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Compelling Issues

Buy Your Pride Merch From Queer People, Not Corporations

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You probably already know this, but June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month! Record numbers of people are expected at Pride Month celebrations around the country. As a public celebration of queerness, Pride often involves merchandise. From T-shirts with clever slogans to rainbow flags, pride has become a chance for people to creatively showcase their membership in and support of the LGBTQ+ community. However you choose to celebrate Pride this year — publicly by attending a large event, or privately with your queer friends and allies, you should do it in merchandise made by LGBTQ+ artists and creators. You may see big retailers like Banana Republic and H&M selling rainbow shirts and socks — but buying from big corporations, especially if you’re an ally, is basically the opposite of queer liberation. Let’s talk about it.

This year’s Pride is a special one because it’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event most often cited as the beginning of Pride and the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. The 1969 Stonewall riots were an uprising against the oppressive, anti-gay policing of 1970s New York. LGBTQ+ activists have long voiced the concern that Pride has strayed from its radical roots and become too corporate, too straight, and too willing to embrace organizations who show their support of the LGBTQ+ community only when it convenient — financially and otherwise — and not all year round.

This year pride also comes at a time of great contradictions. Despite the great strides made in public acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights and equality in the last decade, the LGBTQ+ community faces attacks to their health and safety as legal protections for LGBTQ+ people are rolled back. The Equality Act, which would protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, stands little chance of passing the Senate.

It’s understandable that corporate support for Pride leaves a bad taste in the mouth for a lot of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a double-edged sword — the support of large corporations can be a sign of the acceptance and equality that many LGBTQ+ activists fight for, but acceptance of these organizations can dull the radical edge that inspired Pride and take the focus off of how far we actually are from true LGBTQ+ equality. As LGBTQ+ people become more visible and mainstream in society, Pride attracts more straight people, who are attracted by Pride’s lively atmosphere and the option to get day-drunk, even if they are truly motivated to show their support of the community. As Pride festivities become straighter and whiter, the celebration becomes less and less about LGBTQ+ people and liberation. After all, pride isn’t about rainbow Oreos, or rainbow Doritos, or rainbow Coca Cola.

For many corporations, producing and marketing pride merchandise and generously be viewed low-risk, high-reward way of supporting the LGBTQ+ people. More cynically, it can be seen as a way to cash in on the goodwill of a community now that it’s socially acceptable to support gay rights. It’s even worse considering how often specific mentions of queerness are erased in favor of more blanket statements like “love is love” and rainbow motifs. Plus, many corporations — like Target and H&M, manufacture their pride merchandise in countries that have little to no protections for LGBTQ+ people. Mixed messages like these can show how complicated corporate involvement in pride has become and why you are better off heading to Etsy to buy from independent queer artists.

Buy Your Pride Merch from Queer People  Not Corporations pride merch jpg

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Fortunately, the internet is full of fun, creative pride merchandise made by queer people. When you support queer creators, you’re making a decision that extends your support of the LGBTQ+ community far beyond your decision to march in a pride parade. You’re putting money in the hands of people who are actually part of the queer community, rather than in the hands of an organization whose public and vocal support of the LGBTQ+ community might depend on what month it is and how much they stand to gain. Online artists as a whole are vulnerable to large corporations who steal their designs and leave artists with little recourse. Even small purchases from online artists can make a big difference in their bottom line. So instead of throwing your money at a large corporation (or a straight celebrity who’s released a line of Pride merch… *cough* Mariah Carey *cough*), support an artist or creator that’s part of the LGBTQ+ community and get double the good for your money — something cute to show your pride and something that goes back to help the community!

At the end of the day, pride is about much more than what you wear or where you party. It’s about celebrating and supporting the LGBTQ+ community. For allies, it is especially important that support of Pride is undertaken in a thoughtful and conscientious way. The parades and public celebrations might end at the end of June, but support of the LGBTQ+ community is a year-round event. If you’re going to buy your Pride merchandise, you shouldn’t just be thinking about what you’re going to wear. Instead, you should also be thinking about where your money is going. Small actions can have a big impact. Look cute, give back, and have fun!

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