The Commodification of LGBTQ Pride: How Capitalism Co-Opts Movements

I was cruising through Target the other day, and I saw a field of rainbow gear in the clothing section. At the same Target a year ago, there was one wall of Pride stuff and I thought that was a lot. An entire clothing section dedicated to rainbows for June was pretty remarkable growth within a year. There were pool floats, pride flag shawls, so many tanks and tee shirts with a lot of clever pride sayings, and a whole unicorn costume onesie that I almost called Dara to beg to buy. There were even tee shirts for couples to wear together to complete a rainbow for the ultimate dykealike experience and… PREFERRED PRONOUN PINS. At Target.

It is totally possible to hold multiple conflicting emotions at once and I had a bunch in the Target Pride section.

Surprised! In 1997—just twenty years ago—my gay mom would take her upside down triangle rainbow window cling off her car before I drove it. She didn’t want me to have to take the risk of homophobic hate crimes and I wasn’t out of the closet yet. It surprises me how far the acceptance of LGBT folks has come in my lifetime.

Validated! Listen, it’s capitalism. They are doing this because there are gay dollar$ to be made off of this and they want to cash in on this market. In the 70s being gay could get you fired or killed, and while that is still true today in many places, it is pretty amazing that you can come out and a big box store is giving you a high five by supplying your Pride gear.

My friend Franny at Dyke Day LA.

Delighted! I love rainbow stuff. In school I was very into school spirit, dressing up and rah rah for the team and I feel like my inherent cheerleader tendencies come out a lot when it comes to Gay Pride stuff. I love a good rainbow outfit, I love to wave a Pride flag in the right environment.

Heartened! I genuinely appreciate the show of support Target is giving the queer community by putting out this Pride section. Their show of solidarity in this instance is certainly well-intentioned. And in this political day and age when our rights could be dumped literally any minute, it’s nice to have entities give us that high five. (Though I do wonder if the Targets in Red States have big ol’ Pride sections.)

Annoyed! It always feels a type of way for me when businesses co-opt a movement. It used to be that I could only buy Pride gear on a special trip to a store in the Castro, and now those stores have all shut down and big box retailers are selling our Pride gear. It appears that more and more straight folks are going to Pride events because queers throw the best parties (we do) and they’ll put on a rainbow because it doesn’t matter, love is love! Rainbows aren’t just for queers anymore.

Maybe you’re not rainbow identified and you just want to be queer. Here’s a great shirt for that, available up to 3X, from queer non-binary owned Genuine Valentine!

Angry! At the commodification of Pride. Maybe Target should take a dollar (not even ten percent) of each of the shirts/Pride shawls they sell and give it to an LGBT non profit that benefits the most marginalized in our communities. But they’re not. The webpage selling their Pride gear sports a hashtag but not anything about donating to LGBT causes. The gay + ally dollar$ spent in that rainbow section are going to Target stockholders.

Big businesses mean well, they really do. They think they are helping when they have a big rainbow Levi’s store window or put together a social justice advertisement and slap their logo on the end of it. And in this day and age where most of the US spends their waking hours hypnotized on TV, those social justice commercials do make a difference. I really believe for it. However it does take most of the moxie out of the movement when it goes corporate.

Unbought and Unbossed! I love this Shirley Chisholm Lapel Pin from Radical Dreams–all products benefit community organizations.

Capitalism is a system that centers the privatization of resources. Movements are not owned by one person and are an amalgamation of ideas. Pride started out as a rebellion against homophobic and transphobic policing of queer people.

That general idea of “LGBTQ people deserve rights” pushed Pride forward annually and then as the movement grew, certain facets became privatized. Pride festivals became privatized in lots of ways, I would venture to say most common is someone in the first collective who started a Pride event in a city managed to be the last person standing so now they own it as {Whatever City} Pride Inc. and make curation choices with or without community input, charge admission, get sponsorships and make money off of producing Pride.

I brought my Femme Protection candle from (Queer Fat Femme owned) Last Craft with me to anchor my altar at Dyke Day! I charged a Femme Resilience magical incense blend while galavanting on my blankets with my pals. This candle is fabulous for Femme magic work and my new go-to gift for Femme birthdays.

Now corporations are putting rainbows all over things and making money off of what our Pride symbols mean to us–that same general idea that LGBTQ people deserve rights. They are taking an idea from a movement and privatizing resources associated with expressing it.

As I watch the body positive movement continue to be co-opted by corporations for their profit, it also heartens/validates/disappoints/angers/annoys me. Fifteen years ago when I was yelling Love Your Body on stage it was a revolutionary stance and now Lane Bryant just uses it to sell stuff.

