Gay Culture, for Popular Consumption?

Posted April 14, 2009

I wasn’t sure what to think when I came across a tourist website advertising the “NYC Rainbow Pilgrimage,” a City effort to market NYC as a gay tourist destination.

I looked around a bit more and heard a clip of WNYC interview with a spokesperson from the NYC Office of Tourism declaring that NYC is special because “unlike a lot of places” we celebrate our diversity.

The tourist website advertises a week-long calendar of events like the Queens Pride Parade and the AIDS walk, but then ends by emphasizing the “host of great deals on hotels.” This made me wonder: who exactly is the target audience?

Probably not the homeless queers who have suffered from Mayor Bloomberg’s horrible homelessness policies, or the gay city workers whose jobs are threatened by layoffs.

I’m curious about if other cities in the US are being marketed in similar ways, particularly the ones that are in the states that approved gay marriage.

I am also curious what others on the left and the queer left think about how to call out the class politics of this while also supporting worthwhile stuff like local pride parades.


3 responses to “Gay Culture, for Popular Consumption?”

  1. RedStar504 Avatar

    Southern Decadence happens in New Orleans annually on Labor Day weekend.
    It’s gay street partying (and club hopping) for a week, and has been going on almost 40 years.

    New Orleans has long been a gay mecca in the deep south. It shares many similarities to San Francisco (among others, being a port city), and before WWII, was reportedly a much, much more happening place. Tennessee Williams wrote about Blanche here, and Truman Capote lived here. It’s even rumoured that none other than J. Edgar Hoove was arrested in New Orleans on a morals charge in the late 1920s.
    Cafe Lafitte-in Exile claims to be the longest continuously operating gay bar in North America, and gay Mardi Gras boasts Queens Ball.

    The critical mass of queer radicals were decimated by both the collapse of the left queer liberation movments and the ensuing AIDS pandemic. The 1980s saw a resugence of organizing in response to the AIDS pandemic, under the banner of ACT UP (one of my first political rallies was an ACT-UP event in Shreveport, LA). New Orleans now has a “mainstream” gay political culture (centered in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny neighborhoods), but a conspicuous absence of strong working class gay institutions.

    I don’t pretend to be an expert in New Orleans or Southern queer history and culture. A good primer is Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones:
    Queering Space in the Stonewall South I’m just writing what i think i know to contextualize.

    Back to Decadence. It was- according to legend- started in the early 70s in a semi-communal gay house in the Treme with Black, white, gay and straight attendees, and the following year included imprompteu street parades of in-your-face queers.
    By the mid 1990s, the event was fully commercialized.
    It regularly attracts over 100,000 participants and generates near 100 Million dollars in tourist revenue, making it one of the city’s top biggest tourist events. Decadence, like most of the city’s LGBTQ establishments and tourist marketing is focused on the gay male.Decadence has a parade, but it is not so much “political” as satitical. Despite the commericalization, Decadence is a liberated (if liminal) space for (many) queers. Unlike the “mainstream” commercialized parades, there is no pressure to conform to assimilationist or mainstream notions of respectability. For that reason alone, i embrace the event.

    The same weekend of Decadence the AFL-CIO holds its annual picnic in City Park, far from most of the city’s population. There is never mention of Decadence. The main focus is usually Fall elections. It’s all so sad… like most you you, i long
    to experience a militant queer liberation movement merging with a vibrant labor and broad working class movement.

  2. John B. Cannon Avatar
    John B. Cannon

    This is a very big issue in San Francisco – Pride has a lot of corporate sponsorship, and a lot of queer activists feel the politics and community have been pushed to the sideline to some extent, especially to the extent that they aren’t marketable. A lot of women I know go to the Dyke March but avoid Pride itself, in part for this reason. Also, there’s a group called Gay Shame which is so named in part to create discomfort around a corporatized, marketable, easily digestible version of Pride: .

    In the queer community I think a lot of people are thinking about this issue, but I’m not very clear about how to relate to this as a straight-identified ally. Instinctively, I feel much more sympathy for the radical queers who are kind of down on the corporatization of LGBT culture, but I suppose there’s something to be said for defending that public space and celebrating it even with those problems.