We’re on our way out of the city to spend some time in the woods. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians, and the mountains here are different from what I’ve always understood mountains to be. Since first arriving in Seattle, I’ve wanted to spend time among the trees and away from the noise of the city. But this weekend is an inopportune time to leave. It’s Pride weekend.
I’ve never attended a major city’s pride festival, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I struggled to understand my sexuality for a long time, and now that I’ve reached a point of clarity and I’m more comfortable with what I’ve discovered, there seems to be no better way to celebrate than by dressing in rainbow and dancing through the streets of the city among hundreds of other people who feel similarly.
But it’s important to recognize that while pride celebrations advertise inclusion and acceptance, many people are excluded. Pride parades tend to be incredibly homogenous—they’re mostly attended by cis white people. The visible signs of progress we’ve seen in the past year or two almost only pertain to gay sexuality and only benefit people whose other identities aren’t oppressed—massive corporations changing their logos to rainbow for the month of June, more mainstream films featuring gay characters, rainbow flags everywhere. This kind of traction conflates queerness with gayness and propels racism, classism, and transphobia. Everything is about maintenance of power, and evidently, the same large companies that funded over half of NYC’s pride celebration in 2016 also fund politicians who support anti-LGBTQ policies. By celebrating pride by just dedicating a single weekend to hanging “love is love” posters and flying rainbow flags, we reduce the fight for queer liberation to just sexual orientation (and sometimes gender identity) and fail to address the inequities queer people face because of their specific intersectional identities when also considering race and class. Many people seem to think that white-washed pride parades are indicative of movement along the path toward equality. And that thought is partially true, but it’s certainly not indicative of the full fight.
Seattle is experiencing a homelessness crisis. The number of homeless people in Seattle is growing faster than any other city in the US. There are people sleeping on the sidewalk immediately beneath rainbow retail window displays and rainbow supermarket signs. I couldn’t help but notice the incredible irony here—it’s been estimated that an upwards of forty percent of the homeless youth population is queer. These massive corporations that change their logos to rainbow for pride month boast being progressive and inclusive but simultaneously have stores and office spaces in downtown Seattle that gentrify the city and widen wealth inequality, both of which contribute to the housing crisis. Again, “queer inclusion” is a euphemism for wealthy, white queer inclusion. Broader institutions and policymakers on the whole continually fail to examine race and class. And intersectionality isn’t intersectionality without examining race and class. Here are two images I found on Twitter:
Painting a bench rainbow doesn’t do anything for the queer homeless youth who don’t have a place to sleep. And painting that rock rainbow demonstrates how the movement leaves certain queer people behind.
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Last week, we had dinner with a man who was previously homeless. His story was one of individual failure. He continually said his alcoholism was a personal deficiency that caused him to become homeless. In preparation for the dinner, we watched a video titled “Seattle is Dying” that aired on local news in the spring. And that video also heavily blamed addiction and alcoholism for the homelessness crisis. I’ve struggled with this rationale. By reducing the problem to an explanation that centers around individual behavior, we fail to address the much larger systemic issues that are perpetuating the homelessness crisis—housing injustice, eviction bias on the basis of race, and a general disregard and lack of support for an entire group of people within the city. Placing the blame on the individual is rhetoric that reflects the broader society’s unwillingness to support a struggling population because of racist and classist structures. It’s not an accident that Black people are disproportionately evicted and face shorter eviction timelines. And similarly, it’s not an accident that Black people make up the majority of the homeless population.
The same sentiment holds true when talking about the pride movement. Pride month seems to be showcasing a selective allyship—one that allows people with power in society to appear inclusive while maintaining their power and not addressing inequities on the basis of race and class.
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So if you’re thinking about going to a pride parade, also think about going to your senator’s office and advocating for some policy change. Or go to the mountains on Pride weekend.