Treviño says:

    I think this piece is a good backdrop to open the conversation that we as the LGTBQ community need to have. I hold two critiques of this piece. First, this article lacks depth in parts of the topic, and I truly wish the author would have explored further. Furthermore, I think this article is released too late in the scheme of history to come across any new idea about the abuses within the LGTBQ community.

    When the author addresses how the attention at Pride often goes to cis gay men, I wanted this point to delve even deeper in addressing gender related issues in the community. Everyone within the queer community faces some sort oppression, but non-binary/non-gender conforming/genderqueer people who were designated female at birth are often erased from the conversation entirely, both by society and by the queer community. They are often written of as “not trans enough”, “special snowflakes”, and “Tumblrinas”. Yet we see non-gender conforming individuals who were designated male at birth being celebrated for expressing who they are, receiving praise from the queer community. Even pop culture celebrates non-gender conforming individuals on TV, as seen in Rupaul’s Drag Race.

    The pinkwashing aspect of the piece was good food for thought. I think it’s very easy for media to wash away any of the harms associated with Pride as it’s a celebration, but in doing so a good chunk of LGTBQ activism is also washed away. The first Pride parades in America took place in the 1970’s, at the cusp of the modern Gay Rights movement. There is no way that activism and Pride can be separated, so as a community, must we reconsider the organization and function of Pride in this era?

    This article could have gone so much deeper into the inequality within the LGTBQ community. I don’t think that any of what’s being said is analyzed far enough to create a real stir. “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color” is a book written in the 90’s that addresses issues with intersectionality in the feminist movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the Gay Rights movement. (Also a wildly entertaining read) And while a lot of aspects of 90’s feminism is outlandish, the queer theory that comes from that time period highlights issues that were prevalent then that still exist today. I wished to see bolder statements coming from this piece. If inequality exists within the LGTBQ community, some readers should be upset when that inequality is pointed out and picked apart. If you want to make progress in activism, some people are going to be a little uncomfortable.

    I appreciate this piece for opening up the conversation. I think there are limited spaces to discuss complex issues such as these openly, and it’s very admirable that the author opened up their work to criticism for the sake of sparking a much needed conversation. I especially appreciate the mention of asexual individuals being marginalized at Pride. The fact that asexuals are seen as “not gay enough” is just evidence that even people within the community don’t see us beyond what we do in the bedroom. If sex is always the center of the conversation, there’s no way for us to make real progress. We do other things too, the same things that everyone else does, like file taxes or pretend to enjoy exercise.

    Thought provoking piece. Keep up the good work!

  2. diostumsaeu says:

    I agree with the comments above and will try not to repeat anything. First, The author’s argument is much too broadly stated, and provides a poor standard to evaluate the implications of Pride events.

    When the author states that “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 sexualization…”, it is clear that this is an argument that he could make for any other cultural phenomena. If the objective is to demonstrate that Pride events are influenced by society at large, point taken, but these are not real legitimate grounds for critique. Further, the author only critiques popular representations of Pride and periodic co-option by the center-left in media and government, which is far different than a critique of Pride itself.

    The author’s argument about “pink washing” is also poorly articulated. By the author’s standard, if the Israeli government does anything to promote itself in a positive light, it has the intention of distracting from its occupation of Palestinian territories. Also (by that standard), why is the author not making the same argument about pride festivals in the U.S. in places that were formerly occupied by native americans? Finally, the author’s aside at the end “Pride is elitist, classist, and inaccessible” illuminates brand new arguments that aren’t substantiated whatsoever, and are another indication that the left often goes too far in criticizing progressive movements when they could be focusing on tackling the symptoms of their criticism. I fear that strains of arguments like the authors only alienate those in the center, and needlessly disparage well-intentioned activists.

    1. Arish Mudra Rakshasa says:

      Hi! Thank you for your critique of the column. Here is my response:

      1. Yes, that is an argument I can make for any other cultural phenomenon – and I accept that, repeatedly, in my critique of Pride. (“Pride, much like any other social movement or celebration, is built upon the privilege possessed by some individuals and the oppression of other groups.” / “they function based on many of the same oppressive systems as the rest of society”.) But I fail to follow you when you say inherent racism, cissexism, sexism, or sexualisation is NOT a problem worth critiquing. That’s almost as if saying inherent racism in society is not a problem, and can be ignored, which I do not believe is right.

