ATTN Pride NW — Portland Queers Deserve Better than a Corporate Circus
To board members and staff of Pride Northwest Inc.,
Portland Democratic Socialists of America’s Queer Caucus calls on members of the Queer community to write letters to Pride Northwest to demand an end to their collaborations with major corporations and the Portland Police, and instead focus on empowering the Queer community.
Queer people are under attack in this country. This has been true for decades in the United States, and today the hatred spurred on by Trump’s bigoted presidency has bled into our community: two months ago, the Portland DSA Queer Caucus was targeted by Patriot Prayer, while Trans and non-binary people in Portland have been harassed and attacked on the streets. All the while, Portland police ignored our community and blamed the victims. However, as Queer people we know that it is not just proto-fascists and the police we need to worry about, but also the exploitation by major corporations who wish to profit off of our identities.
Pride began because Queer people organized and fought back against the institutions that were vilifying them: the economic system that denied them jobs, the housing system that denied them tenancy, and the policing system that is prejudiced against anyone non-normative. The first Pride was a protest led by Trans Women of Color against the police. The goal of the protest was not mere integration into straight society, but radically rethinking how society constructs norms and forces us to conform. Pride celebrations today, which are promoted by multi-billion dollar corporations and which use Queer bodies as a new, profitable marketing tactic, look very different from the original Pride protests. We used to revolt against the norms; now we celebrate conforming to them.
We are concerned about the growing fascist movement in our country preying on the marginalized. We are concerned about the presence of police in our community who are not held accountable. These threats are rooted in a cruel system that pretends resources are scarce, that tells us exploitative labor is the only way to access those resources. This system maintains that the great abusers in our society — corporations, cops, and elite elected officials — are never going away and will never be held accountable. Marginalized Queer people know better, and this is why we are writing to you.
We do not wish only to assign blame. We want to acknowledge how far we’ve come as a community. We believe you have good intentions toward our community, and we want to be constructive. After reviewing your Ethical Sponsorship Policy, we have found that your sponsors do not live up to your own policies. Your policy states that sponsors may not “directly violate treaties, codes or standards associated with the protection of human rights.” Yet six of this year’s sponsors are multi billion dollar companies that did not receive full scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, itself a very low bar (1). Companies like Amazon exploit the labor of Queer people making poverty wages and fail to protect those Queer people from on-the-job harassment. Furthermore, Amazon and other sponsors of your parade are known for their vehement union-busting activity. This opposition to community organizing and collective action is the very opposite of what Pride stands for. Amazon will not change their behavior on their own: they would much rather purchase a float in the Portland Pride Parade and call it good.
Your policy calls for sponsorship from local/regional values-aligned organizations. All but one of these six major corporations are based outside the Northwest. In general, only a third of the total sponsors are from Oregon, and only 3 of the 39 sponsors are LGBTQ-focused. Similarly, three of your sponsors are from the drug industry which, like the tobacco industry, preys on marginalized populations. Sponsors like these fund our celebration so that we will look the other way when they mistreat workers, donate money to politicians and campaigns that are anti-Queer rights, profit off of our labor and stories, and misrepresent our communities. As Queer people, we are a diverse group, and yet we are truly not represented by these corporations.
We are also dismayed at the continued presence of Portland police at the Pride celebration. Portland police are notorious for targeting the most marginalized in our community, including houseless people who make up 50% of their total arrests in a given year. We don’t need to tell you that Trans people have a much greater risk of being houseless than Cis people. The presence of police at an event “about us” creates a hostile environment and the decision to allow cops to march in Pride or “protect” the crowds is a decision made by people with no understanding of the community they pretend to represent.
The issues facing marginalized Queer people are systemic. We live under a social system — Capitalism — that empowers corporations and landlords to discriminate against and exploit the people living in their communities. Capitalism is a system that will never end hostility between Queer and non-Queer people. So long as we are forced to fight with each other over the scraps given to us by the wealthy, we will see differences like Queerness vilified by the right-wing instead of celebrated. Our differences are a threat when people believe resources are scarce. We believe the solution to our Queerphobic culture is not greater inclusion in systemic exploitation, but a radical departure from a system that perpetuates inequality and turns Queer people into a market to be exploited.
We ask that you, Pride Northwest, consider the impacts of your partners, and act in the best interest of the marginalized Queer communities here in the Northwest. If sponsors truly cared about Queer communities, they would provide in-kind donations without expecting advertisement in return.
Pride could be much more than a collection of exploitative corporations. We could see organizations that serve our community take the lead through activities like food drives, memorials for our loved ones lost, and support groups. The possibilities are endless. We can imagine a Pride led by the most marginalized among us, showing us the way to a better world. Pride as an organizing hub, with parties not centered around alcohol, but focused on healing and celebration. Pride without cops or major corporations, whose ongoing presence in our world furthers inequality, climate change, and the marginalization of non-normative people. Instead we have a Pride where Amazon, Nike, and Intel are your biggest clients, and the Queer-friendly community of Portland is the customer being offered up to them. We hope you will consider our critiques. But even if you don’t, we’re still here, we’re still proud, and we’re not going away.
-Portland DSA Queer Caucus
(1) HRC’s Corporate Equality Index investigates companies for trans-exclusionary policies and whether they offer identical health coverage to same-sex partnerships and different-sex partnerships.