“The first pride was a riot.”

Queer and trans rights activists bring up this quote to remind everyone of the Stonewall Riots in 1969; where a bunch of trans women, gender non-conforming folk, and others under the LGBTQ umbrella rioted against the cops unjustly arresting and detaining them. The quote serves as a reminder to the contemporary LGBTQ community that we had to fight to be seen as human; and we came here by rioting and protesting, not by appeasing the establishment.

The quote is even more emphasized in the last decade, where a rise in queer visibility has led to the original sin of late-stage capitalism — converting another facet of human life into a machine to maximize profits. Every June, major companies change their social media profiles to feature the rainbow flag to celebrate pride month – only to take it down swiftly on the first day of July. The discourse around companies using rainbow pride vocabulary and imagery is nuanced, as large companies adopting these aspects of queerness in their works signify a cultural shift towards queer acceptance. However, the LGBTQ community realises that these companies are doing so only to cater to them as a market to extract value from, not out of genuine care and well-being of the community. Last year, Bud Light, a beer company, sent popular trans woman influencer Dylan Mulvaney a custom-made set of cans featuring her face on them. After this event triggered a tsunami of transphobic backlash against Dylan, Bud Light offered her almost no support and made her face a vitriolic transphobic campaign against her, which is still ongoing. Similarly, Target took down their Pride collection or put them in the back of their stores when right-wing consumers threatened a mass boycott and sent bomb threats.

The effects of rainbow capitalism are not limited to rainbow coloured inventory or merchandise with different pride flags pasted on them. In pride parades hosted all over the world, floats dedicated to different companies move alongside community members to signal their flimsy support. Left-leaning queer people find it ironic that a company like Lockheed Martin, famous for aiding the suffering of millions across the world through wars; signals via their float in parades about how they care about minorities.

Leftist queer people are also critical of the catering to police in pride spaces as well. It is worth remembering that the Stonewall riots started as pushback against police brutality, as mentioned in the beginning of this essay. Queer people, especially gender non-conforming queer people and queer people belonging to other minorities all over the world have been victims of police brutality, and members of the community still face physical, mental, and verbal abuse in the hands of police forces. It can be jarring, even traumatizing to see abusers of the community being celebrated and welcomed in our safe spaces.

Lately I started to feel that my city, Kolkata, had a relatively small queer community compared to other cities; with no dedicated queer third space for us. I also started to feel that my local pride was getting too sanitized, and the call to clap for cops before a parade left a sour taste in my mouth. Then I saw people from other cities complaining about their local pride parades as well, every person having their own grievances.

My queer friends who live in the US, Canada, and the UK; all were united in their disdain towards their local pride parades being overly catering towards corporate sponsors. Some of them stopped going to pride events since the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were immunocompromised and they felt the lack of mask mandates in mass gatherings like pride parades put them at risk. A friend from Canada told me how they felt the community was side-lined when their local parade was full of huge corporations all asking for their slices in the Rainbow capital pie.

I've also heard grievances aired online and in person about how some people insist on making pride “clean” by doing away with depictions of kink and explicit sexuality, and to make it more palatable to the average cishet individual. This in-community pushback comes from members, who possibly have internalised some bigotry themselves; who want to assimilate into the cisheteronormative society and paints themselves different from the members who have different gender expressions and ideals about navigating in the world. These individuals often tend to forget that homophobes, transphobes, and queerphobes will express hatred and harm queer and trans individuals whether they assimilate or not.

Even in India, people have faced issues with how their local prides adopted certain measures. I wasn't the only one in the crowd who was dismayed when we were encouraged by our local pride to cheer and clap for police officers. When organisers of Mumbai pride asked for no “political” posters and slogans — they faced unanimous backlash from the community. Many queer people reminded the organisers that pride is inherently a protest, and inherently political. It will be ignorant of members of the community to not talk about religion, caste, gender, disability, class — as all causes are intersectional and liberation for one means liberation for all. When some right and centre-leaning queer individuals expressed their distaste at the pro-Palestinian liberation slogans at Delhi pride parade, they were quickly shut down by the rest of the community.

As a younger queer and trans man whose interaction with the rest of the community was mostly limited to the online world, I had an idealized view of what the queer community in person would look like. But as I grew up and interacted further with the community, that idea has been shattered. I've seen pride catering to our oppressors, members of our own community oppressing others based on race and caste, and even queer individuals who cause harm to others. I've seen people talk about being in the forefront of pride parades who would go on to misgender and deadname all the trans people around them. I know individuals who have been disillusioned like me and barely interact with the community as a result.

Unfortunately, I do not have answers and solutions to the uncertainty in my head that says pride is being deradicalized and the community is just as capable of holding hate like other spaces. Maybe it is inevitable that the community will have people who only care about their own safety over systemic queer and trans liberation. There were cis gay men who were wary of the Stonewall Riots and a small group of cis LGB folks now claim that the involvement of trans people in Stonewall is history being rewritten to erase cis LGB folk from history. There are trans spaces that emphasize on the ability to pass, and ask trans individuals to follow hyper strict guidelines so that they cannot be 'clocked'. There are people who welcome corporations at pride as they hope corporations will help us get legislation that protects the well-being of the community, and communicates to the outside world that being a bigot is not profitable and hence not 'okay'. Maybe there are better ways to make the community safer, more inclusive, and in touch with our histories and realities; while acknowledging the ideas different from us and taking steps accordingly. Sometimes it's okay to not have an answer, and figure out your own answer from introspection and observation.