marching on

Gay Pride Parades Are Giant Excuses for Corporate Marketing. Get Over It

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)

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  • ChicagoJimmy

    We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!

  • DeAnimator

    Except when those companies don’t ACTUALLY care about queer rights/interests. And a lot of those companies have nothing to do with queer life. Maybe just the stereotypical gay white male life.

    So liquor, clothes and clubs represent the queer lifestyle? I don’t think so.

    Oh, and Stonewall was a RIOT not a brand name.

  • hardmannyc

    Yawn. Wake me when these massive events are actually financially supported by the community. Do you think they want corporate sponsors? They’re just glad to have big corporations pay the big bucks needed to do these events.

  • hardmannyc

    Oh and BTW: When I do see a float from Altoids or Delta or Verizen, it does makes me think better of the company for supporting our cause.

  • jason

    The Sydney Gay Mardi Gras is a revolting event. Absolutely reveolting. All you see is narcissistic, gym-toned bodies with poor leg structure, not to mention misguided queens on a vanity binge. It’s a parade for misguided, commercial queens.

    The commercialism and consumerism is appalling. The 60’s generation would have laughed at this lot.

  • jason

    When I see the gay Mardi Gras or other gay marches, pride is the last thing that comes to mind. I see vanity, not pride. I see vain tragics in full blown consumerist mode. They are more interested in consuming and finding a sex partner for the night or someone who fulfils their fetishistic desires, such as a bear or leatherman.

    I can only weep at what gay marches have turned into. It’s a very bad wrong turn. We need to fix it by expelling the queens who have put us on the wrong track. These people don’t belong in the gay rights movement.

  • Chance


    “You do this every year! We are!”

  • Eric

    “Gay Consumerism is Bondage”

  • Pygar

    @jason: I think I love you, comrade.

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary

    Fortune Brands which owns Absolut Vodka (pictured above) as well as Jim Beam and other liquor products does not support Gay Rights but do market well at gay events. Cheers, but screw your rights!

  • Dame Helga von ornstein

    What has really surprised me the last ten years in regards to Pride Parades, floats and sponsorships are the lack of interest by gyms in every city a Pride Parade is held.

    With over 50% of the spectators and people involved in the parades walking around muscled out (six-pac abs, buns of steel, 16inch arms and no personality or social skills)it would seem to be a fountain of gold for an enterprising personal trainer or gym to have a float in the parade.

    Alas, what do I know? I am just an old queen who at the golden age of fifty now looks back and shake my head. The pioneers of the Stonewall Riots are practically NEVER mentioned at any of the pride parades and that is the sad part of it all here in the United States.

  • Eric

    Dame Helga: I agree, it is a shame that civil rights pioneers aren’t better acknowledged at Pride events. LGBT people often have no conception of their own history, and I don’t blame them. Our history has been almost completely ignored in schools and museums…but this changing!

    Google: “gay museum”

  • chris

    eww, Sydey.

  • chris


  • Dame Helga von ornstein

    @Eric: I haven’t googled gay museum yet but I will. What turned me off to those parades and beach parties were the muscle marys and the lack of attention anything related to gay culture itself was getting. Last year in NYC (40th anninversary of the Stonewall riot) I looked high and low for ANYTHING in that parade that gave credit to the Matachine Society and was not surprised that I saw nothing.

    No one speaks about the fact that behind the scenes after the riots there was literally a civil war so to speak between lesbian and gay leaders in NYC as to who should be the spokesperson for the communities? There was so much more that was going on during that period that TOO many gay people, even those my age, sit back in awe when they start researching that era.

    I do hope this museum covers those topics. I do not have time to google it right now but I will be optimistic. Thank you VERY much for telling me/us about it.

  • trailrunnr

    It’s like the nightmare vision of LA in Bladerunner, where you simply cannot be anywhere without advertising. You can’t get away from the influence of big corporations. Television, radio, internet, blogs. Sports events. At the movies, on buses and airplanes. Gay pride spectacles. And with the recent supreme court ruling, watch for your politicians sporting logo-outfits. I for one do not celebrate the presence of Absolut at gay pride events, no matter how much they queen it up.

  • adam

    Dame Helga,

    So true. Today’s gay community is more interested in dance parties and drugs. It’s a community in decline.

  • courier

    Fortune Brands does not own Absolut. Pernot Ricard does in a acquisition during 2008

  • Erv

    I am going to say this as a political junkie and a gay man. And i hope the people who are planning these parades and festivuses will think before they act.

    Most Pride events happen in the abandoned downtown corridors of the cities. Except for NY or Boston or Chi Town or San F, the cities have no life in them on main street on the weekend.

    It is time to get out to where they are forced to deal with us. Hold parades in the suburbs, in the neighborhoods, at the malls. Don’t hide in the canyons of steel and glass, go to lawns of grass.

    We allow them to have images of us as less than human, then go to them and make them see us, and let them know we see them too.

