The Big Gay Distraction: What I Learned from NYC Pride

What, exactly, are we proud of?

I was lucky enough to participate in the NYC Gay Pride parade this past summer, an event which has radical roots despite its current position as prime venue for corporate advertising and economic stimulation in the form of tourism dollars. The parade was particularly high energy this year, and saw an incredible turnout, because of the passing of gay marriage in the state of New York only the day before. I walked in the parade with an organization called Queers For Economic Justice, a group which fights for the visibility and rights of poor and working-class queers in the New York area, and which is, remarkably, the only queer organization in the city which enters homeless shelters to reach out to the queer communities there.

All the groups participating in the parade were organized into sections, which converged on predesignated blocks before beginning to walk. Our section included several other groups and centers which cater to the needs of homeless, working, poor and brown queers in the NYC area. While the police presence was overwhelming throughout the parade’s route, they seemed particularly vigilant of the block on which we were gathering. They were aggressive towards even those whom they had already determined were a part of the parade, and organizers from QEJ had to take permanent positions by the roadblocks to make sure that police allowed the members of their organization through to help set up, many of whom were arriving from homeless shelters.

As the time to walk came near, organizers and leaders from QEJ gathered us together, and reminded us that what we were about to participate in was a march, not a parade, since the rights of those with whom we stood in solidarity had not been met–and could not be met–solely through the passing of gay marriage. (In fact, the same motion which had upheld same-sex marriage for New York state the day before had simultaneously denied passage of a gender discrimination bill, one which would have helped to secure jobs and housing for members of the trans community, who end up homeless at a shockingly disproportionate rate to the remainder of the queer community.) As we gathered our signs and banners and started getting into formation, and the street around us began to fill with other marchers and spectators, I noticed multiple people carrying large preprinted signs reading, “Thank You Governor Cuomo!” in bold white letters. And even as we began to march, I thought about the amount of money and resources which must have gone into printing and distributing all those posters in only one night. I thought about where that kind of money comes from, and why the Governor’s office might have it. I thought about who would really benefit from having those posters flashing throughout the Gay Pride parade, and how such a political maneuver was decided upon. I thought about what we were there to celebrate that day, and I asked myself, what is it exactly that we are proud of?

Kenyon Farrow, the former executive director of QEJ, writes forcefully about the complicated politics of gay marriage, ones which often go overlooked by the mainstream gay and lesbian community. In a piece he wrote this month for titled “Gay Marriage: Progressive Victory or GOP Roadmap?” he states: “What does it mean when so-called progressives celebrate a victory won by GOP-supporting hedge fund managers, Tea Party funders and and corporate conglomerates–the oft-spoken enemies of progressive causes?” He goes on to describe the myriad ways in which gay marriage as a political platform is being used by some of the most politically and economically conservative bodies to garner the support of communities who regularly resist their greed and dominance, and to actively distract queers and other oppressed communities from the ways in which their policies are destroying human rights, even as marriage is dangled as a symbol of progress. What, then, is the passage of gay marriage in New York actually working to prepare us and our communities for? What policies did Governor Cuomo’s office support that we have forgotten to protest because we are celebrating gay marriage? For which queer communities is gay marriage a victory, and for which ones–the poor, the working, the transgender, the immigrant, the incarcerated–is it a far more minimal gain?

When did queer politics become based almost exclusively around organizing for legislation and accepting corporate charity? When did we start galvanizing our movements around the electing of officials rather than the self-sufficiency and autonomy of our own communities? When did we start looking to the same political and economic machines which have always disenfranchised us to grant us basic rights? When did we start trusting politicians, and stop trusting each other and ourselves, to effectively advocate for the dispensing of justice? It struck me that on a day when we gathered to celebrate queer history, power and communities, we should be holding up signs thanking wealthy politicians for their work (supposedly) on our behalf. For even in the case of the relatively conservative right to marriage, wasn’t it the organizing and outspokenness of queers which brought the issue to light, not the foresight of a broken, bipartisan government? If justice is going to be realized, we need to start advocating for our communities–in the fullest, messiest and most complicated sense of the word–and stop expecting oppressive political and economic systems to do it for us. We need to imagine and actively build movements which are based in uniting the needs of our multiple communities, and which fight for the justice of all.

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