• joshuahelmer

A Pride of Straights

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

I hope I can fairly call myself an ally to the LGBTQI+ community. I have friends who would identify themselves under that banner and I support the continuing fight for equality and acceptance.

But, as a straight, cis-gender man, I also know that, while people like me should be allies to our friends, we should refrain from trying to be leaders on the subject of LGBTQI+ rights. For all the good will in the world, for someone in my position to talk about the struggles that I've never had to face would be doing a disservice to those who have. I would be drowning out voices that mattered. I can offer help, based on their guidance, and I can listen, but never lead.

However, I think I've found a topic that does befit from my perspective. The issue of straight profiteering and Pride.

Before we go any further, this isn't about straight hate or calling for some sort of weird segregation. Nor am I supporting the farcical Straight Pride parade that recently took place in Boston because with rising racism, an international refugee crisis, war, poverty, political corruption and a climate crisis threatening to engulf us all, we've already got enough mindless violence in the world. This is about straight communities (i.e. the mainstream) co-opting what is meant to be a celebration of the identities of marginalised groups for the purposes of making a few quid and having a bit of a party.

This year I vaguely attended Nottinghamshire Pride. In years past, I've thrown myself in to Pride events with the glee of a kid at Disneyland. But this year, I only managed to make my way into town for the evening, catching the tail end of the day's festivities and treating my friends and I to a little tour of some city centre bars.

On my way into town in the evening, the city was splattered with more colour than a Jackson Pollock painting. Shout out Nottingham city council for the giant pride flag on the council house and the new, permanent, rainbow road through the area of the city that hosts pride. The rest of the city was involved too. The bins had pride flags. The bars had pride flags. The restaurants had pride flags. Everywhere you looked in the city, the rainbow banners fluttered. Lovely stuff.

Until, that is, you start to take a closer look at what is actually happening in this part of the city. I went to three venues on the night of Nottinghamshire Pride and, though they all sported the symbols of acceptance, there was no evidence that, beyond the colourful facade, these establishments were doing anything more than profiting from the day.

Bar after bar was rammed with patrons. Bunting hanging over the heads of the thirsty revellers who, on a warm summers day, had been guzzling pricey drinks from dawn 'til dusk. One bar worker I spoke to told me she'd been working from 11am and would be on shift until closing time. And she wasn't the only one in her bar doing that.

Yet, other than token flags and bizarre heavy metal covers of Carly Rae Jepson songs playing in one usually gothic town bar, what were these establishments actually doing for the people that Pride is actually supposed to celebrate. There was no indication that what they were doing was anything more than a marketing opportunity. They could feasibly have been raising money for the many LGBTQI+ chairities in the city but, even if the profits from the "Pride cocktails" on sale were being held back to be donated, why wasn't this made clear?

There are major issues with corporate Pride washing. But unlike corporations, who will often cover their year round ignorance of LGBTQI+ issues with the odd pride related promotion and charity donation, these bars were taking the money for themselves, with no indication that there was any plan to pay back community who's event they were co-opting for their personal profit.

My girlfriend runs a roller derby league, it's great. There are 80 something kind and caring people involved, including a relatively high percentage of non-heterosexual people and people who identify as gender non-binary in one form or another. When they decided to mark Pride this year, they released a t-shirt with their logo in rainbow colours. But, crucially, they didn't profit from this. Even though they, as an organisation, fit the mold when it comes to diversity of the LGTBQI+ community, providing a safe for people regardless of their sexuality or gender, they donated the profits from the project to Outburst, a local charity that provides support for LGBTQI+ youths.

To me, the small businesses of the city, who most directly benefit from the Pride festivities, are just as culpable as the major corporations who are so keen to repaint themselves with rainbows to hide the cracks in their practices. If you treat Pride like Christmas, throwing up the appropriate decorations and offering deals on drinks nobody in their right mind would order at any other time of year, then you are profiting from something that is bigger than you. But, unlike Santa, gay people exist. Non-binary people exist. The whole LGBTQI+ spectrum of people are real, they live in your town and members of their community could greatly benefit from the money you're making off their festival.

Maybe these bars are doing great things for the community, but, when I asked, their staff didn't know anything about it if they were, so how am I supposed to know?

So what's the solution? I don't know. Maybe some sort of "Rainbow tax" for Pride 2020? Bars who are cashing in on Pride should be willing to return the favour and donate to causes that benefit vulnerable people in the LGBTQI+ community. Maybe they get shout out in the official literature in return. I'm not an expert in this (or anything), but if I, a man born and raised to live utterly comfortably within the mainstream, can see there is a problem, maybe these people who are taking advantage of Pride, should be expected to do more too.

Do better, please.

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