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'We're Here, We're Queer, and We're Not Going Shopping!' Protesters Call Out Corporate Sponsorship at Pride Parade

OccuPriders say the Pride celebration has become another commercial event, co-opted by corporate interests.
 
 
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The steel barricades rarely get this much action. A rainbow sea of onlookers presses up against them, trying to find a good view of the marching spectacle. It’s the San Francisco Pride Parade, and everyone is ready for a show. 

As the famed Dykes on Bikes rev their motorcycles down the street, Craig Rouskey fidgets with the barricades, trying to make an opening so he and 150 other OccuPriders can enter the parade and wake up all the bystanders drunk on rainbows and pop music.

Suddenly, the OccuPride participants flood through the barricade gap and begin shouting, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going shopping!” Their large banner proudly boasts: “Community Not Commodity: OccuPride 2012!”

On the sidelines, viewers’ eyes dart around the picket signs:

Harvey would be screaming about AIDS

Silence = Death

Wells Fargo/BoA There’s no Pride in 4,000,000 foreclosures

Decolonize your Mind, Occupy your Heart, Represent Yourself

Hands start taking the OccuPriders’ books and flyers, which explain their concern in more detail:

“The Pride celebration has become increasingly commercialized, co-opted by corporate interests seeking to use our struggle for human rights as a market for their profit.”

Loud cheers emerge from the crowd. But then the OccuPriders pass, and the regular parade follows: a Bud Light float, a Virgin America float, Toyota, Clear Channel, Kaiser, Wells Fargo, Verizon, AT&T, Chase, Bank of America, Macy’s....

“It’s basically like a four-hour commercial that companies … pay to be a part of,” said Scott Rossi, an OccuPride organizer. 

Corporations and nonprofit organizations often have a tense relationship. As corporations continuously strive for more customers to increase their profits, NGOs struggle financially to “do good,” and often rely on corporations to sponsor their fundraising events in exchange for lots of advertising. If the nonprofit's cause has gone mainstream and is popular with consumers, corporations often jump at the chance to sponsor events in order to enhance their images and increase their customer base. Yet, it’s hard to look away from the fundamental contradictions of corporate sponsorship, as corporatism is often the reason these organizations need to exist as well as hold fundraisers in the first place.

Craig Rouskey, Scott Rossi and Stephan Georgiou, three activists in San Francisco, began organizing OccuPride one month before Pride weekend after lamenting that the commercialized parade was soon approaching. These critical thoughts about corporate sponsorship were forming in activists’ minds across the nation, and ultimately OccuPrides took place in various cities. 

San Francisco OccuPride organizers said that the corporations’ motive is not equality for the queer community, but to ultimately increase their profit.

“Instead of celebrating our community and the people, the martyrs, the heroes … we’re celebrating the fact that companies are selling us stuff … they slap a rainbow on something and it’s like ‘Look, we’re your friends,’” Rossi said.

Some corporations taking part in the parade were especially contradictory — directly harming queer communities. After marching for a while in the parade, OccuPriders split up to target two of these companies: Wells Fargo and Kaiser Permanente.

Wells Fargo is responsible for many of the rampant foreclosures in the city — 84 percent of which have been found to be illegal. Rouskey believes that Wells Fargo is trying to “pinkwash” its reputation by sponsoring 40 Pride parades across the country, even as the foreclosures are greatly affecting the queer community. Wells Fargo also took out a four-page ad in the Bay Area Reporter, a newspaper serving the queer community, and hung door hangers in the Castro District during the weeks leading up to Pride weekend.