Nobody has claimed that Philly’s innovative new rainbow crosswalks at 13th and Locust streets in the Gayborhood were going to end homophobia or provide employment non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers. That’s good, because they absolutely will not do these things. They’re symbols, festive and welcoming.
Maybe those rainbow crosswalks should do more than just look pretty and gay, though.
Rainbows: From Noah to now
Rainbows haven’t always been symbols for LGBTQ people. They have, however, always been connected to over-the-top stunts. In the Bible, after annihilating all life on Earth with rain because he didn’t like the vibe, God purportedly threw the rainbow up in the sky as a reminder to himself to not get mad and kill everything again — with water, at least.
It’s high camp — like a Batman villain plan or a John Waters movie script.
The rainbow’s gay rebirth happened when San Francisco’s Gilbert Baker came up with using the prism on flags last century to represent a dizzying collection of various concepts. Today, the rainbow claims space. It’s a symbol — of safety, support, and camaraderie. In Philly, we even added a black and brown stripe to communicate greater diversity and inclusion. Pride rainbows now exist in many forms, but each one always signals that where it is, it is safe to exist as a queer person.
At least it did. In my view, the assertive right to exist contained in the LGBTQ rainbow and, relatedly, Pride as a concept is getting lost. Replacing it: an array of positive but unhelpful or even not-so-positive structures and practices. For example, mainstream cultural acceptance, vague feel-good rhetoric about diversity, corporate jobs, state endorsement, and, most dangerously, a false sense of security amid nonexistent or now severely threatened legal protections.
From protest to parade …
June is Pride Month because it’s when the Stonewall Riots occurred, on June 28, 1969. Stonewall wasn’t the first queer rights protest (nor was it the revisionist, hagiographic myth some have made up, either). But it was the flashpoint, the Lexington and Concord of queer America, driven by a diverse community of queer people.
Primarily, the riots were about having enough of the law and order crowd, a socially acceptable mask for many authoritarians, donning drag as cops who regularly brutalized LGBTQ people. New York City’s LGBTQ community had had enough. Protests continued, and, perhaps because they were driven by some of the greatest humans on earth, also became enough of a phenomenon to transform into celebrations — parades.
Soon thereafter, quirky, far-left experiments in Hawaii and Vermont in the 1990s netted a winning streak of Supreme Court cases and federal laws — most notably, outright, not separate, totally equal, marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.
All this outward acceptance enables complacency.
Suddenly, LGBTQ characters were no longer fringe sitcom clowns with a line or three for a cheap laugh. In TV and film, they were sometimes the straight man, comedy-wise at least. Imagine seeing in 1990 Brooklyn-99’s Lt. Raymond Holt, an overly starched police supervisor who happens to be gay played perfectly deadpan by actor Andre Braugher — who happens to be straight.
These days, the same alcohol companies that historically targeted the LGBTQ community, sponsor Pride festivities. Federal agency LGBTQ groups clamor to participate. Conservative structures and symbols — like the nuclear style family, monogamous marriage, the military, the church, and yes, even the cops — are out in full force at Pride. Rainbows adorn their offices and spaces in June. It’s welcome. It’s normal. It’s downright establishment. And yet, it’s totally … not.
All this outward acceptance enables complacency. Some of us see those rainbow crosswalks and take LGBTQ existence for granted. They see an imaginary, Apple TV-made pro soccer player kissing his boyfriend on a field after a game, and assume the fight is over. Like when Barack Obama became president, and people were like: “Racism? What racism? But look at that guy! ”
By all accounts, it looked like we won. Like we became part of the normies. Maybe we are — in the Gayborhood. But, look around the rest of the country, state and world, and you’ll see there’s a long road ahead — and it isn’t exactly rainbow striped.
Rainbows have not crosswalked PA
See, you might see all those employee resource groups across corporate America and think you can’t be fired for being gay anymore. But once you, dear Philadelphian, cross City Line Avenue, it becomes a question. Across Pennsylvania, and unless your town or county has protections as strong as Philadelphia’s local ordinances, you can be fired from your job simply for being LGBTQ.
That said, Pennsylvania House Democrats have moved toward substantive progress. They recently passed the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, an amendment to the PA Human Relations Act. The amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.” Just two Republicans joined the majority, the entire Democratic caucus minus one, 102 to 98.
Hooray for bipartisanship.
To me, “Love is love” sounds more like a straight marketer’s idea of what being LGBTQ is all about,
Now it’s onto the Republican state senate where doomed gubernatorial candidate and chemtrails enthusiast Doug Mastriano sits on a perch thanks to the voters of Franklin and Adams counties. This should go well, right?
