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Una Mullally: A collection of gay PR machines is not a Pride parade

An end to the corporate presence at Pride would be a welcome development

This weekend is meant to be the biggest in the LGBT calendar in Ireland, the culmination of the Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride festival in a huge march through the city centre.

Pride is also an important revenue stream for bars, performers, DJs, drag queens, club promoters, and the lively network that makes up the capital’s gay scene. When the lockdown came into effect, among the first to innovate were Ireland’s drag queens, hosting shows and drag competitions online, selling tickets and asking for viewer support to keep them afloat. The gay scene is an ecosystem that almost completely exists in a live environment, and as we know busy bars that don’t have the resources to pretend to be restaurants, nightclubs, and festivals have been shuttered for the foreseeable.

Over the past decade, one of the characteristics of Dublin Pride is the visibility of companies in the march, particularly tech companies

Although the march and the parties and events that surround it are missed this year, it does provide Pride as an entity a chance to reflect. Ireland is in a privileged, hard-fought position, where many rights have been achieved for LGBT people, unlike many other countries around the world. Conversations about the increasing corporate tinge to Pride, rainbow capitalism, the subsuming of the LGBT+ movement into the market, and the commercialisation of what began as radical politics (and in many countries still are radical politics), are not new conversations. But when we emerge out on to the streets to hopefully march in June 2021, we will be walking in a different world.

There is a sense that everything is up in the air right now, but such discombobulation and uncertainty has huge potential. We are in the midst of another dramatic cycle of truth-telling prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement, and alongside that the scepticism of how sustainable this era of late-stage capitalism is, is being interrogated, as well as the sense of urgency coalescing around the climate crisis.

Aesthetics of freedom

Over the past decade, one of the characteristics of Dublin Pride is the visibility of companies in the march, particularly tech companies. The tension within the LGBTQ+ community around what is acceptance and what is co-opting is a healthy one. Is the presence of a company such as Facebook, which is accused of platforming hate and damaging democracy and discourse, a sign of progress? Or is it an opportunity for pink-washing?

In its infancy, the contemporary tech industry thumbed its nose at corporate culture, marking itself out with “fun” offices, ripping up dress codes, and embedding socialising into the working week.

The LGBTQ+ community is best typified by its diversity. There is no homogenous politics, and there is plenty of debate

The aesthetics of freedom are of course very different to actual freedom. The paradox of the perceived looseness and informality often hides a “down for the cause” culture of indoctrination, an emphasis on loyalty, an aversion to union organising, and toxic tools and platforms that some companies design, not to mention their often devastating social consequences, such as platforming hate, encouraging anger and division, damaging democracy, creating a radicalisation pipeline for people, along with the vast accumulation of wealth and tax avoidance.

Add to this the realisation that “disruption” is not a buzzword, but a brutal and damaging outcome that Big Tech has created, from sucking advertising revenue from journalism causing an existential and financial crisis for media globally, to monetising propaganda and disinformation, to upending the affordability of cities.

Corporate culture adopting the aesthetics and messaging of social justice in order to sell people more stuff while simultaneously donning a protective cloak in an attempt to appear “good”, has re-emerged again, as companies scrambled to address racial justice in light of recent global protests.

Ethics and logic

In recent years, it has been heartening to see a younger LGBTQ+ generation take up the mantle of interrogating the logic and ethics of acceptability politics and corporate nonsense.

Queer Action Ireland, Radical Queers Resist, Act Up, and other groups focused on anti-racist work, ending direct provision, and complex human rights issues that can’t be summed up in a corporate slogan, have been present at Dublin Pride, and last year’s alternative Pride protest showed that many are uncomfortable with both corporatisation and the participation of uniformed gardaí.

In 2019, the company Viasat handed out T-shirts with the slogan “Love. Connect Without Limits” at Dublin Pride.

Viasat, which provides communications infrastructure for the US military including air surveillance operations, is hardly an appropriate presence at any kind of march rooted in human rights.

But also in 2019, the software company Intercom decided that instead of having a visible presence in the march, they would donate €10,000 to BeLonG To Youth Services. There are of course plenty of technology and software companies that aren’t ethically compromised, but Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon, and Twitter, are, although at least Twitter is trying right now.

Of course there are LGBTQ+ people working in these organisations, but marching as an individual is very different to being a collection of gay PR machines in a parade.

The LGBTQ+ community is best typified by its diversity. There is no homogenous politics, and there is plenty of debate.

It does feel, however, that as discourse is shifting, and as once marginalised movements gain the confidence to assert themselves without needing a pat on the head from mainstream culture, an end to the corporate presence at Pride would be a welcome development. It’s not like queer people have ever needed any assistance in throwing a party, or a protest.