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Culture | Not my pride

The commercialization of queer culture

This year’s LGBTQ Parade stretched down René-Lévesque on August 16 under the scorching heat, glittering brightly with every step. Diverse individuals marched in the procession – an amalgam of sports teams, religious organizations, and community groups. The event’s official brochure and scheduling, however, told a different story.

Over half of the 120-some pages in the official Montreal Pride booklet were taken up by corporate advertisements, making cursory allusions to Pride with rainbows plastered somewhere across their logos. On the sponsors page of Montreal Pride – brought to you by Viagra! – corporations were labelled as ‘ambassadors’ and even ‘friends,’ depending on their funding level – furthering the idea that corporations, like people, care! For example, the Socié de Transport de Montréal’s minimum donation bought it the label of ‘friend,’ which is concerning because allowing LGBTQ individuals to board public transportation is not a gracious extension of the hand of ‘friendship;’ it’s providing a basic public service, one that shouldn’t be based on sex/gender or sexual orientation in the first place. It’s rankling to see ads for hotels, fast food, banks, condoms, cars, and beer (among others) congratulating everyone on the fight for equal rights, because these companies had no interest in publicly standing in solidarity with Pride until recently, when the market for doing so became so lucrative.

What does the commercialization of queer culture mean for the queer community – putting aside corporations who profit off of this calculated flag-waving? At its heart, Pride has always grown from the ground up, cultivating safe havens for those targeted by heteronormative patriarchy. Queer culture is everything that capitalism is not. Under the premise of ‘catering to the majority,’ advertising agencies that create these ads tailor messages to their target audience, and if their target is ‘queer,’ no doubt it embodies itself as a gay, able-bodied, white, cis male. Trans and race issues are seen as too radical, and thus remain untouched by mainstream entities because the imagery isn’t considered as pretty and safe as the white gay couple next door with a garden and a minivan.

On the sponsors page of Montreal Pride – brought to you by Viagra! – corporations were labelled as ‘ambassadors’ and even ‘friends,’ depending on their funding level – furthering the idea that corporations, like people, care!

This June, as the White House celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage, President Obama was interrupted by Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans undocumented worker of colour. Her cry of “President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centres,” was met with a patronizing “Shame on you,” and finger-wagging by the president himself before she was forcibly removed from the premises. Lauding the egality of same-sex marriage as the end-all be-all solution to heterosexism perpetuates the systematic silencing of trans women, who are the most likely subgroup of the LGBTQ community to be murdered.

Take the 2015 movie Stonewall – a fictionalized retelling of the Stonewall riots of 1969 in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. In the trailer (the movie has not yet been released), the protagonist is a white farm boy who manages to find himself in gay nightclubs while witnessing the institutionalized violence toward the few queer people of colour around him – cementing their role as mere objects to further the plot toward the protagonist’s self-centered moment of revelation. The true instigators of the Stonewall riots and other LGBTQ protests throughout Greenwich Village at that time were Black trans women, so why were they written out of the narrative? Because a white male hero is relatable, and therefore, marketable. By whitewashing and neatly packaging the ‘most acceptable’ (and least complicated) parts of the early New York City Pride movement, Hollywood perpetuates the very racism and bigotry it claims to eradicate. Unfortunately, these incorrect portrayals of history are the loudest, and end up misrepresenting LGBTQ communities.

Further commercialization of Pride has manifested in the disappearance of the physical bastions of queer culture. Formerly, queer individuals could find solace in major cities’ Gay Villages, from Toronto to Vancouver to New York, and even smaller cities often had a few bars clustered in a certain part of town. Villages still exist, but their importance is mostly historical, as queer bars and clubs have popped up in other neighbourhoods. The expansion of the market for queer bars, sex shops, bookstores, cafes et cetera in recent years, now that being queer no longer means instant physical marginalization, has led to less grassroots support for unconventional safe spaces. Montreal lesbian bars Royal Phoenix and Le Drugstore have closed due to this gentrification of sorts, and queer girls bemoan the ‘queer’ bars left catering primarily to gay, white, cis men.

Under the premise of ‘catering to the majority,’ advertising agencies that create these ads tailor messages to their target audience, and if their target is ‘queer,’ no doubt it embodies itself as a gay, able-bodied, white, cis male.

The commercialization of queer life has forced a consumerist approach on the queer community. Classism is ever encroaching: those who need the most support from their communities and governments are lower-income, housing insecure, have limited access to contraceptives and other protections, and suffer continual harassment and prejudice. Despite the claims of the Love Wins campaign, while same-sex marriage was ruled constitutional in the U.S., discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace remains unlegislated. Love has not yet won.

Daily grassroots volunteering and activism efforts are perhaps the greatest hope for many Villages’ longevity. Activists passionate about trans-positive queer movements’ DIY ethos need to stay true to their roots, instead of taking an ‘at-least-it’s-some-progress’ approach by accepting the little privileges the state begrudgingly grants the LGBTQ community. They are the only force standing in the way of the commercialization of free goods and services necessary to overcome class barriers that would otherwise hinder access to gender empowerment items, makeup, food, binders, and safer sex products.

Unfettered free-market capitalism is a detriment to queer culture, and does nothing to help those who need tight-knit queer communities the most. “Love wins” is a misleading battle cry, because it assumes the fight is already over; a more appropriate slogan could be: “Love will win so keep fighting,” but it’s up to LGBTQ activists to shout it loud, because it’s not short and sweet enough to fit on full-page advertisements in pamphlets.


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