As we have seen with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, book bans targeting LGBTQ writers and themes nationwide, Uganda’s newly passed death penalty for the so-called crime of homosexuality, humiliating and alienating state efforts targeting trans youth, and upticks in hate crimes overall, the war is hardly over at home or abroad. If anything, we’ve been in a ceasefire the past few years. Hostilities have resumed.
Standing atop the rainbow streets, did we even know we were still at war? And do we even remember what the fight is actually about?
Hero of the 95 rebuild Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat and stalwart ally of the LGBTQ community, conveyed perfectly how Pride and its symbols have become a vague, anodyne feel-good concept more than a demand for space and life.
“You have a home in Pennsylvania,” he wrote, “no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or who you choose to pray to or not pray to.”
While these are all important ideas, they don’t need Pride. Most are already protected by the U.S. Constitution; others are more personal moral concepts we hopefully get taught as children. The one that barely touches on Pride is whom we love, but even that is unrelated to LGBTQ people’s right to exist, “Love is love” be damned.
Love is love is … a trap
It’s worth noting how popular “Love is love” is as a slogan for LGBTQ inclusion and rights — in the face of the three-word phrase’s absurdity. To wit, do I cease being gay if I am not having sex or dating or married or generally in love? If not, then why is who I take to bed (or even pine for from afar) the center of LGBTQ Pride catch-phrasing? To me, it sounds more like a straight marketer’s idea of what being LGBTQ is all about, a fine enough message that’s primarily meant to hawk merchandise. This probably explains why it and like messages are on all the merchandise.
People like me, sexual and gender minorities, the alphabet people, the LGBTQIA’ers have a right to live our lives and exist, single, coupled, thrupled, or otherwise. And f#$% you, frankly, if you don’t agree.
Don’t worry, I’m not just hurling profanity. I’m implying that if you oppose our right to exist and live our lives, we will try civil means to reach a just outcome. And if we don’t, we will start breaking shit again, setting trash bins, police cars, and other public assets on fire just as we did in Stonewall.
That is Pride’s core messaging to me. It is the type of demand Frederick Douglass insisted was necessary for power to concede anything.
Our corporate overlords will not protect us
If you’re thinking: But Budweiser loves you. You’ll be fine.
It’s true that our corporate allies rely on us both as employees but also as customers. But it’s pretty clear we can’t rely on them.
One of them, Target, (you may have shopped there) has consistently cultivated a positive brand image within the queer community. You might even think that they’ve stood with us boldly, maybe even risked profits to do the right thing by us when it really counted.
The minute things get a little dicey, you can expect those places festooning lobbies with rainbows to forget Pride Month even exists.
Anyway, this month Target removed Pride merchandise from many stores because a handful of aggressively heterosexual people totally not overcompensating became sex-obsessed perverts over some rainbows online and in-person. These raging straight people also defamed LGBTQ people with one of the oldest, and most bigoted, falsehoods that we were “grooming” children by having rainbows on kids’ shirts along with positive slogans.
If ever there was a time for returning our symbols and celebrations to radicalism, or LGBTQ Wrath Month coming after Pride Month, it would be this year.
It isn’t just Target. Society is so shallow and uncommitted to LGBTQ people that since businesses are more interested in money than equality, so many have ended or muted Pride recognition due to criticism by homophobes this year that LGBTQ makers and creatives are suffering financially during what is usually their busiest season.
We see, then, that the minute things get a little dicey, you can expect those places festooning lobbies with rainbows to forget Pride Month even exists.
Big companies can afford to forget. They’ll find a new campaign. They’ll go from “Love is love” to, “I don’t know her,” without skipping a beat. Meanwhile, we’ll be left wondering what happened to our social acceptance — at best. Surface-level ally-ship may appear to be better than outright hostility, but it’s actually more dangerous. It makes us forget that the rainbow is a symbol, not a sign. We should be more wary of strangers who adopt it — and more protective of all that it stands for.
Our current kumbaya Pride messaging and all the social acceptability in the world has made the rainbow, our Pride celebrations, more ubiquitous than ever before. Yet, it’s also made Pride unsatisfyingly amorphous, lacking both the sharp angles of protest and any clear definition.
Pride today is squishy. Feel good for all. Confusing to me. Because when you’re about everything to everyone, you’ve basically erased what made you unique and, well, queer.
And while I know that anthropomorphic crosswalks do not yet exist and so they cannot assault passersby, I do wonder if we should start envisioning a world where Philly’s rainbow crosswalks start figuratively tripping some people who surely deserve it.
Maybe then Pride will be a little less fuzzy and the rainbow a little clearer.
MORE LGBTQ+ COVERAGE FROM THE CITIZEN
Yes, those are Skittles, rounding out this Pride merchandise display at a Dadeland Florida Target. Photo by Phillip Pessar via Flickr