Sydney’s Gay Mardis Gras parade, on Feb. 27, will be awesome. It will also not be without controversy. Already organizers are taking flack for banning a gay animal rights group for not being gay enough. Then the publishers of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Visitors’ Guide found themselves persona non grata because parade organizers have instead struck a sponsorship deal with Events New South Wales, a competing travel group. And then there’s the supposed “scandal” over the furniture brand IKEA paying at least six actors (“who were not required to be gay or lesbian, or have any community affiliations”) $300 each to dance on the company’s 2008 parade float. Are we really surprised that a multimillion dollar event has been corporatized? And is this really a bad thing?
Gay pride parades and marches around the world originated as a means for gay communities to come together as one and show off their standing as equal members of society. In fabulous outfits.
The first march, following the Stonewall riots in 1969, was about making demands and and protesting unequal treatment. But participants and spectators in today’s marches would be forgiven for not realizing their historical roots. What do you mean this isn’t one giant circuit party?
Over the years and decades, these joyous spectacles of gaydom have grown into what any public event celebrating a community is: a chance for sponsors to market themselves to this demographic. It’s a brilliant opportunity for brand integration; how often can you send a giant ad for Showtime down a city street while thousands take soon-to-be-uploaded photos of the cute men and women surrounding your product?
Heritage of Pride’s June march in New York City, of which Queerty is a national media partner, actively solicits corporate sponsors. To secure a float in the march, it’ll cost a medium sized business $8,500. Larger ones will be expected to pay more. That’s how Absolut gets its bottles and boys in front of hundreds of thousands of attendees. Moreover, there are opportunities for even larger sponsorships; AOL and Zipcar paid at least $5,000 to become sponsors.
Back in Sydney, IKEA says it did not pay actors to take part in the parade in 2008. It will also not be a part of the 2010 parade, but will have a “behind the scenes” sponsorship role. But is it such a terrible thing that a corporation might have put out a casting call for good looking “actors” instead of trying to secure actual LGBTs to take part in its float? And if so, is it all that surprising?
You can make the argument that gay pride parades have been co-opted by corporate America. Exploited by big brands. Stolen by profit-hungry executives. All of which is true. But this is Western society, where capitalism rules, and if parades are about demanding and showcasing equality, then welcome to the big leagues, where our attention and consumerism is sold to the highest bidder.
Rather than get upset about IKEA hiring possibly non-gay actors, why not celebrate the fact that IKEA is spending money to court our very desirable community? Or that gay pride parades are, in fact, inclusive events, and we welcome our straight allies?
It’s easy to turn any whiff of controversy into a scandal, but even we aren’t taking the bait on this one. Let’s enjoy our gay pride celebrations this summer, and not get too torn up over corporate sponsors that make it all possible.
(Absolut photo via)