The nickel-and-diming of Pride
When I came out of the closet in Oklahoma in 2012, the Oklahoma City Pride Parade seemed like the pinnacle of gay culture. My first time attending that spring saw drag queens in undecorated truck beds screaming at us to get to shelter ahead of an impending tornado.
Sure, it was a little rough around the edges. But it was democratic in that it was free for the entire community and the tornado was coming for us all.
Over time, however, and since moving to New York, I’ve noticed a trend: the more corporate entities enter Pride, the more expensive celebrating it becomes. That means that more people, especially those from vulnerable communities, are excluded.
Every year, debate erupts anew over the corporatisation of Pride.
It has become its own tradition, in a way. That debate tends to centre the battle over the soul of Pride: should it be a protest or a party?
Should we really let a weapons manufacturer slap a rainbow over their logo and march in the parade? We question whether it is ethical, and we wonder what the criteria ought to be for corporate alliance.
But that element of the conversation is just the rainbow veneer on the Wells Fargo float. Beneath that, the intrusion of businesses into our annual events has recontextualised what celebrating Pride means even within the community. Pride is becoming a more expensive affair across the board, and the folks who need it most are getting priced out.
In 2016, a Pride festival in Los Angeles that at first promised inclusivity for women and seniors shocked one attendee with the elimination of its free-ticket option. It was revealed that a day ticket would be $35.
The story is much the same for New York. This year, Pride-Fest VIP tickets will run you $50, although the parade is still free.
NYC Pride, meanwhile, offers T-shirts at a cool $55 and a hoodie at $90. Don’t get caught without an overpriced Pride-branded beer in your hand, either!
Merchandise at Pride isn’t new, necessarily, but it is the byproduct of Pride growing into a more commercial space where being nickel-and-dimed is the norm rather than the exception.
These events tell a story about where Pride is and who can and cannot go.
It is a story that seems to take as its narrative centre the myth of LGBTQ affluence: the notion that LGBTQ people, and gay men specifically, have a lot of money to spend on Pride festivities.
This is true for a few gay men, but it is a myth for most. A 2016 report from the Williams Institute noted that LGBTQ people face “a risk of being poor that is at best equal” to non-LGBTQ people and “at worst, much higher”.
It’s not even true for most cisgender gay men. As The Washington Post reported, gay men, especially gay men of colour, hit a glass ceiling when it comes to upper-management positions.
The statistics only get more dire the more we look at race and gender identity within the LGBTQ community.
But that is perhaps the gist of the problem: corporations, by their nature, want to make money, so they centre the affluent minority of LGBTQ people, who skew white, gay and male.
No matter where Pride proceeds go, and even if paid events are mostly by and for LGBTQ people, they are inherently exclusionary, and the people most in need of resources are the ones who get left at the gate.
I’ve been to a few of these parties, and I’ve enjoyed myself. But nothing has come close to the community I felt at Oklahoma City’s parade, seeking shelter together from that twister.
Back then, I would not have been able to afford to attend a fancy Pride party. So as the celebration marches onward to ticketed festivities, it is worth asking: who can afford to be proud?
• John Paul Brammer is the writer of the advice column