I don’t get out to the BIG San Francisco events these days. Where once my eyes looked up and watered over from hope and stray glitter, now they tend to look elsewhere for SF Pride and Folsom Street. There’s all the waste, the trash, the dominating force of Big Booze ™ shilling Absolut Vodka and Budweiser, and the huge crushing crowds, terrible food, and the heart palpitations all of this gives me. No, I don’t care to see a parade of massive corporations demonstrating how tolerant they are despite whatever implications their brand and profits might mean for people, animals, water, and the globe at large. No, I don’t care for the tons of plastic crap manufactured with pride.
Pride and Folsom have had brave sexual components because of the illegality of what they were displaying in public. It was a protest. I’m all for Bacchanalia, believe me. It’s also important to remember that it was about taking something that people were being arrested and brutalized over and putting out in public view. It was about challenging how and why people were being marginalized for what they were already doing in private. Blowing someone in public was the reminder that the sun didn’t turn to blood, the streets weren’t suddenly cracking open, and there was no legitimate reason why people were being pulled from their bars and bedrooms and subject to a criminal record and all the damages therein.
I heard about “Gay Shame” when I was in college and I didn’t disagree with them totally but I wanted to have my day in the sun, a party celebrating something that had isolated me as a kid and a teenager, and most of all a good goddamn time. I wanted to put down my politics, pick up a beer, and just let it all go. Those Gay Shamers seemed a little uptight and political to me. Sure, corporations had some pretty bad policies but having Bank of America come out to the parade meant that others would to, right? Mainstream acceptance meant safety. If those stodgy old banker dudes could see why an event like pride where they knew there’d be drag queens and naked guys in cock rings and little baby dykes stomping around in their first pair of big black boots and a miniskirt trying on subversive in public for the first time ever then surely “we” were winning, right? Right? There were too many politicians in convertible cars waving to the masses for us to be losers.
Assimilation is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years and I had a lot of unquestioned white, cis, and class privilege I never considered in my early analysis of pride. “Gay Rights” seemed to be about collecting as many beads thrown by the banks and “queer revolution” saw them less as gifts and more as the ways and means people are strangled. What does it mean that I used to experience gratitude for massive, massive corporations to toss trinkets down onto the crowds rather than to demand that the cease their countless human rights violations, theft, and destruction. For whom is it better, exactly, that the mega corporations and banks enter a float in the parade and some extra cash to close the streets and enhance the exposure of their live action advertisements? “Gay Shame” as an organization might not be active but its ideas are still alive and they started to connect with me.
After you’ve lived in a dense city for a while, the joy of a giant drunken street fair wears off and you’re pretty much left with street closures and puke on the sidewalk. People complain about the ‘bridge and tunnel crowd’ which is an insult “real San Franciscans” love to use whenever a large event in the city sucks, i.e. “Pride was great when it was really about queers in San Francisco but the bridge and tunnel crowd ruined it.” I don’y know there, sparky. One might say that it’s a blind class-based statement since it costs an arm, a leg, a first born, and a job at a high end start up to live in the city of San Francisco proper but that’s a blog entry for another day. Suffice to say, whenever a queer/perv of class agrees that “Pride is soooo over,” and blames it on people commuting to the city, I tend to think they should self-fornicate with a cheese grater. But that’s just me and my usual rage bubbling up again.
I wasn’t going to go to SF Pride this year because it’s not my thing. I did feel a moment of pleasant surprise when I heard that Pfc. Manning was named Grand Marshall. I felt, dare I say it, pride for Pride. It was a welcome return to the fact that many heroes are imprisoned for their courage. It’s something that the event participants and their leaders needed to remember. We are marginalized, our sexualities and genders are totally ignored (often even by our loved ones and supporters) or are used to attack us. That we are not safe. War crimes kill people, gay and straight alike. There cannot be liberation of any kind until the war crimes of our country are exposed. I hoped that at least SF Pride might engage with transcripts and information that Pfc. Manning does not identify as male and I was uplifted that we could remember our roots, remember the point of resistance and protest, that we could fight back against oppression.
But of course all the little things of SF Pride’s pattern of assimilation and being a corporate lackey indicated a philosophy that came to a head when Lisa Williams, the president of the SF Pride board, released a statement declaring that Manning was not to become the 2013 San Francisco Pride Grand Marshall and then went on to utilize some ugly semantics that went beyond being a usual toady to the interests of corporations, politicians, and the state and went right into some straight up fascism:
Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country. There are many, gay and straight, military and non-military, who believe Bradley Manning to be innocent. There are many who feel differently. Under the US Constitution, they have a first amendment right to show up, participate and voice their opinions at Pride this year.
It is vital to note that the documents that Manning released did NOT place anyone in immediate danger and served only to reveal war crimes committed by the US government, that there are plenty of individuals in the military who were NOT insulted by the release of these documents and in fact commended the bravery this entailed, and that Daniel Ellsberg had agreed to represent Manning as marshal of the parade. Ellsberg was the one who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” and revealed war crimes and willful deception perpetrated by the United States during the Vietnam War.
It’s strange that an event which was anti-government and anti-authoritarian in its conception would reveal a blossom of corruption but it is not a surprise. For decades now there have been activists asking who the event serves and what causes it is advancing. Yes, the context of queerness in America has changed. The question of same-sex marriage is being talked about at Midwest dinner tables. Perhaps also it is the fact that it is only in recent history that one may openly serve in the US military as a homosexual that makes the issue tricky. It is not a paradox to say that within the context of our contemporary society, one may simultaneously be disgusted and opposed to withholding the right to marry and the right to express one’s identity as a soldier and also decry marriage and the military. No one should be persecuted for their gender or their sexual orientation, full stop.
That doesn’t mean that marriage and the military are the end all, be all of queer rights. We have the largest prison population in the world, this includes queers. We have 5 empty homes (largely due to foreclosure) for every homeless person in America, this includes queers. We have a country without healthcare, this includes queers. We are murdering people in other countries with drones and bombs and illegal prisons, this includes queers. Gay rights are human rights, human rights are gay rights.
There has been outrage at the SF Pride Board and specifically Lisa Williams. Previous Grand Marshals like Susie Bright have openly expressed disgust along with many others, there have been protests, and Glenn Greenwald at the UK Guardian knocks it out of the park by pointing out how Pride has gotten into bed with patently immoral and unethical companies all for the sake of hosting a huge and prestigious party in article, “Bradley Manning is off limits at SF Gay Pride parade, but corporate sleaze is embraced.” He points out that AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Clear Channel, Kaiser Permanente are all welcome as sponsors of the event and lists the many hugely illegal activities that these companies have engaged in with utter impunity.
What amazes me is the bold stance that Lisa Williams takes in that statement. It is clear that SF Pride is no longer an event for the people, it is an event for the upper crusty corporate class. It is not about change, it is about the status quo. That statement could have been as watered down as the drinks served at pride. It so clearly forgot that it was illegal to be queer but that never meant it was wrong. It’s a reminder about the company we keep and the interests we serve with our actions.
I won’t be at SF Pride this year. It’s one part the huge crowds, another part declining interest, a firm distaste for an onslaught of advertisements, and absolute anger that someone who acted with immense love and courage for all people could be disparaged by such a disgusting statement by the president of the pride board. It went over and beyond its call of predictable cowardly duty. Despite the outcry and the growing number of angry facebook comments, nothing is really going to change for SF Pride until people take action at the event itself. Passive activism cannot match the sheer sums of veritable blood money offered by the sponsors. That fact is one of the strongest supporting statements about who the event serves. It doesn’t matter what people think or say, it matters that the paid positions behind the