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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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“What they’re doing is an aggressive PR campaign to make their institution look positive,” Rouskey said.

Kaiser Permanente is a healthcare company that excludes transgender surgery in its healthcare plans. OccuPriders joined Pride at Work, a queer organization fighting for economic and social justice, to participate in its protest of Kaiser as part of a yearlong campaign to get the company to cover transgender procedures. At the march, protesters sang, “We are a trans-family; we don’t have the health care we need!”

“It was hypocritical that they could go out there and promote themselves as an LGBT-friendly company when they are continuing to discriminate against transgender people and their healthcare plans,” said Sasha Wright, an organizer for SF Pride at Work.

Still, OccuPride organizers said their aim wasn’t only to target corporations that negatively affect the queer community, but communities in general.

“It’s selfish for us just to stop at equality in our own borders,” Rossi said. “We’re part of the global family, and … we should fight against [oppression] everywhere.”

Which is why, Georgiou added, corporations shouldn’t have a place in a community celebration, as they oppress us all.

“In a lot of ways, corporations are antithetical to communities,” he said. “They work largely to separate us and make each of us believe we are what we consume and buy.”

Georgiou said he wished Pride was a participatory event, not a parade with barricades, where members of the queer community and their supporters can march. He recalls when he first moved to San Francisco and cops removed him from the Pride parade because he wasn’t part of a contingent — an organization that paid to be in the parade.

“The people that are actually suffering and dying, who need gay rights and equality, don’t have access to the parade,” said Scott Rossi, who shared Georgiou’s frustration.

The OccuPride organizers said that people in our society are socialized to believe we need corporations and corporate sponsors, and therefore we fail to imagine and create a society without them.

“It’s completely wrong to think that we need sponsorship,” he said. “One of the biggest arguments we’ve heard from people was like ‘Well, without commercial sponsors you wouldn’t have this parade.’ Really? Because I’m pretty sure in the '60s and '70s with Stonewall Riots and with people actually working around HIV they didn’t need a fucking parade for that. They went out and marched and that’s what we’re trying to return this to. This is a movement, not a marketplace.”

Craig Rouskey added that it’s important to learn to rely on one another instead of corporations. “I think people have the capacity to serve themselves and work for themselves,” he said. “It’s just a matter of breaking free of the chain of the corporate sponsor, and it could be done, and it’s been done. And it avoids corporate fascism, which is what we’re under right now.”

Another function of the OccuPride protest was to make Pride organizers aware of their harmful tradition of hosting a corporatized parade.

“I don’t think they’re out to hurt us,” Rouskey says. “But I think out of habit they’re letting their own people suffer in the streets … it’s just a little short-sighted. There’s the bigger picture they’re missing. And I think that they have the power to really build communities.”

The three are considering working with the parade organizers next year to try to de-comodify the event. Pride organizers did not return calls for an interview request.

But, this year, the trio showed that they didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to begin building that community at the event on the ground. And when they broke through the one thing that certainly doesn’t belong in a community celebration — barricades — for the first time the parade was truly theirs.