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  • T. V. Pinkard

Our Coveted Rainbow Pockets

(CN: discussions of bigotry and imagery of white supremacists.)

Open wallet with rainbow and sparkles pouring out of it

You know how every December, when the Nutcracker makes its return and everyone heaves a collective groan because if you have to hear the fucking “Russian Dance” again you’re going to throat punch the next person you see?

(No? Just me?)

Imagine if six months later, you’re minding your own business and all of a sudden it’s back, and you can’t escape that song again, only instead of prancing Russians, it’s rainbow-clad advertisement executives waving virtual colored banners of…

Okay this metaphor is falling apart.

But upon the arrival of every June, I am forced to confront a stale, annual grievance. And it centers around Pride Month.

To be clear, Pride Month is not the issue. Pride is beautiful and important; Pride allows for both the LGBT+ community and those outside it to observe and acknowledge people being their authentic selves, and celebrating it. Whether you’re the queen in full drag, waving from a pedestal, or the nervous kid at home who couldn’t attend but scrolls through the photos in secret, the very presence of Pride Month can be a heartening reminder that you are not alone in this world.

Seldom I’ve found I can enjoy myself in large Pride events because I’m too concerned with what my exit route would be if the worst came to pass. And unfortunately I have had a few near misses where crowds and deadly shootings have been concerned. It’s a hard thing to forget. Attending parades and marches has always been a struggle because of this—I seek out other ways to be supportive and active that are right for me. But the impact of watching the women’s march, the Black Lives Matter marches, and all instances in which people gather en masse to support social justice is not lost, even if I have to view it from the bird’s eye. The more we, as the collective, see the numbers supporting these movements, the more social change starts to happen.

But there’s a sticky point in all this, and just like most things, the root of the stickum lies in capitalism. I won’t say outright that big brands shouldn’t support LGBT+ issues; I’m not saying their visible allyship isn’t important. Just like a celebrity endorsement, there is usually a dubious eye narrowed at entities like Nike or Facebook whenever they paint rainbow stripes on their logos. Deservedly so. Social media platforms concoct their fun little rainbow trinkets, reacts, emojis so that their userbase can surround themselves with symbols of pride. Pride themed sportswear, decorations, food and clothing appears like a big gay tsunami, engulfing us all in performative snaps and technicolor dollar signs.

And there’s nothing wrong with that inherently.

(This is where my eyes start to squint and I grit my teeth, as someone trying to fit a puzzle piece that I know isn’t right, but I really want it to be right.)

Look. If A ThingTM exists, there is going to be someone somewhere trying to make a dollar off it. And if you are a queer creator making pride themed merchandise or an artist who has pride themed work, there is nothing wrong with selling your wares and making money off it. Further, I think it is wonderful to allow people access to these things so that they can express themselves and wear their pride on their sleeves in the ways that they deserve to. Mass producing these products, of course, makes them widely available and affordable. Which is...good. It's fine. It is not fundamentally evil.

[Eye begins to twitch.]

The problems arise when these displays of "support" are nothing more than thinly veiled gestures to make more money or to earn these companies Woke Tokens. It’s the fact that the moment July 1 rolls around, the rainbow stripes are gone, the rainbow reacts are deactivated, and the rainbow merchandise is binned. The big gay wave is washed away, sinking through the cracks as if it never was.

It’s no different than a hoard of people dropping black squares into their profile pictures, brushing off their hands, and calling it a Social Justice day. Especially now that they’ve since removed said squares in favor of their latest brunch selfie. I see the same thing happen every time Black History Month rolls around, too. Out of the wood works comes the outcry of butwhuddaboutWHITEhistory (which I’m not even going to dignify with a response), and a surge of BLM hashtags on the other side of the virtual aisle. And when the month is done, those who were vaguely paying attention lose interest.

When Pride month arrives, I see the same sour grapes about a lack of (heavily air quoted) "Straight Pride Parades," as if that needs to be a thing, as if it hasn’t ever been a thing.

White supremacist riot in Charlottesville, VA. 2017.
Straight Pride Parade

But those fools fall by the wayside. Honestly, they are often drowned out by the Big Capitalist, I mean, the Big Gay Tsunami. And it seems like a strange thing to complain about. Shouldn’t we be glad that those messages are starting to become louder than bigots with keyboards and tiki torches? Isn’t that a step in the right direction?

Yes. It is. But a step in the right direction doesn’t mean you’ve crossed the finish line.

And we need to stop treating these types of performative allyship as such. Big corporations should absolutely support marginalized communities. Authentically. Visibly. Consistently. We all should. And if you want to take down your rainbow streamers at the end of the month, I’m not going to call that a hate crime. If you want to change your profile picture to your favorite brunch photo, then you should without guilt. After all, if removing a Black Lives Matter frame on your photo causes you guilt, maybe that’s because that filter is all you’ve been doing.

I won’t tell you that you must take to the streets, that you must donate to x, y, or z, or call your representatives about social justice issues as if they are the only ways you can be a true ally. They are ways. They are all great ways. But they’re not the only ways. Some folks don’t have expendable income; some have crippling social anxiety or PTSD when it comes to big crowds; some aren’t living in situations where it is even safe to broach these subjects in conversation. Where it’s safe to be themselves.

If all you can do is make art in private, then make it. If you are an ally, and you can be that physical presence, that barrier for someone who is more vulnerable, that voice that more people are willing to listen to given your identity, then be there. Show up. If you can commit to calling out your friends when they say fucked up things, then commit to that. Maybe all you can do is seek out literature, art, and stories made by and made about people who are different from you and expand your own worldview. That’s wonderful. It is vital. To do the best you can right now is nothing to scoff about.

But all of that is happening on the personal level. You’ll forgive me for presuming that our Facebook overlords aren't sitting there stroking their chins and earnestly wondering how they can possibly do better to support these movements. Some companies run "seasonal" advertisements, which may hint at a same-sex couple or a drag queen (because they're just so kooky aren't they??) accompanied by some heartwarming music, as a siren song for the coveted Double-Income-No-Kids clientele. Some are happy to vomit rainbows all over their websites, whilst tactfully rejecting sponsored posts including same-sex couples on the premise of being "sexually explicit." (Source.) You won’t con us into believing your support is anything more than that until you do something more than that. Until this big, monopolistic platform you've attained does something tangible to give back to the community whose pocketbooks you drool over.

Until the powers that be sit down and remember that the first Pride was a riot, that last year alone at least 44 trans people were killed, that only 5 years ago 49 people were killed in a gay nightclub during Pride Month, that there is real work to be done to protect trans youth, to protect all LGBT+ people, and that they can do something to help, I will not laud them for their "support."

June is, if nothing else, a reminder to us all that if you wish to be an ally, the LGBT+ community welcomes it. We need it desperately. But if you are so willing to drop us in an alley for Waste Management to pick up in the morning, don’t expect queer folks and their allies to thank you for it.

Meme of a dust tornado filled with rainbow social media icons and a man screaming, "Here it comes!"
Pour yourself a strong one, folks. And happy Pride.

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