For a moment, let’s set aside whether or not PRIDE should or should not have given into the demands of Black Lives Matter. It’s still an important question, one that will require a great deal of examination and community dialogue. But we also need to explore how it is that the concerns of the black community came to rest with PRIDE organizers. There are actually two main areas of investigation:
- Why target the LGBT community and not another minority community, many of which have also had historical confrontations with the Police?
- Why the PRIDE parade and not other civic celebrations?
The Soft Target
Simply, PRIDE parades became a tool in the Black Lives Matter arsenal because they were easy pickings. In an effort to become evermore inclusive, parades have become a hodgepodge of issues and actions. For the most part, all that’s needed is to provide some tenuous connection to the LGBT community. So, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, PETA, Planned Parenthood and Gays Against Guns all march, despite these concerns being only tangentially relevant to the gay rights movement.
With such precedence, how could PRIDE organizers possibly disallow Black Lives Matter? It would seem hypocritical and disingenuous.
Certainly, there is power in numbers. And there is an argument to support those who wouldn’t draw nearly as much attention on their own. But BLM has a proven ability to organize their own rallies, marches and protests, and so hardly needs the sponsorship of PRIDE in order to thrive.
The concern here is that we may have reached a crisis point where the umbrella has gotten so big that it threatens to collapse under the weight of irrelevance.
Gay is Now Mainstream
Despite the efforts of a great number of activists, the typical PRIDE parade is overwhelmingly white, young and male. This is no accident; the image that the LGBT community projects to mainstream society, and often to itself, is similarly skewed.
It has become such a problem that the lesbian and trans communities often feels disenfranchised to the point of mounting their own separate and distinct rallies and marches. With these constituencies largely withdrawing their talents and time from the traditional parade, the unintended consequence is to make the PRIDE parade that much more obviously white, young and male – a self-fulfilling paradox.
Add to this the prevalence of corporate sponsorship, and the PRIDE parade is barely distinguishable from the while male privilege of mainstream society. Altogether, along with the overall party atmosphere, the parade feels more like a circuit party on wheels than a human rights protest.
So, if you’re black and in full civil disobedience demonstration mode, you’re really going to stand out among the genteel nature of the modern PRIDE parade.
Power to the People
In what may prove to be one of the great ironies of the contemporary rights movement: the LGBT community has arrived. Not universally, and certainly more so in large urban centers. But by nearly every measure that counts, gays have achieved a cultural and legal shift in status that is both unexpected and unprecedented. Or at least the white, respectable, middle class image of the LGBT community has.
It was this carefully crafted image of “gay normalcy” that helped bring acceptance, and the social power that comes with it. Gay slurs are now unacceptable among polite society. Although it waxes and wanes, strong LGBT characters and personalities are now routinely depicted in the media. Gays are increasingly openly becoming political and business leaders. It’s not true equality yet, but it’s steadily moving in that direction.
The same cannot be said for visible minorities. So, if your objective is to disrupt the status quo, this newly enfranchised LGBT cohort is as valid a target as any other. Especially if empowerment came as the result of dressing in the guise of the oppressor.
If racism and bigotry are all about power, taking power from one identifiable group to enhance the power of the establishment, then the whiteness of PRIDE is a perfect mark.
A Cast of Thousands
In those places which host a PRIDE parade, it is often the largest and most visible celebration on the civic calendar. Thousands, and often hundreds of thousands participate, both as participants and spectators. That’s a huge audience. It’s also a huge logistical challenge to organize and marshal; any little glitch can cause a massive interruption.
Any radical social movement is going to see this as a prime target for disruption. It’s actually a wonder that it doesn’t happen more often.
Equality Means Treating Everyone Equally
There are many other annual events with similar protest potential. In Vancouver, we have the May Day rally, the Santa Claus Parade, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Chinese New Year Parade, the Vaisakhi Day Parade, and a host of others – not to mention all the fun run and Marathon races that occupy the city’s streets. Why have none of these been the target of Black Lives Matter?
Many of these, and other community events besides, invite the participation of the Vancouver Police: http://vancouver.ca/police/organization/operations/traffic/traffic-services/motorcycle-drill-team/. Yet none have been hit or even threatened by BLM.
Why has PRIDE been blind to having been singled out? Why aren’t the celebrations by ethnic minorities, many the victims of past police repression, similarly being held to account? Why do those who worship the ultimate symbol of European hegemony, Old St. Nick, get a pass? Didn’t the cops once bash in the heads of striking labour unions? And if urban mythology is to be believed, haven’t the Irish been disproportionately represented among police ranks?
Hey, BLM! If you’re going to disrupt those you consider turncoats, at least be consistent.
The fact is, they’d never be welcome to participate. And BML is too afraid of the legal consequences if they forced themselves on these groups. So instead they pick the low-hanging fruit (pun intended) of the queer community.
Social Action for All
Whether it’s a sign of solidarity, or that misery loves company, the PRIDE parade has become the largest umbrella of social equality endeavours in the Western world. Undoubtedly, it’s a testament to the LGBT community’s ability to be fabulous on a grand scale.
The LGBT community is composed of many disparate parts. The parade tries to recognize this ethnic, religious, political, sexual and cultural diversity by showcasing representatives of its constituent community organizations. But when did dog rescue and environmental concerns become synonymous with the gay rights movement? Not to mention all those corporate floats whose inclusion is primarily intended to help pay the bills.
Does PRIDE need to be such a massive sandbox that everyone is entitled to play? Haven’t Vancouver’s ethnic communities demonstrated that they are capable of being visible and proud without raining on someone else’s parade?
A Foot in Both Camps
It’s one of those accidents of history that a significant number of BLM leaders are also queer. Perhaps this is just a matter of “go with what you know.”
But I’m just a middle-aged white guy. So, what do I know?