Queer Liberation, Not Rainbow Capitalism

By Collin Zastempowski

Photo by Nick Millman

If you were at Philly Pride in June, “Pride was a riot, don’t deny it” is one of the many chants you would have heard from the Socialist Contingent, a collection of LGBTQIA+ leftists brought together by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event widely considered to have sparked the modern LGBTQ movement.  The Stonewall riots erupted in 1969 when police officers attempted to arrest patrons of a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. At the time, before the Gay liberation movement, arrest often went hand-in-hand with the loss of one’s jobRioters threw bottles, stones, and garbage at police, started fires, and freed each other from arrest, violently rejecting the state’s oppression.  Today, however, corporate sponsors and police increasingly take center stage during Pride celebrations, and the interests and needs of queer communities are pushed further into the margins.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), members of Philly Socialists, and other activists formed the Socialist Contingent to march in the Pride Parade.  This coalition aimed to celebrate the queer community, but also to thrust into public view the belief that socialist politics are crucial for queer liberation.  “The corporations that fund Pride parades aren’t gonna save us, but socialist policies that provide healthcare, housing, and rights will,” stated Angel Nalubega, an organizer with the PSL.  “I think that, at its roots, Pride started as a riot, as a group of oppressed people fighting back,” they went on to say. Recovering the rebellious spirit of the founders of the Gay liberation movement in the 1960s, such as Stormé Delarverie and Marsha P. Johnson, was one of Angel’s goals in marching in the Pride parade.

Similar movements have sprung up in cities around the country. No Justice, No Pride is a collective in Washington, D.C., that directly challenges the corporatization of Pride by calling attention to the needs of those most at-risk in the queer community, such as trans women of color and sex workers.  Reclaim Pride in New York City seeks to march in the spirit of the queer community’s “tradition of resistance against police, state, and societal oppression, a tradition that is epitomized and symbolized by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.”

As Angel Nalubega said, “Corporations aren’t gonna save us.”  The same corporations whose employees march at Pride actively give campaign contributions to politicians who pass legislation that harms LGBTQIA+ people.  To corporations, the queer community is just another marketable demographic that, they believe, is relatively well-off compared to other minority groups.  But, pandering during Pride month does nothing to help the discrimination queer people face at work nor the financial instability that results from it.

In addition to corporate discrimination and state repression, the queer community also faces physical violence at the hands of the police. Last year, ReeAnna Segin, a trans activist, was arrested at Philly Pride for allegedly trying to light a Blue Lives Matter flag on fire in opposition to police presence at Pride.  Given the extensive police harassment faced by the transgender community, much of the queer community’s most vulnerable members do not feel safe at Pride with the police presence both inside and outside the march.  The recent revelations by the Plain View Project of the racist, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric spouted by Philadelphia police officers only heightened the degree of danger felt by the queer community.  That rhetoric inspired Maddie Rose, a member of Philly Socialists, to directly confront police presence: “I held a sign displaying one of the leaked homophobic tweets from a Philly cop and confronted several cops about it. I don’t like them looking too comfortable here when they keep me on my toes 24/7.”

“There are so many issues affecting us,” PSL organizer Angel Nalubega remarked, “and the way it connects is capitalism.”  This does not mean that we are all affected equally. Trans women face unstable housing and job discrimination at extremely high rates compared to the rest of Americans.  Striking down the Affordable Care Act, which has been the goal of Republicans almost since its inception, would affect persons living with AIDS most harshly, disqualifying them from Medicaid until they are too sick to work.  Under capitalism, the queer community’s access to secure income, housing, and healthcare is at the whim of corporations and not guaranteed.

“Pride forces us to ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be liberated?’” Maddie Rose (PS) remarked.  Our liberation will not come from corporate support or a few gay officers on the police force. Our liberation will only come from the community we build as socialists and revolutionaries.  “Lockheed Martin makes pride shirts,” Angel Nalubega (PSL) noted, “but they bomb half the world. That’s our enemy. We have to practice solidarity with one another, and we have to organize, do the heavy lifting.”

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