It’s Pride month, from Christopher Street to the Castro! Have you penciled in a date yet to get wasted with your domestic partner on Bud Light at the Hard Rock Cafe — they’re both, after all, principal corporate sponsors of San Francisco Pride98. It’s important to support huge, bloodsucking corporations who toss a few bones to our Leaders…after all, gay and lesbian rights are the right to buy what we want from those who advertise in order to attract our disposable income!
Ever since the committee started placing barricades along the route of the march, the parade has been careening downhill. Anniversaries of the Stonewall Riots were at first a brave rite of liberation and a defiant demand for the right to simply exist; in subsequent years, they evolved into community events and political celebrations in which tens of thousands participated. Those who marched could find a friend to hang out with on the sidewalks for a while; and those who watched were often inspired to hop into the parade by a contingent that made them want to dance, or get naked, or scream their righteous anger at a world that would still rather see them dead or institutionalized than strong, secure, and proud. Now the last Sunday each June is a choreographed spectacle, hermetically sealed from the community it ostensibly belongs to by two parallel miles of police barricades.
That’s not right.
The Pride98 logo & theme was first widely advertised to Bay Area queers on the back of the Bay Times issue of May 28th: a rainbow seismograph trace is the logo, and the theme is “Shakin It Up!” Get it? Earthquakes? San Francisco? How we queers are so wild & crazy? You can pretend it’s political if you want to, but the cleverest thing about this year’s slogan is it’s shapelessness. It’s just as easy to think of “Shakin It Up” as a party thing, or a dance thing, or a fun-with-cheap-champagne thing, or –whatever!
At a juncture in history when brand recognition is capitalism’s holy grail, “Shakin It Up” must have cost the committee a fortune: designed to appeal to anyone, it means absolutely nothing. Personally, it brought me back to my childhood: does anybody out there remember Shake-a-Pudding…capped plastic cups with instant pudding mix inside that Mom used to buy in four-paks, just add milk and shake? My sister and I used to beg for them. The ads on TV were fabulous! But in real life, of course, they were so…so…chalky.
What else has the Pride98 committee come up with? Well, they’re telling potential corporate sponsors (on their web site), that “Pride is a peaceful and happy event. The relaxed Pride audience is therefore at it’s most receptive to your message.” In describing the day itself, they say that “downtown San Francisco is transformed into a temporary theme park.” They say that “The Pride audience is a gateway to the gay consumer” and that, all in all, we’re “a marketing cocktail worthy of serious interest.” No, I’m not making this up. Those who have access to the internet are advised to check out http://www.sf-pride.org. I recommend that you take a prophylactic dose of Alka-SeltzerTM first.
Now. I know I don’t really have to preach this to you, the converted, but… Parties and celebrations are great — there’s no doubt that we’ve come a way since Stonewall, and I’m as happy as the next faggot that there are places on the planet where we’re not (usually) killed for being ourselves. But let’s be real. The most basic civil rights for queers are still regarded by most folks as something that’s completely over the top…being against AIDS (whatever that means) and against wholesale lynching, that’s fine — but folks out in that mainstream don’t want to encourage us either…think of the children! And, speaking of the children, out there in the real world not thirty miles from the heart of organized queerdom, in sunny San Leandro, dedicated teachers — some of them straight! — are being hounded out of the district because they’ve been faculty sponsors of a school club where queer teens can hang out, talk with each other, and feel safe instead of suicidal. The Indigo Girls, who arranged to perform for free at six high schools earlier this year, had their shows canceled at three of them (in Tennessee and South Carolina), partly because of “profanity” in their lyrics, but mainly because they’re lesbians. The Indigo Girls! Please, girlfriend, if Amy and Emily were any cleaner they’d squeak! And let’s not forget our own: in San Francisco itself, our friend Deni had to fight for several months not to be disciplined for the “offense” of coming out to her third and fourth graders.
It’s outrageous that the parade committee is organizing an event that trivializes queer politics in order to maximize an opportunity to round the lot of us up for cost-effective administration of specially crafted commercial messages. If the tendency toward bureaucratic commercialization of our annual march isn’t checked, there can be no doubt that things will get worse over time. Teddy Witherington, as of this year the first paid executive director the SF Pride Parade has ever had, asserts that “The [parade] organization is run by a board of volunteer directors, supported by a growing staff of full time professionals.” The key word, in my reading of that sentence, is “growing.” As the bureaucracy bloats, it will become more and more concerned with justifying an ever more voracious appetite for corporate sponsorship. What used to be “whatever you can spare” at the end of the parade route will this year be a “requested donation [of] $5 per person” — how far from there to a price of admission? To our own damn party! !!
A number of Folks We Know have been mounting an intense propaganda campaign focused mainly in the Castro. These bad, bad people, who are wheat-pasting signs all over our nice, clean homosexual shrine to commodity fetishism, are bringing the excesses of the parade organization to the attention of the queer-on-the-street. The posters assert that “It’s a Movement Not a Market,” that “It’s a Community, Not a Commodity.” They’re asking people to “Crash the Parade,” and have put up schematic diagrams of how to take apart police barricades. A guest editorial originally meant to be printed in the B.A.R. is being posted around the Castro instead; numerous letters to the editor have been sent to the queer rags; hopefully some will actually appear. An article about the “Crash the Parade” campaign is supposed to appear in the Bay Guardian on June 24th.
On the day of the parade itself, we’re hoping that folks take back the march — that people (carefully) dismantle or climb over the barricades in order to be free to join their friends and comrades in the march and on the sidewalks, as each one pleases. If you’ve been steering clear of Pride Day in recent years, this may be the one to come back to, the one to reclaim.
It’s now or never. Crash the parade!