This paper explores capitalism in relation to LGBTQ2+ Pride. Specifically, it explores the question: How does the culture of capitalism affect Pride? It is based in the Western context. There are clear ties between capitalism and the production of Pride, and arguably the culture of capitalism infiltrates the LGBTQ2+ movement with a false sense of support from corporations. Moreover, while corporate support for Pride celebrations may seem positive in the sense of allyship and financial power for the queer community, this is merely a façade masking the harm that capitalism truly causes the community. In fact, in this culture of capitalism, “LGBTQ people are more likely than their peers to live in poverty” (Hunter et al., 2018, p. 4).
To explore the issues associated with capitalism and corporate sponsorship in relation to the queer community, this paper will discuss the disproportionate poverty faced by the community, exemplifying how corporate support of Pride is a meaningless gesture when the system that supports corporate power leaves LGBTQ2+ people disempowered. Additionally exemplifying how corporate support is a façade, companies who brand themselves as supporters during Pride Month simultaneously give their money to anti-LGBTQ2+ organizations and initiatives (Abda-Santos, 2018; Harrison, 2017). An exploration of this irony leads into another reason why corporate support of Pride is a meaningless gesture: Corporations are not interested in ending LGBTQ2+ injustice, they are interested in making money (Brennan, Binney & Brady, 2012; Olson, 2016). Expanding on these points, a philosophical analysis will be provided about the moral dilemmas of using corporate sponsorship to fund LGBTQ2+ Pride events, supported by Snow (2015). A final argument that will be made is that the corporatization of Pride draws attention away from the roots of the movement; in fact, the first Pride was a riot, but the Pride we know of now is a party (Alsop, 2001; Atkins, 2019; Tatchell, 2019; Olson, 2016; Harrison, 2019). This paper delves into the issues that capitalism imposes on the LGBTQ2+ community and LGBTQ2+ Pride, illuminating how corporate support is profit-driven and functions to systemically entrench the marginalization of the queer community, rather than aid in ending LGBTQ2+ injustice.
Capitalism and the Queer Community
In order to understand the issue of the corporatization of Pride, this paper must be situated in an understanding of the harm that the LGBTQ2+ community is at risk of under capitalism. Namely, LGBTQ2+ people are at a greater risk of experiencing poverty than their non-LGBTQ2+ counterparts due to the interconnected social relations of marginalized gender, race and class. Stated in a salient report by Hunter et al. (2018), over twenty-five percent of LGBTQ individuals “experienced a period over the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family, as compared to eighteen percent of non-LGBTQ individuals” (5). The comprehensive report goes on to state, “Forty-three percent of LGB adults aged eighteen to forty-four who are raising children live in poverty” (5). Additionally, “as many as forty percent of homeless young people identify as LGBTQ” (5) and “On the other end of the age spectrum, LGBTQ elders are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to rely on non-biological peer family support and caretaking as they age – leaving them generally more vulnerable to poverty, housing instability, and a number of negative health outcomes” (5). The report also informs us that queer people of color and queer people with disabilities are more at risk for this harm. In sum, “LGBTQ people experience vulnerability all across the lifespan, from childhood to older age” (5) and this report displays this fact, thus showcasing how LGBTQ2+ individuals are disproportionately marginalized in the culture of capitalism that we are immersed in.
Likewise, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s “Queer & Trans Poverty in BC fact sheet” (Sopotiuk & Obiakor, n.d.) further illuminates the disproportionate marginalization that the queer community faces. The factsheet states that “trans and gender non-conforming people have double the unemployment rate as the general population, and 1 in 5 have been refused houses or apartments because of their gender identity or expression” (n.p.) and that “queer and trans people are over represented among low income Canadians; for example 71% of trans people have at least some college or university education, yet about 50% are living on less than $15,000 or less a year” (n.p.). In a discussion of the corporatization of Pride, it is essential to understand not only the corporate aspects of Pride, but to understand the underlying social, political and economic issues that the LGBTQ2+ community is facing. These disheartening facts display the economic inequality that the LGBTQ2+ community is subjected to under capitalism, illuminating how the culture of capitalism works to maintain a status quo in which queer folks are perpetually disadvantaged. Moreover, financial donation once a year to LGBTQ2+ Pride events means nothing when there are multitudes of LGBTQ2+ people left unemployed, starving and homeless, year-round, due to the conditions of our economic system.
