The Wells Fargo float at the Oakland Pride parade last Sunday stood out to me as a particularly elaborate affair, decked out in a plethora of rainbow decorations. It dripped with a distinct feeling of faux solidarity, an act put on as per the suggestion of a keen marketing team scrolling down a list of recent Twitter trends.
As the people on the Wells Fargo float made their way down Broadway Avenue in downtown Oakland, they tossed T-shirts and rainbow beads for spectators to catch. The float followed the small mob of Peet’s Coffee & Tea employees, who passed out sunglasses (brown, like coffee beans, and tastefully embossed with their logo) while dancing along with the music blasting from every which way.
Oakland Pride was the place to be for LGBTQ+ individuals, local advocate groups and big corporations alike. There was no fee to watch the parade, whereas the festival ticket cost $5 for children under 12 and $10 for all others.
Pride celebrations are held every year all around the country, most often in the summer months. A quick Google search will reveal that the aesthetic is more or less the same no matter where the rainbow flags have decided to fly, featuring mobs of people with their hands in the air and holding up signs with phrases such as, “Love is love.”
On the surface, I understand the appeal. The lesbian in me is more than ready to be one of those grinning people with colorful outfits in the backdrop, jumping up and down and clapping so hard that my hands turn numb. At the same time, I have always been disinclined to trust anything that seems as performative as a pride parade.
“The lesbian in me is more than ready to be one of those grinning people with colorful outfits in the backdrop, jumping up and down and clapping so hard that my hands turn numb.”
Oakland Pride in particular has to be given some credit, however, considering that on its website, it aims to be transparent about where the admission fee money is going. The website explains the logistical costs of putting on such an event and then goes on to say that Oakland Pride has also given back “nearly $50,000 to LGBTQ friendly organizations and charities in the community since 2010.”
In all fairness, I did enjoy myself at Pride. My friends and I laughed, sang along, took a million selfies and showed off our rainbow accessories.
But there’s just something that makes me wary about a big, corporate-sponsored celebration prancing along the streets of Oakland, a city with a poverty rate more than 6 percent greater than that of the state average — 20.4 percent, compared to California’s 14.3 percent, according to the 2016 data on the United States Census Bureau website.
“Liberation for the LGBTQ+ community, however, doesn’t begin with Pride festivals and parades.”
What I have seen in Oakland with my own eyes corroborates these numbers. Two weeks ago, I ventured out to Oakland for a doctor’s appointment. The man in front of me in line, upon being asked for his co-pay, admitted to the receptionist that he couldn’t afford the fee and went on a brief tirade about the futility of having insurance and then being unable to pay for actual visits. A few hours after I left Oakland Pride, I saw two young children being kicked out of the Regal Jack London movie theater for trying to sneak in because they couldn’t afford movie tickets.
Standing there on Broadway Avenue during Pride, I had a surreal experience in the context of the dichotomy of a city unfortunately associated with destitution being bombarded with corporate floats. It occurred to me how bizarre it was for a low-income gay woman who wouldn’t have been able to make the move from Southern California to Berkeley without the help of federal aid like the Pell Grant to be waving at corporations who seek to make my identity into a marketing strategy.
I get it. Pride is fun. It’s something that gives us freedom to flaunt who we are within a safe space; the motive behind Pride is pure, even if its ultimate implementation is often misguided.
Liberation for the LGBTQ+ community, however, doesn’t begin with Pride festivals and parades. It begins when we are no longer commodities for companies to endorse. It begins when companies stop sponsoring one group of marginalized people while exploiting another. The keyword here is one that has been brought up often as of late in social justice discourse: intersectionality.
Gender and sexuality equality goes hand in hand with economic equality. To exclusively rally behind one cause, treating it like an issue isolated from all others, can only be a vain effort. Pardon my absolutes, but there will never be true liberation for anyone if there is not true liberation for all.
If I go to Pride again — if I begrudgingly continue attending because, as previously mentioned, Pride is well-intentioned but poorly executed — I’ll have all of this in mind. I will laugh, and I will dance, and I will probably sing out of tune while throwing my arms around my friends. But what I will not be doing is taking it all in for its face value.