BY GWENDOLYN ANN SMITH
It was 25 years ago this year that I began to come out in earnest as a trans woman. My wife and I both came out as bisexual around the same time. Depending on how you want to count things, her and I have been in a lesbian relationship for about as long.
As a result, I often look at pride events as a bit passe, I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I have the strands of cheap, plastic beads. What’s more, we’re an old, married couple, so the notion of running about and partying seems contrary to cracking open a pint of ice cream and staring at Netflix.
What’s more, pride events themselves have changed. What were slightly more than spontaneous marches have given way to glitzy, corporate-sponsored, multi-block street fairs. They’ve become a part of the mainstream, with all the good and ill that entails.
On the very ill side of this, food monolith McDonald’s has opted to “rainbow-ize” their fry containers. It’s a first for the golden arches, but comes at the same time as allegations about ill treatment of a trans employee of the fast food giant.
A crewmember in Redford, Michigan, La’Ray Reed, claims many abuses from the local franchise in 2015. In her lawsuit, Reed claims to have face insults and sexual harassment, as well as being required to use a rear bathroom that doubled as a storage closet, After she complained to the franchise owner, she was terminated.
So much for pretty, cardboard French-fry boxes.
On the other end of this spectrum is Target, the large house wares chain. The company has, with some stumbles, shown themselves to be largely LGBTQ positive, insofar as it continues to assist their bottom line. Their biggest positive action has been standing tall on transgender restroom access, even as the religious right and others rally against Target for it.
This June, many Target locations have a specialty section focusing on pride-themed merchandise, even including trans-themed goods. I’m pretty sure they’re the first major retailer to make such a move.
Now my feelings are a bit mixed. On one hand, I see it as pure capitalism, with Target making bank off the backs of our lives. That stinks. As I already mentioned, so much of what was pride has given way to the big corporations looking to advertise their wares to yet another demographic. In this way, Target is just one more in a long line — and they didn’t even need to sponsor a booth at ant local pride events to do it.
One could take a very cynical view of this, and see Pride sliding into a mockery of itself. Like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and even the 4th of July, it may simply devolve into yes another excuse for people to wear goofy, themed goods and drink watered-down beer.
Yet I want to provide an alternate view: consider that I, who came out so long ago, still see a value in pride. What’s more, I think that Target selling pride goodies may be a very good thing for us.
Consider how many young LGBTQ folks — who may otherwise be unable to get to a pride event — may see a trans, bi, or good old rainbow pride flag in the very store they and their family shop in? What might that mean to them? How might it change the power of the narrative the religious right and others might use against us, to see “pride” items a few aisles from the house wares and family staples?
We live in harrowing times. The administration is stripping down our rights, while states as diverse as Washington and Texas face potential transgender restroom battles. Transgender people are still being murdered at elevated rates. We face a tsunami of battles, all seeing to erase us, hold us down, and shame us into closets and dark alleys.
Square that against Target’s commitment to pride gear in their stores. While it remains a consumer-focused, capitalist message, and I’m not going to suggest we throw in with anyone willing to slap a rainbow on their stock in June, it nevertheless pushes back against those who would rather see us simply go away.
That Target backs this up by being more progressive than others is icing on the cake, It helps avoid being some form of LGBTQ-focused “pink washing” — that is presenting a positive veneer on a otherwise problematic company or product — and instead enhances the company’s more progressive policies.
Again, though, I find myself thinking of a possible young and/or closeted person seeing those items and realizing, for the first time, that they need not live in shame. Or that same person going to their first pride event, as I did two and a half decades ago, and feeling a belonging they may have never known.
I may be somewhat old and jaded when it comes to my own involvement, at the same time I feel a sense of duty for those who may need that extra bit of encouragement, and a place where they can feel welcomed and encouraged.
This is why, even now, pride matters. Indeed, it may be more relevant in this era of Trump and Pence than it has been in years, providing an all-too-fleeting moment of celebration in a pitched battle to secure what shreds of our rights we can continue to secure. We need this, to keep the flame alive as we go back to the front lines.