45,000 marchers protest corporate Pride
With signs reading “Capitalism=Death” and “Queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism,” members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies marched down 6th Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday, taking time for two moments of silence and to shout at a Chick-fil-A where “Fuck haters” was written on pink tape marking an X on the window.
It was the first-ever Queer Liberation March, the anti-Pride demonstration meant to reclaim the annual Pride parade that has become corporation-heavy and police-ridden. Participating in Pride this year is especially tempting for many brands. This year saw millions of people streaming into New York for the U.S.’s first WorldPride celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. But consumers are tired of so-called “woke-washing” and have critiqued branded rainbow merchandise and messaging as nothing more than an attempt to capitalize off those who are marginalized. Brands like Budweiser and CW have witnessed how easily Pride campaigns, and even quick social posts, can come off as tone-deaf or offensive. Marchers of the Queer Liberation March followed the same route of the first-ever Christopher Street Liberation Day March, held a year after the riots. The march began at 9:30 am at Stonewall Inn and marchers walked along 6th Avenue up to Central Park where the afternoon event culminated in a rally with speakers and musical acts. The massive Pride parade, which featured corporate floats from companies like the NBA and Starbucks, began hours later along a different route.
Speakers at the event touched on issues surrounding how the Pride parade has evolved—everything from police involvement to its focus on celebration, when the LGBTQ+ community is still struggling. One common theme was a frustration around corporations using Pride and the entire month of June as a branding opportunity.
“Our parades all over the country have been bloated by corporations using product placement and free advertising and all these coworkers who aren’t even queer—they’re not even allies,” shouted comedian and playwright Marga Gomez onstage at the rally following the march where she emceed the event. “They’re just there because they think they’ll get beads.”
“Do you think [corporations] care about the rise of HIV/AIDS,” asked “The Normal Heart” playwright and author Larry Kramer, a speaker at the event.
Some 45,000 people participated in the anti-corporation march and rally, according to the Reclaim Pride Coalition, the group that organized the event. People used the hashtags #QueerLiberationMarch and #reclaimpride to share their photos and thoughts about the march and rally.
Many activist groups were present with their own signs and cheers.
“I’m not going to march with Delta Airlines. They’re a huge corporation. Capitalism hurts all of us, especially the vulnerable,” said Savitri Dee, director of Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping, an activist performance group, present at the rally. “We still have so much work to do that’s political and radical and they just commodified it before that can even happen.”
“It’s a great thing that it’s trendy, but it shouldn’t be about profits,” said Lena Chandhok, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
A few hours after the rally ended, branded floats lined the streets ready to participate in the crowded and delayed Pride parade.
Some brands like Smirnoff were aware of the protest against corporate Pride. Jay Sethi, VP of Smirnoff at Diageo, said it’s not surprising there was backlash because some brands are trying to insert themselves in the conversation just for Pride month with campaigns that lack commitment. Smirnoff, which featured “RuPaul’s Drag Race” performer Alyssa Edwards on its Pride float this year, is an exception, working with trans activist and actress Laverne Cox on a year-long campaign and committing to donating $1.5 million to the Human Rights Campaign. Sethi, who came out as gay last year, said he has a personal attachment to the cause and has worked to hire LGBTQ+ creatives on this year’s campaign, including 72andSunny creative director Davon Hong.
“We welcome the scrutiny,” he said. “There should be some. Brands have to do it the entire year rather than just the month of June.”