Critiques of Corporatization
Economic injustice is one of the many issues that the LGBTQ2+ movement aims to combat. This issue, however, goes unaddressed by the sponsors of LGBTQ2+ Pride events. Actually, quite contrary to engaging in activism on behalf of the queer community, corporations simply donate their money to Pride events while simultaneously financially supporting initiatives and events that are fundamentally anti-LGBTQ2+. For example, Abda-Santos (2018) discusses how sponsors of New York City Pride, like Adidas, also support the FIFA World Cup in Russia, a place with anti-LGBTQ2+ legislation. Likewise, Harrison (2017) states that “Corporations like Nike, Walmart, and Jack Daniels announce countless rainbow-colored products every year while investing in private prisons, slave labor, and ignoring the higher rate at which LGBTQ+ people suffer from substance abuse”. These articles epitomize the irony of how corporations may support Pride festivities, but their support ends at financial support and is not extended into their policies and agendas.
Irreconcilable with calling themselves ‘supporters,’ corporations’ disregard of the threatening issues faced by the LGBTQ2+ community further subjects this marginalized group to injustice and subjugates LGBTQ2+ people politically, socially and economically. It is irresponsible for a supporter of Pride to also support anti-LGBTQ2+ enterprises; however, the repercussions of this negligence are only felt by LGBTQ2+ individuals barred with discriminatory legislation, increased risk of substance abuse, and further harm and marginalization. If corporate supporters of Pride were truly committed to ending LGBTQ2+ injustice, their support would not end at funding Pride events once a year, it would extend to funding the year-round fight for equality; instead, corporations fuel the inequality that the LGBTQ2+ community faces.
The irony of branding oneself as a supporter of LGBTQ2+ Pride, while also supporting anti-LGBTQ2+ initiatives can be easily explained: Corporations are not interested in ending LGBTQ2+ injustice, they are interested in making more money. Brennan, Binney and Brady (2012) discuss this claim, addressing how there are three motivations for corporations to invest in sponsorship: “A return on investment for the sponsoring organization;” “A financial or other measurable benefit for the organization (e.g., higher volumes of product sales); and” “A marketing outcome (e.g. greater levels of brand equity)” (224). They also discuss broad corporate objectives, product-related objectives, sales objectives, media objectives, and personal objectives of corporate sponsorship, all of which involve creating stronger consumer and investor relations, promoting the company, and generating more income. Olson (2016) also discusses the motivations of corporate sponsorship, including “brand awareness,” to “drive sales,” and “to influence consumer recall, awareness, and attitude” (62). Brennan, Binney and Brady (2012) go on to say, “It becomes clear that sponsorship is more than patronage; it involves the exchange of a fee for association rights between a sponsor and a sponsee, and includes the marketing of that association by the sponsor” (224).
In simpler terms, corporations do not give their money to events and initiatives simply for the sake of generosity – corporations make gains in return for their financial donations. The aforementioned authors show how corporate sponsorship is motivated by capitalist ventures to use their money to make more money, not to end discrimination against the LGBTQ2+ community. Studies of corporate sponsorship explicitly display how it is not for the sake of aiding the LGBTQ2+ community that corporations partake in Pride events, it is for their own profit-centered motivations. Moreover, corporate sponsorship is not philanthropic, it is capitalist.
While corporate sponsorship is inherently capitalist, we do, however, live in a capitalist society in which these corporate funds allow for Pride events to take place. Of course, it is excellent that these events can run, that LGBTQ2+ Pride can be celebrated and injustice can be brought to light, but regarding the reliance on corporatization, it simply perpetuates the harmful conditions of capitalism rather than combatting root issues. Or, as philosopher Mathew Snow (2015) might say, “The result is a simultaneously flawed moral and structural analysis that aspires to fix the world’s most pressing problems on capitalism’s terms” (n.p.). In his article “Against Charity” (2015), Snow delves into the ethics of donation in the culture of capitalism. While Snow focuses on the ethics of donating to charities, his arguments stand relevant to the subject of corporate sponsorship.
As stated, there is a moral and structural problem with the act of sponsorship: Money is not given simply out of generosity or the desire to better the world, it is given with the expectation of receiving personal benefits in return. In the case of corporate sponsors, they donate money in a sponsorship agreement to gain clout for their company (Brennan, Binney & Brady, 2012; Olson, 2016). As Snow states, “The only aspect of charity worthy of analysis is how much bang donators can expect to get for their buck” (n.p.). This selfish act of donation simply reinforces the constraints of capitalism; corporations only engage with sponsorship because they are concerned with using their money to make more money. Moreover, there is little systemic change that can result from sponsorship when the motives behind it are purely self-interested. Instead of using their money to effectively change the conditions that leave the LGBTQ2+ community suffering, corporations use their money to benefit themselves. The burden of creating this necessary change should not be left on the shoulders of the LGBTQ2+ community themselves when corporations have the means to donate money to causes that provide for the well-being of LGBTQ2+ individuals and communities, the means to make meaningful change and revolutionize. As Snow (2015) says:
Rather than asking how individual consumers can guarantee the basic sustenance of millions of people, we should be questioning an economic system that only halts misery and starvation if it is profitable. Rather than solely creating an individualized “culture of giving,” we should be challenging capitalism’s institutionalized taking (n.p.).
