“Social media profile pictures turn rainbow and bios showcase phrase or puns, with rainbow flags, for #PrideMonth.”
As June retires this year, so do the beautiful rainbows and ‘love is love’ posters from our Instagram feeds and mind. The month of June signifies the Pride Month. It is celebrated and has a great history. For many, Pride Month is just a spectacle and Eishita, an 18-year-old student from Delhi University, rightly points out certain stereotypes attached with June,"377 is gone now, what's with all this now?" Because giving the bare minimum means the world. We are "turning children gay", Trans people are "vulgar and confused" when they choose to show off their body, pride itself is "against Indian culture". "Why no straight pride?" Even in 2020, identifying outside the societal gender binary is still considered a taboo. The community is shamed by their peers and family. The problem of non-acceptance exists and is quite evident. The narrative that being a part of the community is a disease is extremely regressive in nature. While speaking with Rishab Nanda from the College of Vocational Studies, he mentioned how people think that pride month is about asking for special rights or treatment but it’s actually the opposite. It’s about achieving equal rights and social justice.
Pride Month commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and the on-going pursuit of equal justice under the law for the LGBTQIA+ community. The event that catalysed the gay rights movement in the United States came in June 1969 in New York City’s Greenwich Village, at the Stonewall Inn. In the early morning hours of June 28, police raided this popular gathering place for young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people—arresting the employees for selling liquor without a license, roughing up many of the patrons, and clearing the bar. Outside, the crowd that watched the bar's patrons being herded into police vans became enraged. Whereas previous witnesses to police harassment of members of the LGBTQIA+ community had stood by passively, this time the crowd jeered the police and threw coins and debris at them, forcing the police to barricade themselves in the bar to await backup. Meanwhile, some 400 people rioted. Although police reinforcements dispersed the crowd, riots waned and waxed outside the bar for the next five days, and these Stonewall riots (also called the Stonewall uprising) provided the spark that ignited the movement in the United States.
The symbolic history of the month of pride is often forgotten especially, by big corporations and social media influencers. Keshavi Sethi from Delhi points out that, “Activists and allies have been fighting for inclusion for a long time. However, the corporate world portrays pride and profits from an oppressed community, is problematic. It may be argued that the involvement of big corporations might be a big step however, their performative activism tells otherwise.” This totally differs from Hiten Noowal’s idea of pride which is all about they living proudly with their gender identity. “Pride Month is not just another month it's a month to feel proud about who I am. I don't care what people say, this is me and I'm proud of myself!” A study showed that June is one of the highest-earning periods for big corporations. The special discounts and offers are a tokenistic measure and a marketing gimmick. Rishab tells us how these MNCs forget the essence of pride and leave to their mere capitalistic tactics. There is nothing for the community. Shraddha Kutty mentioned how these campaigns of the corporations are purely optical if there is no active support to the Trans/Queer communities - within the business structure or beyond. This type of marketing is also known as ‘Rainbow washing’, a term that comes from ‘Pinkwashing’ (from the Breast Cancer Awareness movement). By marketing Pride campaigns in hollow, intangible ways, corporations/influencers miss the opportunity for real ally-ship and dilute the impact of Pride and the ongoing work (ex. fighting for Trans rights, banning conversion therapy, fighting for inclusive policies) by the community and its allies. Along these lines, Eishita said this attempt to lure the community seems like a half-hearted marketing ploy to reap the benefits. After 30 days, rainbow logos, emojis, flags and decorations disappear and the companies forget about their "solidarity". Same with influencers. Everybody wants to show off rainbows and talk about "loveislove". But nobody will say a word when a Queer person gets killed or when Trans Bill is passed.
Brands like H&M, Adidas, Bloomingdales, Nike, etc. bring out their new collections during June. It is filled with everything rainbow and ‘#loveislove’. Firstly, these fast fashion brands have exploitative practices of underpayment, harassment and long working hours. These brands monetize their profits and disappear for the rest of the year. Similar questions are posed towards LGBTQIA+ influencers like James Charles, Bretman Rock and Nikita Dragun when they attend and promote Coachella. The renowned and anticipated music festival is run by AEG Live and the right-wing CEO, Philip Anschutz, known for making donations to anti-LGBTQIA+ and pro-gun conservative groups in the USA.
The narrative of pride has been reduced to ‘loveislove’. Social Media uses it because it’s easy however forgetting the true essence. Keshavi tells us how pride month is a reminder of the lost lives, people fighting for the rights and trying to make the world a more inclusive space.
“We want respect, equality, freedom to identify, to not get lynched, forcefully converted and to be safe. Gender identity, trans rights and safety are just as important. Hundreds of LGBTQIA+ individuals are disowned because of who they are and now the govt has taken away their right to have a chosen family. Why don't we see people talking about that?”- Eishita
Hiten talked about how pride month is to celebrate "Humans as humans: no matter what gender, sex, race, flesh, religion, region and caste they belong to.”
The undue commercial glorification of pride month without true representation is exploitative and performative in nature towards the queer community. The hijacking of spaces by brands and influencers has to lead to true opinions staying the closet. ‘Pride is being yourself, being true and valid’- Rishab. In order to truly support the community, allies must think of hiring talented LGBTQIA+ individuals, freelancers and buying content from a small business owned by them instead of corporate giants. It is more beneficial to purchase a pride t-shirt from a transgender artist than from Adidas.
Eishita tells us how pride to her is supporting local queer artists and organisations. She donated the proceeds from my commission writing to queer organisations in June this year. Pride is identity, love, mutual respect and freedom.
The month of pride is about educating and raising awareness about the community to remove the stigma and unnecessary stereotypes attached to it. It is about fighting the good fight and respecting one another. Despite the hashtags and rainbows leaving your feed, make sure it leaves an everlasting image in your head for you to always remember it.
“Pride started as a protest and shall always be remembered as one.”
In conversation with: Rishab Nanda (@rshxb), Eishita (@eishitaa),
Hiten Noonwal (@hiten.noowal), Shraddha Kutty (@musiqill) and Keshavi Sethi (@keshavisethi)