The rising corporatisation of queer identity

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Each year Mardi Gras shimmies onto the Sydney circuit. Aside from a mild shuffle in its entertainment schedule and a growing awareness of its environmental impacts, the formula remains relatively stable. A parade, an always surprising number of floats, awful EDM remixes of pop songs, a week’s rent in ticketed parties and angry online queers looking to mobilise around their own idea of proud authenticity.

Sydney Mardi Gras 2020 person holds up sign with the colours of the Aboriginal flag reading, 'Our lives matter' (Getty Images/Brendon Thorne)

Each year we debate all the same things. The history of Mardi Gras and the broader value of Pride. Should police get to march, and is it a march or a parade? Who invited the bankers and why does L'oreal have a float?

And each year I wonder why we keep having the same conversations. Perhaps it’s pointing to a loss of history in our community’s consciousness. Maybe the legislative gains and a creeping societal tolerance are creating an environment of political complacency. Do people just not care enough?

In her debut book, Queer Intentions, writer Amelia Abraham notes that these discussions reverberate into the global queer politic. London’s Pride sees several alternatives with UK Black Pride, Peckham Pride, Queer Picnic and the newly minted Trans Pride March, promising a more diverse, less sanitised day of resistance. New York City, the home place of Pride marches, saw a fierce competitor in 2019 with Reclaim Pride, ‘the annual Pride parade has become a bloated, over-policed circuit party, stuffed with 150 corporate floats. This does not represent the ‘spirit of Stonewall’ on this 50th anniversary year,’ wrote the organisers. Even Berlin, a city sweaty with kinks and politics, has the Dyke March, Radical Queer March and (the late) Kreuzberg Pride as distinct surrogates to the more commercial CSD Berlin. 

Pride is politically messy. When you stir together an alphabet soup of people all of which have other intersecting identities (race, class, religion, political allegiance), you will invariably plate up a political mess. 

And the 2020 Sydney Mardi Gras dished quite the menu. 

 

'While I can certainly empathise with the desire to feel proud in one’s identity against all odds, that inclusion shouldn’t come at the expense of the exclusion of the most marginalised. Pride shouldn’t come at the expense of another’s fear.'

 

The NSW Police Force arrested three members of the ‘Department of Homo Affairs’ after protesting against the Liberal Party Float. They tweeted that they were ‘disappointed with their actions, which did not comply with the conditions of the event or the spirit of the celebrations.’ Senior journalist Andrew Taylor in The Age reported that Mardi Gras ‘began in 1978 as a protest against discrimination.’ Both claims are laughably false. 

‘The first #sydneymardigras in 1978 was not “a protest against discrimination”, it was a march in solidarity with victims of police violence. The main chant was “stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks.”’ tweeted activist and lawyer, Paul Kidd. Queer activist/author Sally Rugg also provides an excellent rundown

Indeed, the first Sydney ‘mardi gras’ was organised as a protest to commemorate the NYC 1969 Stonewall Riots. Parallel events were observed in cities such as LA, Chicago, London, Stockholm, and West Berlin. Gay pride began from anti-police sentiment. 

It was with this logic that the Auckland Pride organisers banned police from marching in their uniforms at the 2019 event. ‘It became really apparent that there are members of our community that didn't feel like they could be included in Pride while the police were marching in uniform because the uniform's a symbol of an institution that has a long way to go by their own admission,’ said Pride chair, Cissy Rock. The decision looked to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable, those disproportionately targeted by police: Māori and the trans community.

The decision splintered Auckland’s Rainbow community. Many maintain, like here in Australia, that Pride is about ‘inclusion’ and that queer police should have the right to feel proud in their uniform. It’s a pride hard fought for. In 2018 the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission reviewed the Victorian Police for workplace harm on LGBTI employees. The review found that gay men in Victoria Police were six times more likely to have been sexually harassed by a colleague, with homophobia, transphobia and a hypermasculine and heteronormative culture driving hostile behaviours. 

While I can certainly empathise with the desire to feel proud in one’s identity against all odds, that inclusion shouldn’t come at the expense of the exclusion of the most marginalised. Pride shouldn’t come at the expense of another’s fear. Institutionalised forms of power shouldn’t be privileged over those at the very fringe. 

But what disturbed me perhaps the most was this relentless and emotional bondage to one’s professional identity and a sense of pride. Why did our queer police want to march as police so damn badly? For that matter, why did bankers, lawyers, Uber employees feel so strongly about their corporate identity? 

Much gets written about pink-washing and the corporatisation of Pride. Gay sandwiches and camp mouthwash are merely two examples in a growing suite of products marketed directly at queers by companies looking to exploit our identities for extra profit margins. They target us because they know we’re hungry for representation in a society that has long invisibilised our existence.

 

'When we decide to march with corporate interest — flaunting our professional identities on the world’s gayest stage — we march as the foot soldiers of capitalism. We fundamentally define and reduce our worth as a community to our working lives and the conditions that our employers set for us.'

 

Yet not all representation is created equal. The private sector’s growing interest in diversity, inclusion and equality isn’t a result of understanding our human rights or an appeal to our humanity. No, it’s because they finally see value in us as both workers and consumers. 

This year ANZ truly took the cake with their #lovespeech campaign: a Google chrome extension which replaced derogatory language with rainbow and unicorn emojis — called The Hurt Blocker, can you believe? — and a campaign video showing queer youth repeating all the stuff that gets yelled at us on the street. 

