Amid Clashing Ideologies, Who Really Owns 'Pride'?

From corporate funding to politics and ideology, the forthcoming Delhi Queer Pride Parade participants are engaged in an animated and even fractious debate over the direction of the movement.

Participants of pride parade in Delhi. Credit: Reuters

Participants of pride parade in Delhi. Credit: Reuters

Every year the organising committee for the Delhi Queer Pride Parade – Delhi Queer Pride Committee (DQP) – goes through an intense debate on how to celebrate our sexuality – choosing the theme, raising funds and what kinds of restrictions to have on raising funds from the corporate world.

In all its openness and freedom, the involvement of industry as a ‘funder’ more or less has always split the community down the middle. This split has led to significant ideological differences and even a form of polarisation among different groups – the anti right-wing, the right-wing, the left-wing and even those considered indifferent to such ideological distinctions. The role of industry aside, some believe the inclusion of Dalit rights, tribal issues or even demonetisation and slogans against political parties and governments dilutes the emphasis on rights for the LGBTQ community.

Since the 9th Delhi Queer Pride Parade in 2016, the apparent cracks within the nation at large have been manifest within the LGBTQ community as well. People subscribing to different ideologies mock each other. Intellectuals, some claim, come across as arrogant to the lesser educated people in the community. Issues of faith, class system and socio-economic conflicts have also crept into the community. There are allegations that a handful of ‘intellectuals’ dominate the form and shape of the pride march or even of the LGBTQ movement in the capital.

True as it might be and however negative it may appear, this situation shows how ‘normal’ and ‘human’ the community is. Yet it also portrays the influences that straight individuals have on others. The important challenge is to probe the nature and the causes of these rifts. The question is – who owns pride, if at all it is owned by any one person or a group within the community?

The discussion that occupies a great deal of time within the community is how to privilege self-funding over corporate sponsorship and support. Many, it seems, believe a pride march in Delhi should mirror the version of the march they have seen online or in films: for instance, the flamboyance depicted in floats, music, dance, glamour and the accompanying glitter usually witnessed in the marches that take place in several Western cities. Advocates of corporate funding argue that such marches frequently exhibit corporate logos of designer brand clothes, liquor companies. ‘Free’ money from a sponsor, they say, will help amplify the LGBTQ identity. So why can’t Delhi raise the profile of the march, they ask.

Participants take part in the equality march in Kiev, Ukraine, June 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Valentyn Ogyrenko

Participants take part in the equality march in Kiev, Ukraine, June 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Valentyn Ogyrenko

Every movement has a journey, a history and a context related to time and place, in consonance with the law. Referring to the draconian Section 377, an activist argues that Delhi (read India) is not London or San Francisco where gay rights and laws related to them are concerned. Neither has the LGBTQ community in India, for example, evolved in a manner similar to a tiny nation such as Ireland or Taiwan. A system run by government, industry and society in India continues to violate and discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Even though sections of media take a liberal stance on this issue, the tendency to define the community along linear lines is dominant.

What irks many who dominate the DQP debate is how certain corporations are ready to pump in money from their corporate social responsibility (CSR) kitty, aiming to leverage the plight and pride of the community rather than to openly advocate change in policy or even lend their signatures to the pending court petition. “The core values of many corporates are not people-centric or equality driven,” and these acts of sponsorship “are about image and reputation: the veneer they wish to present” a member of the DQP points out.

No doubt the corporate world is relevant and has a place in society and many of us exist in that world. But our movement and emotions can only be felt by us and cannot be commoditised into an event. The  march, after all, is not an event.

Also read: What Does It Take to Form Our ‘Pride’?

It is argued that the pride march still represents an assertion against Section 377; a reminder to society about who we are and what we feel. The march, therefore, is still part of a movement. It constitutes a protest reflective of the first pride in New York City back in 1970. In the US, it was only after the queer movement had become much larger and people from the community more mainstream that corporations were welcomed to be part of the pride.

In the ‘liberal’ UK, there is a growing view to strike a balance between ‘protest’ and ‘festivity’; and ‘branding by companies’ andpride’ as it were. Jordan Daly of Time for Inclusive Education, for example, wondered whether the ‘fun-filled’ and ‘commercialised’ Glasgow Pride would allow the passing public to note “that we were protesting for the advancement of our rights, or would they smile and think how wonderful it is to be gay”. He went on to argue that if “purpose and symbolism is lost in the process” of corporate involvement, then the acknowledgement of pride by such commerce is questionable.

Even in the US, after Donald Trump became president, many pride marches have been disrupted by those opposing the involvement of corporations and projection of brands. These are perceived to be supported if not propped up by Trump. Or, in some cases, are even considered indirect funders of terrorism. It is known that several American companies funding or sponsoring pride march in the US are companies linked to the defence department, or those selling defence equipment to some Middle Eastern countries, even terror-related groups.

The movement to include brown and black in the flag as seen in Philadelphia is a sign of change towards inclusion and the return of politics and ideologies to the movement in the US. Some LGBTQ advocacy groups, in fact, have pushed for the return of the 70s-like protest with self-supported festivity and glamour, with more of slogans and political statements. They believe that the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equal rights shares common ground with the struggles for equality of race and colour.

A rainbow flag with two additional stripes. Credit: @PhiladelphiaGov

A rainbow flag with two additional stripes. Credit: @PhiladelphiaGov

In a way, the final view of the DQP too leans more on protest, inclusion, equality hinged on identity rather than an overt display of festivity and commercialisation that compromises the primary purpose of the march. “We can choose to celebrate and party later after we have made our point,” says an activist, aiming to draw a balance.

Even as this split within and the differing views seem to have consumed a lot of time of the DQP, the united resolve to march on November 12 at the 10th Delhi Queer Pride is far from lost. The 10th Pride is expected to be larger and more vibrant than ever before even without corporate funding – a reminder that our pride is ours and so are our voices. We walk with our diversity, our singular identities, different ideologies, distinct shapes, sizes and colours. We walk to recall the past years of pain, the loss of lives and silencing of voices, to remind ourselves and the world around us that our world has suffered at the hands of ‘straight privileges’. That we can still do this today with the festivity of who we are, with our financial resources, is amongst the reasons why we must be proud. We must march on.

Sharif Rangnekar is a communications consultant and a former journalist.