LGBT Pride: the good, the bad and the ugly

Pub date June 19, 2012

OPINION No doubt about it, LGBT Pride is a mixed bag.

Long gone are the days when Gay Freedom Day, later Gay Pride, was a one-day affair, a protest march and celebration to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June, 1969.

These days, it’s a month-long, corporate-sponsored, $1.8 million-dollar, glitzy affair with events at fancy hotels and a “parade” (not a march) that remains totally out of touch with the radical, grassroots activism that first created it. Not only are contingents charged to participate, but curbside barricades make it impossible for onlookers to jump in, and participants are asked to “donate” to enter the festival after the parade. Even if the pride committee waives the fee for small groups, why does anyone have to pay to be part of pride?

Especially given that it has corporate sponsors with very deep pockets. Some of those sponsors are strange — and ugly — bedfellows indeed. They include Wells Fargo and B of A, two banking institutions that have been foreclosing queer and other people out of their homes. Their motto might well be, “We take Pride in evicting you.” What does it say about our community that we allow these institutions to use our events to buy good PR? Banks don’t deserve good PR, especially when the government is not holding them accountable in any real way for what they continue to do to us.

Fortunately, there are pride events that remain true to the fiery, uncompromising spirit that was demonstrated by those queens who refused to go quietly into the paddy wagons 43 years ago. Including the Faetopia “pop-up queer arts, ecology, theater and community center” at the old Tower Records space at Market and Noe, with lots of great events continuing through June 22 (; and the Vito Russo documentary, Vito, at the Frameline Film Festival last week. Vito’s life of gay and AIDS activism is a reminder of why Pride month exists. It’s just a shame that Wells Fargo is a sponsor of the festival.

You won’t find banks sponsoring the Trans and the Dyke marches (Friday, June 22 and Saturday, 23 respectively). Nothing in Pride month comes closer to being like the 1970s gay Pride marches (that I miss so much) than these two grassroots efforts.

Finally, a coalition calling itself OccuPride plans to protest the “increasingly commercialized” Pride parade that caters “only to those of us with money to spend.” According to a press statement, it will also “honor our radical roots for full liberation for women, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, all the oppressed and marginalized.” Sounds like a Gay Liberation Front manifesto I helped write 42 years ago. Join up with OccuPride on June 24 at 10 AM at Mission and Main, or at Taylor and Turk at 2:30 PM for a rally on the site of the former Compton’s Cafeteria where, three years before Stonewall, drag queens rioted.

Like Vito a reminder of where we came from.

A longtime queer and tenants rights activist, Tommi Avicolli Mecca was involved with organizing Philly’s first pride march in 1972. He is editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the Early Years of Gay Liberation (City Lights).