      2. As I said in my reply to trinitystudent13, I do not critique only the media images of Pride. My arguments stem from the lived experiences of queer people like myself and others with whom I have discussed this, and are honest critiques of what we have experienced Pride in the US to be.

      3. The government of Israel can do whatever to promote itself in positive lights, GIVEN that there is real progress behind the advertisements and publicity. Since the laws of Israel – and the struggles queer Israelis face everyday – do not reflect the positive and inclusive image the government tries to portray, I would think it is pretty clear that the advertisement of the Tel Aviv Pride is merely a well-executed publicity move to appear welcoming to Americans.

      4. As a gay man myself, I have no intention of disparaging Pride. Was that not clear from the fact that I explicitly say that I will continue to support it? However, that does NOT mean that Pride today doesn’t warrant any criticism. No movement is perfect, no cultural phenomenon absolutely inclusive, and I think it is the criticism from “the left” that will drive a movement as important as Pride to be better, more accepting, and more inclusive. In addition, “tackling the symptoms” of these problems will not solve the problems themselves, only minimise their visibility. I think it is important for us to criticise the parts of Pride which need improvement, so that everyone may enjoy and celebrate Pride as they should. I hope you agree that that is a vision to which we all aspire.


  3. trinitystudent13 says:

    Good article on a pertinent topic! However, I have a few qualms with your argument, which I think was a bit too critical of Pride. Here’s why:

    Regarding marginalization: While this is a problem, you’ve misplaced your blame. You fail to differentiate between Pride events and the media’s coverage of those events. Yes, white males are featured too frequently in digital media, but these images are distributed through media outlets, not the Pride organization.

    On sexualization: Pride is a celebration of nonconventional sexuality. By definition, there will be sex – this is the LGBT community’s time to parade and flaunt. I don’t see what’s wrong with the pervasiveness of sex in Pride from a moral standpoint, unless you view sex as ethically incorrect. Furthermore, those who identify as asexual should be able to celebrate the sexuality of the LBGT community alongside their own without feeling as though they are under attack. If this isn’t the case, perhaps the asexual community would best be served by another event.

    Surrounding pinkwashing: Your argument here is that the presence of Pride in anti-gay countries detracts from LGBTQ activist efforts by making these places appear more tolerant than they actually are, and that this is bad. The troubling implication of your logic here is that, in order to improve the lives of gays and other oppressed groups in these areas, we should rob the LGBT community of its “only source of comfort.” To the contrary, I think we should be able to recognize the crimes of these countries independent of their few good deeds.

    You never explained how Pride is elitist, classist, or inaccessible.

    1. Arish Mudra Rakshasa says:

      Thank you for your response! I am glad for your critiques, and will respond here:
      1. I am not placing blame for marginalisation, although the media does play a significant role in ostracising minority groups. Instead, I am holding Pride accountable to its purpose of inclusion and acceptance when, from my lived experience and that of many others, Pride does not FEEL like a welcoming place if you aren’t a gay white man. I’m sure there are more arguments for that, but my argument was based on the experiences of my own and many queer people with whom I have discussed this.
      2. I am all for the celebration of sex and sexuality (“benefit from the anonymity granted by a parade or a festival and freely express and experience their sexual orientation”), but asexuality is a nonconventional sexual orientation as well – and if you say that asexual individuals must find a different platform to celebrate their nonconventional sexuality, you are simply restating my point that Pride becomes exclusive rather than inclusive.
      3. My argument isn’t at all that Pride should be removed in order for LGBTQ+ rights to progress – in fact, it wasn’t the argument of the Israeli LGBTQ Task Force either: they wanted the SAME funding allocated to their cause as was for advertisement of Tel Aviv Pride, they didn’t want the advertisement funds to be withdrawn. In refusing to do so, the government proved that it only cares about advertising about an inclusive environment, while not doing anything to actually improve their legislation or protect their LGBTQ+ citizens. Pinkwashing at its best.
      4. My statement that Pride is “elitist, classist, and inaccessible” was my summary of my arguments previously. I will admit that the classist argument got lost in revision and editing, but the others stand.

      I hope you’re able to view things from my point of view as well.


      1. trinitystudent13 says:

        Thanks for addressing my concerns quickly and respectfully! I would like to clarify my claims about the asexual community’s involvement in Pride, though. I was not at all advocating for the barring of asexual people from the events. Instead, I think LGBT and asexual groups should be able to celebrate their sexuality simultaneously, without any repression. By arguing against the notion of Pride as “a celebration of sex,” you’re advocating for a Pride that subdues LGBT sexuality.

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