When we decide to march with corporate interest — flaunting our professional identities on the world’s gayest stage — we march as the foot soldiers of capitalism. We fundamentally define and reduce our worth as a community to our working lives and the conditions that our employers set for us. This is at the antithesis of a liberation movement that spat in the face of respectability, looked to forge its own road, and found pride in identities as resistance to the state and its status quo. 

The literal translation of Mardi Gras from French is ‘Fat Tuesday’, marked as the last opportunity to devour rich foods before the beginning of Lent. Pride is therefore a coming together of community, a breaking of bread to nourish ourselves and one another with that messy alphabet soup. 

Yet, I fear that our hunger is being exploited, that our identity is conditional to our consumption and employment, and increasingly our Pride walk can only be done purse first. 

 

 

Dejan JotanovicDejan Jotanovic is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, whose words spin around feminism, gender theory, queer history, policy and pop culture. Flick him at a tweet at @heydejan. 

Main image credit: Sydney Mardi Gras 2020 person holds up sign with the colours of the Aboriginal flag reading, 'Our lives matter' (Getty Images/Brendon Thorne)

Topic tags: Dejan Jotanovic, Mardi Gras, Pride, LGBTQ+, capitalism, pinkwashing

 

 

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‘….march purse first.’ Libertarianism isn’t only your right to be who you are. It’s, more significantly, your obligation not to contain anyone else. Therefore, it’s the right of money to presume to say who you are because money, like water, in conditions of unrestricted freedom, has, by virtue of its intrinsic and comparative strengths, the ability to arrive wherever it wants. Or, because money doesn’t operate without someone pulling its string, it’s the right of that someone to arrive wherever s/he wants. Your only corresponding right as a libertarian is to build your own ghetto to wall out that overwhelming intruder. So, get to it. Build your moats and fiefdoms. That’s what a libertarian society is, not organic and borderless and ‘inclusive’ but a feudal diversity of internal walls. Like colonial Australia, where, each time you hit the border, you’d have to get on another train because the width of the railway track would change.
roy chen yee | 06 March 2020


Pride comes before the fall says the old adage. Some might say that in the modern world , however, Pride came as a result of the fall.
john frawley | 06 March 2020


I wonder what would happen if they all marched into St Peter's in Rome? Ive seen girls turned away for wearing hotpants and not having their heads covered. In Tehran girls have been stabbed to death for not wearing veils. Historically of the seven deadly sins, theologians reserve a special place for pride. Lust, envy, anger, greed, gluttony and sloth are deadly, the wisemen say, but pride is the deadliest of all, the root of all evil, and the beginning of sin. As for the rainbow flag, now that it flutters proudly in Parliament, perhaps it should, in keeping with John Frawley's comment, also incorporate the rainbow serpent. Finally, because Im not a fan of this "spectacle" : “Pride, ill nature, and want of sense are the three great sources of ill manners;" — Jonathan Swift
francis Armstrong | 06 March 2020


A well argued piece Dijan. I was surprised to see some of the bodies represented in the march and your summaries only support my suspicions.
Tom Kingston | 06 March 2020


Thought provoking. ..but unsurprising that Pride doesn't have both a price tag and an entrepreneurial approach by those who can see a dollar at both ends of the rainbow. It certainly poses the quandary of who is genuinely "woke" and supportive or those who understand the marketing power of policies but have limited alignment with the cause. Of course, if a company sees it is losing market share or can gain consumers simply by adoption of a trendy ideal its pretty cheap innovation. I had to grow very old in the process to finally understand that policy is not law and just because organizations may expound their incorporation of values the management are frequently less likely to live the ideals. If you want the corporate cash to finance the events perhaps the selection of sponsors needs to be decided at grass roots rather than by individuals who may be encouraged by some special influence. Akin to the freedom and lifestyle of surfing or skateboarding being bought into and organized by corporate entities, sometime soon the gay pride rainbow might just be another trademark symbol of capitalism like the golden arches "M". Welcome to mainstream life.
ray | 06 March 2020


Really nails it Dejan, excellent, thanks! More than time for a rethink. A division in the ranks not just about the legacy but the future. I fear capitalism often win, sheer dollars. https://www.mardigras.org.au/history
Jan | 09 March 2020


While not a big fan of Mardi Gras, I totally agree with the writers sentiments. It is very unfortunate that every event these days becomes commercialized sooner or later.Packer totally wrecked the Test Cricket which I loved as a kid, now the whole thing is a commercial joke. Football , all codes, plus soccer is now the same.How long before women's sports go the same way? A real shame.
Gavin O'Brien | 10 March 2020


It is interesting to see that many of the commenters on Dejan's piece seem either not to have read it unbiasedly and/or used it as a springboard to go off on their own tangent(s). My understanding is the writer was lamenting the commercialisation of all the hard work done by the Gay Rights Movement. In a thoroughly commercialised world this result is almost inevitable. There are now so many powerful, influential and wealthy gays and lesbians it is not surprising businesses go after the pink dollar. As a heterosexual male, who has always had a live and let live policy, I have always deplored discrimination and gay bashing. However, I do have my own religious beliefs and standards which I have attempted to live by. These would be in sharp contrast to those who are 'out and proud'. I suspect many readers of Eureka Street share both my stance and beliefs. They are usually silent witnesses. Perhaps more of them should speak.
Edward Fido | 16 March 2020


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