Pride is personal, political, and the personal made political. Everyone has their journey with it. I actively dislike corporate engagement in Pride. But that’s easy for me to say now, as an adult surrounded by queer kin. I can afford to hold that opinion as I have carved out my space in my community.
I knew I was gay in primary school. I had my first crush in 4th class. The first time I searched ‘gay’ on the internet must have been 1998. I was greeted by stories of Matthew Shepard’s murder and George Michael’s arrest. Gay men were either the butt of a joke or deserved to be murdered for daring to exist. I didn’t search for anything again for a long time.
The very first Pride March I saw was in Galway. I was maybe 13/14 and we just happened to be visiting the city that day. It blew my little gay brain to see a bunch of people defiantly stomping down the street and being what I couldn’t be; visible queer and unapologetic about it.
I didn’t hang about and watch for too long in case some other person in the crowd saw the hunger in my eyes to be a part of it, I wasn’t quite ready to be seen myself. I think about that baby gay version of me a lot throughout Pride month. Growing up in the west of Ireland and going to a Catholic, all boys, hurling school, I was starved of representation.
When I marched in my first Pride (in Galway) in 2006 I had just turned 18. Just existing in that space was a triumph for me. At the time it was (and, in fairness, Galway remains to be) a grassroots, community-led Pride, full of hand painted posters etc.
In the years since then Pride has become a different animal to me. As I grew and changed, so did my perception of what Pride is and should be. I suddenly saw the political in it that had been lost on me before. I learned about the blood ban. I learned about Declan Flynn. I learned about how late we were to decriminalization. I attended other protests throughout the year, for Marriage Equality, for Trans Rights etc.
I often think about the much younger version of me who was dying to see themselves reflected in the world. What would I make of all these companies with rainbow logos?
Adult me can be as cynical as I like about cashing in on queerness and PinkWashing, but I think teenage me would have felt a lot less alone in the west of Ireland.
So while I agree with a lot of the dialogue around dismantling elements of Corporate Engagement in Prides, I am also fully aware that Pride is not just for me. There is another teenager out there, who will happen upon the Pride March this weekend, and feel a little less alone.
Corporations involved should do better, for sure. RTE shouldn’t platform bigots in the name of ‘balance’. Google/YouTube/Twitter/Facebook should be ensuring community standards and dismantling hate speech when it is reported. Any corporate involved in Pride should be training staff on Gender Identities and providing Gender Neutral Spaces and Bathrooms. They can sponsor Pride all they like, lots of community groups need the financial support. But they should truly live those values in the other 11 Months of the year, and make their LGBTQI+ staff feel safe and respected in their place of work.
But the community also has 11 other months to have this dialogue about when and how to dismantle and/or engage elements of corporate sponsorship.
It can feel a bit redundant to rip companies a new one for only caring in June when a lot of the community itself only engages in this dialogue in June also.
I’m fully aware of the privilege I have of writing this as a white cis-male in my own country. There is a lot more conversation to be added and heard from people of colour, migrant voices, the trans and non-binary community, those in Direct Provision, Sex Workers and many more of the marginalized and oppressed voices even within this community itself. I am not denying that.
But I will say, participate in whichever part, if any, you feel most comfortable in. There needs to be room for nuance in the dialogue between these spaces. This type of discourse is often framed in a polarizing ‘One group is entirely wrong’ style. You can feel strongly attached to Dublin Pride’s ideas, Alternative Pride’s ideas, or your own interpretation of both.
Go with where you feel safest, happiest, and represented. And don’t judge others for doing the same for themselves.
Let’s not let this dialogue burn out on July 1st.
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