Last week, events concerning the LGBT community flooded the news, from Pride weekend to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. This news was celebrated by a large mass of people, LGBT-identifying and their allies.
During the week before Pride, I visited Facebook’s premises with a friend. The campus was covered in rainbow flags. Corporations such as Facebook have been sporting rainbows and Pride paraphernalia in order to show support for the LGBT community for quite some time now. In the Bay Area, where Facebook is located, this choice by the corporation to blatantly depict LGBT symbols on its company grounds reflects the liberal attitude of the region and is, ultimately, smart business. Also, Facebook added a popular feature to their site which allowed users to add a rainbow filter to their profile pictures. Other companies like Tumblr, American Airlines, Lyft, and Gap also changed their logos on social media to reflect the passing of marriage equality by the Supreme Court. But the title “ally” is given too easily for these actions.
At the annual Pride Parade in London this year, corporations like Barclays, Citibank and Starbucks led the parade at the front of the party while historical groups who have stood with the LGBT community in the UK for decades were pushed to the back. Even Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, the group depicted in the film Pride, who were looking forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the miner’s strike were displaced in favor of the companies perviously mentioned.
Despite the rampant pandering of these companies in their support of Pride, Facebook and other such corporations simplify many of the issues concerning the queer community and further marginalize the minorities within the minority.
The minimization of umbrella queer issues, like disrupting the gender binary and rampant discrimination against LGBT people of color, to just lesbian and gay issues is a strategic move on the part of corporations and mainstream white liberals — limiting the scope of people affected also limits the issues that need to be tackled concerning the queer community. ‘Gay’ concerns deviate from ‘queer’ ones, which connote the combination of race, gender, class and other possible privileges that may inform your sexuality in society. Gay is simple and assimilative, while queer reimagines a society free of other barriers and violence based on your identity — queer is inherently complicated and political, even radical. And, even in the corporations’ attempts to be allies to the LGBT community, they don’t deal with complicated, and certainly not radical.
So, while pretending to champion the rights of the gay community, these companies filter out other issues faced by the queer community. In particular, Facebook recently received heat due to their ill-informed “real name” policy, which dictated all users must use their birth names on their profiles or they would be deleted. For transgender users, this perpetrated the notion that identity is limited to what is assigned at birth, as a given gender is often linked to a given name. This was also an issue for Drag Queens, who professionally and often personally exist by their chosen names. Transgender and gender non-conforming people are generally left outside of the conversation surrounding LGBT politics as it is, and Facebook, in its attempt to be an ally, failed to see this.
The company did eventually rethink this policy after much pushback from the queer community, but that pushback was necessary, whereas issues such as gay marriage are generally accepted by the liberal corporation. While Facebook can have an entire section dedicated to itself at the San Francisco Pride Parade, the shortsightedness of neglecting the rights of transgender individuals proves the superficiality of their alliance.
Pride itself, then, becomes a sort of farce. Facebook’s sponsorship takes away the notion of Pride as a particularly queer endeavor — Pride, as it functions now, is an event for corporate allies of the gay community to express, once a year, their support for gay issues. When it began, Pride was a protest against police brutality following the raid of the Stonewall Inn, a bar used by transgender and LGBT individuals as a meet-up location as well as a place for homeless queer youth to utilize temporarily. Now, Pride is more a celebration of gay issues, distributing an illusion of real progress for queer folks. Yes, the legal system now constitutes some gay rights, but LGBT youth are still homeless, and transgender women of color are still being killed at an alarming rate in this country. Gay marriage is an easy bandwagon to get on, but naming the violence against the marginal members of the LGBT community — that is the way to be a true ally. And so, the evolution of Pride from a protest for the liberation of queers to a celebration about gay rights is premature, as well as a co-option from an event held by queer individuals to one by straight allies.
While the queer community is not monolithic, there is still a lot to be done to champion the rights of the community as a whole. The corporate tendency to disguise themselves as allies to seem tolerant and respectful of gay issues tends to neglect concerns that affect others within the community and sets an illusion of inclusivity and diversity within a corporation.
In fact, these very companies do little to employ LGBTQ+ identifying individuals beyond the cis white gay man who are easily codified in the corporate world. Queer and/or trans* people of color have a harder time assimilating or even getting hired by these companies. And, ultimately, Pride and corporate allyship are about the assimilation of gays into a system built for straight people, a system where everyone must use their birth names regardless of the harmful consequences.
Even if corporations do not necessarily intend to be champions of LGBTQ+ concerns, even if they are only going to pretend like they are they should do so correctly. Placing a rainbow around your logo does not make for sufficient support. The symbolism of those six colors is starting to feel hollow.