Saturday, 13 July 2013

5 From Gay Power to the power of the Pink Pound: Pride comes before a fall...

5. What part of queer identity and history in your view is being lost in 'gay pride'?

The Pride movement was born out of the Stonewall riots, which were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community, as a protest against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. At the time, New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public and private businesses + gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down. As word spread throughout the city, the customers of the Stonewall Inn were joined by other gay men + women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power."

Thus the queer liberation movement was born. According to Wikipedia, "The Stonewall Inn... catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth." One month after the Stonewall riots, 500 people gathered in New York for a “Gay Power” demonstration. And on June 28, 1970 -on the first anniversary of the riots- the first Gay Pride march took place in New York city. Over the weekend, marches also took place in Los Angeles + San Francisco. And so, Gay Pride was born. 

I attended my first Gay Pride march in 1984 at age 19. The age of consent for gay men at the time in the UK was 21 and the march  itself was no parade, carnival or Mardi Gras. The tone of the march was angry + the model one of civil disobedience + non-violent direct action. As a demonstration of anger at unfair treatment + protest against inequality of opportunity, it displayed strength through unity + solidarity.

It seems that, over the last 40 years, we have seen a fundamental change in emphasis in our movement, away from the original concept of Gay Power through queer solidarity, towards faith in the power of the Pink Pound + consumer unity. And at the same time, we have witnessed a transfer of power from marginalised, queer + questioning members of our communities, towards a financially powerful mainstream elite of key stakeholders who attempt to determine our direction of travel.

I wrote in an earlier blog post [see Question 3. Gay Inc.] that I believed that "the success of most Pride events is judged today by the amount of money spent hosting the event, the amount of money spent by participants at the event, and the overall number of consumers attending the event. And Pride is very much about consumption - a vanity competition where competing egos are encouraged to eat more, drink more + strike a pose more than the other players in this ostentatious carnival of consumerism."

I went on to say that "the socialisation of our lesbian + gay communities into the mainstream and of our acceptance + assimilation into 'normal' society, is very often measured by how strong the Pink Pound is and how influential we are as global consumers."

We have clearly gained a great deal in 40 years: the decriminalisation of sexual acts between consenting men, the equalisation of the age of consent, adoption rights for gay couples and marriage equality. However, we have at the same time lost a lot.

This loss is highlighted + represented by a shift away from a fundamental + passionate belief in the value of Truth + Freedom, towards an apparent recognition of the importance of Obedience + Consensus at any cost. This requires the avoidance of open criticism, direct confrontation, civil disobedience + controversy and an unwillingness to press personal opinion for fear of conflict with Gay Inc. / Gay Pride Inc. and the risk of ourselves becoming targets of this powerful lobby group / vested interest.

Bobby Harrow, in The Cycle of Socialization, wrote: "Some of us who are targets try to interrupt the cycle because the discomfort has gotten larger than the comfort. If we try this alone, or without organization, we may be kicked back down to our powerless positions. If we begin a new direction, or even work with our agent allies, we can create hope." 

It is time now, I believe, to create that hope.

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