It’s Pride Month and there are a million reminders all over the place. In fact, there are rainbows and equality signs on logos and commercials everywhere.
But in some ways, this is a tension. There’s a concept called rainbow capitalism that is the focus of a lot of critique from the LGBTQ+ community.
Rainbow capitalism is the incorporation of the LGBTQ+ movement, sexual diversity, and pinkwashing to capitalism, consumerism, gentrification, and the market economy.
Rainbow capitalism is a targeted inclusion of the queer community which has acquired sufficient purchasing power to generate a market focused specifically on them.
Rainbow capitalism presents a real quandary for those of us who want to support the LGBTQ+ community. On the one hand, all the support for the LGBTQ+ community is great. The public support for the queer community is definitely a good thing. And we want to support those businesses that are being publicly supportive of the queer community, right? Plus, easy access to products that give public support to the community is really handy. It’s super convenient to be able to go just anywhere and pick up a Pride shirt or a Pride flag. It makes supporting the cause easy, and it seems like that should be a good thing.
But there’s a definite down-side to this. One, Pride is a decidedly anti-establishment celebration. When corporations and cops jump on the Pride bandwagon it is very much NOT in the spirit of Pride. Rainbow capitalism is a perversion of Pride, to be perfectly frank. And while it may be convenient for people to be able to just walk into any store and buy a Pride scarf, is a big chain store who you really want to be supporting during Pride? Aren’t LGBTQ+ vendors, the small queer owned vendors who might be harder to find but integral to the community, exactly who you should be supporting, ESPECIALLY during Pride?
On the one hand it is exciting and encouraging to see public support for the queer community from so many powerful and established corners. On the other hand, Pride is supposed to be a celebration of the queer community, which is definitively not established. It’s hard to know what exactly is best for the queer community.
As we have discussed on this podcast before, Stonewall was not just a demonstration.
The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community in response to a police raid on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The short version is that the police became violent, and the patrons of Stonewall fought back. But the full story is much more interesting and complicated than that.
By the early 1960s, Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. had launched a campaign shut down all of New York City’s gay bars. The city revoked the liquor licenses of the bars and undercover police officers worked to entrap as many gay men as possible.
Four undercover police officers entered Stonewall early that evening to gather visual evidence, as the Public Morals Squad waited outside for a signal. Once inside, they called for backup. Stonewall employees were not tipped off that a raid was coming, even though they usually were.
At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, there were just over 200 people at the Stonewall Inn. A bunch of police showed up at Stonewall and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!” The music was turned off and the main lights were turned on. There were some people there who had never been in a raid and got very confused. The more experienced ran for the doors and the windows in the bathroom, only to find that the police had barred them.
The raid did not go as planned. The usual procedure was to line up the patrons, check their identification and have female police officers take suspected trans women to the bathroom to check their genitals, and any identified were arrested. That night, trans women refused. Men began to refuse to produce their identification. The police decided to take everyone to the police station, after separating those suspected those trans women into a room in the back of the bar. A sense of discomfort spread very quickly, made worse by police who assaulted some of the lesbians by touching them inappropriately while frisking them.
Those who were not arrested were released, but on this night, they did not just leave. Instead, they stopped outside. A crowd began to grow. Within minutes, over 100 people had congregated outside, some after they were released from inside the Stonewall and some after noticing the police cars and the crowd.
A patrol wagon finally arrived to take people and alcohol away. The crowd had grown to at least ten times the number of people who were arrested. Confusion over radio communication delayed the arrival of a second wagon. The police began escorting Mafia members into the first wagon, to the cheers of the bystanders. Next, regular employees were loaded onto the wagon. Somebody shouted, “Gay power!”, someone began singing “We Shall Overcome” and the crowd began to get increasingly more amused and hostile. A cop shoved a trans woman, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse and the crowd boo’d. Pennies, then beer bottles, were thrown at the wagon and rumors began to spread that people inside the bar were being beaten.
A small fight broke out when a woman in handcuffs was being taken from the door of the bar to the waiting police wagon. She escaped a few times and fought the police, making a scene. The police had hit her on the head with a baton. Bystanders recalled that the woman encouraged the crowd to fight when she looked at them and shouted, “Why don’t you guys do something?” After a cop picked her up and threw her into the wagon, the crowd transformed into a mob and became uncontrollable.