At the same time, it is still revolutionary for people to hear that loving their fat body is an option so I guess net positive? While cashing in on Pride and body positivity feels kind of icky, it is still awesome that so many corporations are standing in solidarity with LGBT people in this political climate, and it is revolutionary that fat teenagers are getting the message however it comes to them that loving their fat bodies is an option.

I got this FEMME shirt at The Plus Bus. It was originally produced by Forever 21. Did they mean to print my gender identity on a shirt as a Pride thing or just coincidence?

Pride events over time have become so corporate. What began as a rebellion—honoring what happened at Stonewall, where trans women of color were tired of being harassed by cops. As Pride events gained notoriety and acceptance, corporations started sponsoring them. I remember my first Pride in San Francisco in 2000 leaving with swag bags full of corporate logos and fans promoting Queer as Folk (remember that show?) about to debut on Showtime. It’s only gotten more intense and it has been years since I’ve gone to a Pride event with corporate sponsors.

Instead I have gravitated towards Dyke Marches, which at least maintain a separation from corporate sponsorship, are community run and funded. You see almost everyone you know or have slept with in town which is why some call it “The Ex March.” In LA it isn’t even a march, it’s just a park hangout and it is THE BEST. (I’m still so fresh to LA so I only see people I am excited to see.)

Dyke Day LA was SO FUN. Epic overlapping hangouts with so many rad folks. (Here, EK, Dara, Kean and Corina.)

Dyke Day LA costs thousands to produce and that money is raised through community fundraisers throughout the year. Community organizing is exhausting work and I am so grateful for the folks who put in the time to carve out space in Pride month that is totally separate from a corporate agenda.

It’s nice that we have this space that is maintained because of the values of the Dykes that came before us. We only have it when there are community members willing to do the work and others willing to donate towards it. (It’s also a great way to meet folks—I met a group of people who completely changed my life when I worked on the Philly Dyke March committee.)

In a Kristen and Tristan sandwich!

I have been thinking a lot about how we resist the capitalism that has seeped into Pride. I think it’s by continuing to push the envelope. Queer means a lot of things but one definition I like most is queer as in weird.

Once you’ve opened up to a sexuality that steps outside of the heterosexual paradigm I think you’re more likely to think outside the box in other ways. Most queers keep things weird and push towards justice, whatever they believe that to be. When corporations grab ahold of what used to be chanted from the streets it ends up this kind of washed and faded version of something we have in full color. I love that queers keep making great anti-capitalist signs for Pride and showing up for resistance.

Philly has pushed the Pride envelope this year by changing the Pride flag to add Black and Brown—a sign of solidarity with the too often marginalized LGBT people of color who are and have been essential to this movement. The backlash is as you would expect from White LGBT folks who don’t see how important this move is to queers of color. I’m here for anything that makes POC feel more supported in the movement–and it’s so new that it’s not reflected in the Pride section at Target.

I’ll admit that I totally bought that $12 Pride shawl (before I knew there was a new rainbow flag!) after much hemming and hawing. I’ve never seen a rainbow shawl for sale and I ultimately want to give a thumbs up to Target’s gesture of (economically beneficial to them) solidarity. But I also spend lots of dollars directly to queers for their hard work and craftspersonship.

I know that Pride can’t actually be bought, and you can’t monetize the feeling of a young queer person at their first Pride parade, because even if Absolut is sponsoring the float that baby queer is paying way more attention to their crush or cruising.

If you want to sport your Pride in a more dapper and baller way, consider purchasing exquisite gender equal footwear designed by my pal NiK Kacy a very active member of the LGBTQ community.

I wonder how long it will take for corporations to adjust to the new Pride flag? I wonder what is now chanted in the streets that twenty years from now will be sanitized for the masses? I hope we keep pushing the envelope and I hope we keep prioritizing real queer people over corporations.

BTW this is NOT a sponsored post (I would tell you) but if Target wants to pass some of their profits to a queer artist out here speaking my truth I am open to sponsorship as long as it is my words and ideas!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I am also surprised to see how more and more people accept LGBTQ group comparing to 20 years ago. However, I actually like that corporations such as Target sells Gay Pride stuff. I think it’s a type of assimilation. Even though they haven’t donate any profit to LGBT non-profit organization, they help people accept more by creating some Gay Pride cultural atmosphere.

  2. Have you considered making a cd on your exercise class. I would buy one in a heart beat. I’m 65 and 345 lbs. You are an inspiration to me. Keep up the good work.

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