This past month, cities and towns around the world have been celebrating LGBT freedom of expression and visibility with Pride Festivals and parades.  These explosions of rainbow have become known for their highly commercial influence and focus.   See: rainbow beads, queer stickers, LGBT wine and porn companies, et. al.

The presence of these commercial companies has a distinctly positive flavor to it in a capitalism-driven world: they indicate the growing importance and relevance of the queer demographic in marketing and product creation.  In other words, we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re loaded- so give us something worth buying.  Now a lot of people would argue that having gained sufficient mass and visibility to be targeted by advertisers is not an amazing feat, but it does show that society has progressed to the point where a company aligning itself with a queer audience is actually a smart business move.  That is, as opposed to, you know, social and commercial suicide ala straight people boycotts and whatnot that would have been prevalent 50 years ago.

So this can really be an excellent thing.  The targeting of LGBT audiences can be especially beneficial to traditionally queer-negative industries, like (if I can make this broad, sweeping generalization) the porn and fashion spheres.  (Rodeo Drive needs a genderqueer clothing influx, baby!)  As gays become more and more of a marketable demographic, you will be begin to see more lesbian porn, queer-oriented sex toys, androgynous clothing choices, and the like.  I mean, can you imagine if JC Penny sold chest binders for transgender men?  How excellent! Point being, the more queers buy, the more queer items that will become available, making it easier and easier to live the kind of lifestyle you are accustomed to.

HOWEVER (and it’s a BIG however…), the negative side of Pride’s commercial complex is the reduction of political content to the celebrations.  Pride parades began as protests- in 1969, thousands of LGBT citizens and allies marched on Washington and New York City in reaction to the arrests and subsequent police violence at the Stonewall Club in New York.  Throughout the decades of their evolution, Pride Parades have always maintained strong and profound political messages, demanding social and legal equality for all LGBT people.

In this new decade of Pride, political issues like gay marriage, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, employment discrimination, and adoption rights have faded to quiet murmurs in the background of the celebration.  They are instead replaced with dancing drag queens and Mardi gras beads.   Now there is a place for both drag queens and plastic beads, but when the celebration of the right to party overshadows the political struggles still occurring in society, have we misplaced our emphasis?

Consider one step further: the global LGBT scene.  Pride Fests abroad often consist of a few brave citizens standing with “Equality Now” signs in their central squares and face police violence as well as death threats, rapes, and/or beatings from the general public.  A group of LGBT people and allies in Sri Lanka were not even able to assemble formally for fear of arrest, so instead they protested silently by flying rainbow kites on a nearby beach- a commonplace activity in that area.  If people around the world are willing to put their lives in danger to fight for the basic humanity and public decency that we take for granted, don’t we as free Americans have an obligation to honor them and inspire our own action?  Or should we sit back and enjoy our own success?

Oh my, there’s so much more to say on the issue of Pride, but I won’t put that on you now.  But if you’re interested in the evolution of Pride celebrations and their forms and focus abroad, check out Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride. Trailer here:

Also, my favorite site of all time, Carnal Nation, wrote a rolly-polly rambly piece about similar issues of action vs. inaction/party vs. politics Pride Parade conflicts.  Check it out:  Actually, check out the whole site, because it’s amazing.  I’m sure I’ll be citing it again soon.

Stay cool, queer kids.