The police tried to control the crowd, and by that, I mean they started getting a little violent with them, which only incited the crowd even more. The crowd tried to overturn the police wagon and slashed its tires. The wagon and some police cars left but were urged to return by lead police officers quickly. The activity outside of Stonewall was quickly attracting more and more people who were learning what was happening. People began to yell that the reason the cops were there was that they hadn’t been paid off, and the crowd responded, “Let’s pay them off!” They threw things and hurled slurs at the police. The police responded violently, and some of the crowd was pushed to a nearby construction site. At this point there were 500-600 people there. The rioters broke the building windows and uprooted a parking meter that they used as a battering ram on the door. They lit trash on fire and stuffed it through the windows. The police had access to a fire hose which they turned on the crowd, but it didn’t have any pressure, so it only served to anger the mob even more.
The Tactical Patrol Force came to free the police trapped inside the Stonewall. A number of officers were injured. Once the police had more officers there, they detained anyone they could and put them in patrol wagons. According to the police and witnesses, it was transgender people particularly who fought back most viciously and would not go peacefully.
By 4:00 a.m., the streets had nearly been cleared. Thirteen people had been arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, and four police officers were injured. The Stonewall Inn was completely wrecked.
News of the riot spread quickly throughout Greenwich Village. There were rumors that it had been organized by the SDS, the Black panthers, or even triggered by a jealous gay cop. All day on June 28 people came to view the wreckage. Pro-gay and pro-trans graffiti appeared on the walls.
The next night there was more rioting. Some of the same people returned, but they were joined by a new crowd, as well. Gay people were out, throughout the street, expressing themselves and identifying openly, even showing affection publicly.
This time thousands of people gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn. The demonstrators spilled out of the street into the next blocks. The mob surrounded buses and cars and demanded that the occupants either admit they were gay or supported the protestors. Some demonstrators shattered the windshield of a police car.
The protestors started fires in garbage cans and after 2am the TPF was called in again. The street fighting went on until 4am.
And so the Stonewall Riot kickstarted the gay movement. After that the LGBTQ+ movement was much more visible and active in America. The Stonewall Riot was an outburst of LGBTQ+ frustration at being oppressed and marginalized and after that the gay community publicly said they weren’t going to take it anymore.
This also explains why establishment support of Pride is problematic in general.
You see rainbows on cop cars or the police at Pride events and on the one hand that’s fantastic – it’s great that the police support the LGBTQ+ community. It’s like the marginalized have state support. But at the same time, Pride started as a riot. There is nothing more anti-cop than Pride.
This is worth thinking about right now because of what happened in Idaho.
According to Daniel Walters,
Dozens of members of a white supremacist group were arrested on Saturday in Idaho before they could act on plans to riot at a local Pride event, the police said.
After receiving a tip from a concerned citizen, the police detained and charged 31 people who belonged to a far-right group known as Patriot Front, said Lee White, the chief of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, at a news conference.
In this situation, the police acted to protect Pride. Pride was at risk because of extremists and police stepped in to keep Pride and those who celebrate Pride safe.
But the history of Pride is that the police are not there to protect the LGBTQ+ community. How is the community supposed to know whether they can trust the establishment?
Situations like this illustrate the continually changing and complicated relationship between the queer community and the establishment. Pride is a reminder that the LGBTQ+ movement started as a decidedly anti-cop agenda. But now the queer community depends on the legal system for protection. The major successes of the queer movement have happened in the legal world over the last few years. Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. US, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Bostock v. Clayton County, were all major victories and moves forward in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, and they were all major upheavals within the legal system. These were legal decisions – changes from within the establishment. Not revolutionary, but evolutionary. The queer community’s biggest victories have recently come from the establishment itself.
So Pride is complicated. It has morphed into something very different than what it once was, and not everybody is convinced that is such a good thing.
BUT – one thing remains the same, regardless of how you feel about rainbow capitalism and the establishment’s relationship to Pride: the goal is to support the queer community. The LGBTQ+ community is still marginalized. They still face tons of prejudice. Pride Month is about showing your support for that community in all its complexities.
Music in this episode is “Fearless First” by Kevin MacLeod at https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3742-fearless-first.