Sadly, though, social justice is not central to the capitalist regime. Instead of using financial means to make the world better for marginalized folks, capitalism maintains the status quo by being invested primarily in the accumulation of wealth. The issue with sponsorship under capitalism is that “it implores individuals to use their money to procure necessities for those who desperately need them, but says nothing about the system that determines how those necessities are produced and distributed in the first place” (Snow, 2015, n.p.).
Due to this capitalist motivation, corporate sponsorship takes away from the political motivations of pride and turns the event into a commercialized party. Pride was initiated by the Stonewall Riots in 1969, a six-day-long uproar and protest initiated by a police raid on a popular LGBTQ2+ bar and club, the Stonewall Inn, in New York (Harrison, 2019). These six days were full of arrests, police brutality and activism. The riots sparked the momentum for the LGBTQ2+ movement; it was a battle for justice that “launched a liberation struggle that transformed the world” (Atkins, 2019, n.p.). While there was queer activism prior to Stonewall, the riots unified the community; for example, stemming from the riots, the Gay Liberation Front emerged (Atkins, 2019; Tatchell, 2019). The GLF was a group striving for a revolution; they were dedicated to abolishing oppressive systems in society, such as homophobia, racism and capitalism (Atkins, 2019). In attempts to protest and raise awareness and unity, the GLF organized the first Pride march (Tatchell, 2019).
At the Stonewall Riots and the first Pride march, there were no parades, no floats, no parties, no storefronts decorated with Pride displays, no Pride merchandise, and certainly no corporations. There was only systemic injustice and violence against the LGBTQ2+ community. Modern Pride events, however, even include the cops in the festivities and are largely funded by capitalist corporations. On this note, an article by Alsop (2001) states that “critics [of the corporatization of Pride] complain that pride parades are more about partying and selling rainbow-colored flags and teddy bears than about protesting continued discrimination” (n.p.). It seems wrong to use corporate sponsorship, an act that perpetuates the capitalist agenda, when the LGBTQ2+ movement started as devoutly anti-capitalist. Corporations are buying into and buying out Pride events by making a market out of them. The use of corporate sponsors goes against the very roots of the movement and takes away from the political motivations of the event, instead emphasizing a party-like celebration rooted in fun and commercialization.
This paper illuminates the intersecting issues of Pride and the culture of capitalism. To begin, the disproportionate effects of poverty on the LGBTQ2+ community are showcased. It is crucial to discuss the conditions of our economic system and the harm it causes its citizens, as to lay the foundation for this socio-economic analysis. After an understanding of the harm capitalism imposes on the queer community, the moral dilemmas of corporate sponsorship are introduced, including the ways that this sponsorship is not allyship, but self-centered corruption. Namely, corporations may give their money to LGBTQ2+ Pride events, but this financial support means nothing considering the fact that these same corporations also give their money to anti-LGBTQ2+ enterprises; likewise, this financial support is motivated by money, not philanthropic action for a marginalized community, simply seeing Pride as a market to profit from. On that note, the corporate sponsorship of Pride results in a sidetracking of the motivations of Pride itself: Instead of centering around advocacy for LGBTQ2+ justice, Pride events mirror queer parties and marketplaces. While it is important to celebrate and embrace the pride of the LGBTQ2+ community, and while that can be expressed through the sporting of Pride flags and attire, a crucial part of Pride is missing: The politics. Pride began with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a fight for justice for queers and queens, but the modern, corporatized Pride departs from this push for LGBTQ2+ revolution. These fallacies display how corporate sponsorship is fundamentally anti-LGBTQ2+, considering the upholding of the oppressive conditions of capitalism. Rather than helping the LGBTQ2+ community, corporate sponsors simply use the yearly LGBTQ2+ Pride events as a source of revenue, leaving the community to fend for themselves for the rest of the year, while their companies get richer and LGBTQ2+ individuals remain unemployed, starving and homeless.
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* Written for SFU SA 302W Dr. Amanda Watson 27/11/19