An end to corporate control of our Pride

Reclaim Pride Coalition has been focused on returning Pride March Sunday to its roots in People Power: the ability of people in marginalized, disadvantaged, and oppressed communities to collectively demand and create societal change. Over the 49 years since the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march from Sheridan Square to The Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the annual pride has morphed from its original, galvanizing intentionality into a corporate fueled cross between The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Mardi Gras. The visibility of the most marginalized of our queer communities and the pressing needs so many queer communities need to be addressed have become, at most, window dressing for a an overly long, non-stop cavalcade of corporate floats, signage and useless, branded plastic trinkets.

In 2017, HOP (Heritage of Pride, the organizers of “Pride” events since 1984) announced the coup of getting NYC’s WABC Channel 7 to broadcast the parade’s first three hours. In the aftermath of the most disastrous election result in our lifetimes, HOP wisely agreed to allow an organized contingent of 20-odd old and new activist and advocacy organization – old and new – to march as The Resistance toward the front of the parade and to appear on camera on Channel 7.We were given an entire (wide) block in midtown to organize our many groups into a cohesive grouping of distinct organizations marching in resistance to the horror occupying the Oval Office. The presence of the Resistance contingent was briefly mentioned on air.

Jay, the author, at the NYC antifascist demonstration on March 16th,

The following year, however, the WABC coverage took a decidedly corporate turn. One particularly galling sequence was emblematic of the coverage: a T-Mobile representative appeared to blather on about what an LGBT friendly corporation they are, as the cameras filming the parade showed the T-Mobile float. Then WABC cut to – you guessed it – a T-Mobile commercial.  The Resistance was placed further back in the parade, with a step off time scheduled for the moment that the WABC airing ended, 3:00pm – and actually started closer to 5:00 after most spectators had left the sidelines. To add insult to injury, HOP gave the Resistance contingent, which consisted of 20-some different groups, a narrow block of West 17th Street with two active construction sites as a staging area to share with 5 different other large groups, one of which had a full-sized bus. It was a nightmare that made it seem that HOP wasn’t simply uninterested in the existential threat that the hyper-capitalist, authoritarian, proto-fascist trump regime posed to our communities; they wanted to ensure that members of the Resistance had as miserable a time as possible. Well, if that was the case, then HOP succeeded.

In addition to that crass level of hucksterism exemplified by T-Mobile’s shining moment, there were other examples of Heritage of Pride bending over backwards to appease their corporate sponsors. At meetings and public forums held after the 2018 HOP Parade there were revelations that while community groups were given a limit of only 200 marchers (as an ultimately ineffective attempt to shorten the length of the parade,) corporate sponsors were allowed hundreds more to march in their contingents. There were deals regarding placement in the televised portion of the parade. HOP defended themselves with their standard line: “We need their money to produce the March (as they insist on calling their parade in the face of the evidence in front of any beholder’s eye.) “We give donations to smaller organizations.” But their arguments fail to counter the pervasive sentiment, that HOP has become a group of corporate-funded party planners more interested in holding a successful party than in bringing our community together to fight for our rights–especially in a time where globally they are being attacked.

Before November, 2016; our communities could overlook the drift that has taken place at the Pride Parade over the past 2+ decades. That is not possible any longer. And that is why The Reclaim Pride Coalition has spent the last year working to give New Yorkers a Pride MARCH that values the lives of our many communities across the globe, and the lives of members of other oppressed, marginalized, and ignored communities, as well: from people living with disabilities to Black and Brown communities to victims of sex trafficking to sex workers to people living under the boots of Trump’s authoritarian cronies around the world. None of us are free until all of us are free. And the revolution will not have corporate sponsors.

Jay W. Walker is a founding member of and organizer for Gays Against Guns, Rise and Resist, and the Reclaim Pride Coalition in New York, NY. Professionally, he is the Director of Development for the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark, NJ.