Photo: Jess Tsang

Opinion: Pride month vs. corporate Canada

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By Mitchell Thompson

Pride is a wrestling match between corporate Canada and the rest of us, who, for lack of a better term, we’ll put in the “activist” camp.

On one side, Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) is marshalling the parade. Their presence is interesting, considering how media coverage has tried to narrow their goal to anti-police brutality. Anyone involved knows there’s more to it than that; a larger purpose that aligns with the core of Pride, going back to its origins as a revolt against the systems that devalue people of alternate genders and sexualities. Black trans and queer people have played crucial roles in queer activism, but too rarely get credit for it. The presence of an unapologetically progressive Black rights movement at the front of the event is a nice return to the roots of Pride.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, made similar observations in a press release:

“We must act in concert to demand structural change to practices and systems that unfairly target, disadvantage and oppress members of these communities…Transformational change will take collective and concerted effort and time, but [this] must be done [if we are to] build a more equitable and just world in which every individual is afforded security and opportunity.”

Still, corporate power is guaranteed to be well represented this year, as it always is. In 2016, it might be best personified by the presence of our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who — as leader of Bay Street’s preferred party — would like some progressive kudos after backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a trade deal that will restrict access to generic HIV drugs). It’s a basic marketing strategy comparable to the Proud Whopper that Burger King put out a few years ago, or those rainbow Oreos. It’s cute, but it doesn’t mean much.

This is a clash of cultures between the activists who want to challenge oppression and the companies that benefit from systems of oppression. You can’t really satisfy both, and I don’t think that anyone feels good when they see Bud Light logos or the TD rainbows.

Some may be compelled to ask, why can’t we all just get along? or why can’t we be political and be a corporate carnival? Journalist and political activist Julie Bindel acknowledged that position in an op ed for the Guardian a while ago, writing, “Some will hail [it] all as a great stride forward, an indication that we are now so mainstream that even banks represent us respectfully. But this is about equity, not equality.”

Bindel says that by accepting the corporatization, as some activists put it, of pride and of gay rights, “lesbians and gay men have accepted a fake, highly limited liberation … We have been sold a dream of marriage, babies, and conventionality at a huge cost to our radical potential, and the profits will not go to our freedom and liberation … It is time we put campaigning before capital.” Otherwise, we’re lulled into marriage with the structures that would like to dominate all of us and radicalism of the sort that Black Lives Matter Toronto is engaged in is the only way to free ourselves.

For that reason, we should welcome the addition of BLMTO to Pride, and hope that they can pull us out of our corporate complacency.

Out of the Starbucks and into the streets!

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