  • hardmannyc

    Sydney Mardi Gras is totally fun. When did “fun” get to be such a bad word in the gay world.

    And “Dame Helga”: You must have been attending a different NYC Pride march than I. Stonewall is all over the place at that march, with every group pausing before the site and cheering, and the veterans being always granted a place of honor in the parade.

  • McShane

    It’s become an established fact since WW2 and before that unbridaled Corporate Interests are at odds with the interests of people.
    Especially given the current very real threat that Corporations are going to dominate American elections and policy, we should be ashamed and afraid that there is no longer a voice of the people; that , by the way is democracy going down the drain.

  • Ken

    Thank you for this article and the various comments, one and all! I will be at the Sydney Mardi Gras parade for the first time. I’ve only been to the LA one in 1980 and the Palm Springs one two years ago. The PS one was very moving because of the intimate relationship with the community. There is full community support in PS and BTW, GYMS were represented as well as the gym bodies. But I didn’t see any steroid drug reps! Hmmm. Those lamenting the absence of more appropriate homage to the history of the movement are welcome to come together and rectify the situation–you know, this is all about DIY! I welcome the corporate sponsorship but if I had any say I would look into each company’s policies and track record to see if they are worthy to be a part of the celebration. Let’s not fall for this and become a corporate one-night-stand or whore for their money. I’d like to hear more from those who write very critical comments, specifically, please share your creative ideas to make these more inclusive celebrations!

  • DeAnimator

    Fun isn’t a bad word. Shallow and exclusionary are though.

  • Mark

    Wow, all the bitterness at the comments here amazes me. Rather than being condesending, negative and putting everyone else down, if you think something is bad – do something to change it.

    The reality is that we have things pretty good these days and there isn’t that much left to fight or protest for.

    I was a part of the organising committee for the first gay lifesavers to march in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade three years ago and we had a huge fight on our hands with the Surf Lifesaving Association of Australia. Publicly, we put a positive face on everything. We didn’t say anything negaive about the orgainization in all of the press we received. We received a lot of press and could have said a lot of negative things about the organisation we were all members of. Instead we marched, in a way that was respectful of our organzation and had a great time. We didn’t allow anyone to march (and still don’t) who wasn’t a surf lifesaver and everyone regardless of looks, body type, dancing ability or anything else are welcome to join us.

    My point is, we are one of the groups who poeple in this discussion are referring to as being gym bunnies, narcassitic and all the other derogatory comments. You don’t know our histories. You don’t know the fight we put up behind the scenes. You also don’t know the discrimation many of us have faced in a mainly hetro male environemtn (especially gay lifesavers outside of inner Sydney).

    The reality is, like many other GLBT community organizations our fight is largely won now and all that is left is a celebration. That is not a bad thing.

    Any maybe we have good bodies becuase we enjoy looking after ourselves and getting out and doing some exercise. I’ve been fat, overweight and un-motivated and now I’m not. I know which one I’d prefer.

    Sure there are people who you generalize about but critizing them is going to achive nothing. I most people in life put in the best effort they can. We all have our faults.

    End of my rant…..

    Happy Mardi Gras everyone.

  • DeAnimator

    “The reality is, like many other GLBT community organizations our fight is largely won now and all that is left is a celebration. That is not a bad thing.”

    Wow. You are a moron.

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary


    ‘Fortune Brands does not own Absolut. Pernod Ricard does in a acquisition during 2008’

    I stand corrected but would rather drink Grey Goose Vodka than Absolut if quality were the question. Still, Absolut really contributes nothing to gay, political causes like Marriage Equality or AIDS Cure funding (cue the anti-gay, AIDS denialist retorts.)

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary


    Mardi Gras says ‘let’s talk’

    Organisers of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have announced a community-wide consultation on the Parade’s future and the organisation’s constitution. This is a step in the right direction, as the criteria for inclusion into the Parade this year do not appear to have been applied equally to all floats, writes Katrina Fox.

    In the wake of the media storm over the exclusion of queer animal liberationists from this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the corporatisation of Mardi Gras and queer media censorship, and subsequent revelations that actors had been paid to take part in an Ikea float in 2008, New Mardi Gras (NMG) CEO Michael Rolik sent a letter this week to queer media and NMG members vowing to consult widely with the community about the Parade’s future.

    This is to be commended.

    In the letter Rolik wrote: “What all this debate has suggested to me is that there is a discrepancy between some people’s view of what Mardi Gras should be about and the reality of our Constitution and business model.”

    He then continues: “Animal Liberation have been in the parade many times, may have some gay members, but is patently not a GLBT organisation, provided no record of support for the GLBT community outside marching in the parade and had an entry with no emphasis on gay pride. That they reissued an application with ‘queer’ in the title didn’t change our view.

    “If you believe Mardi Gras should be a vehicle for progressive political bodies or just anyone with a message to get out there then you’d include Animal Liberation’s message about cruelty to battery chickens, however, that is not what New Mardi Gras was set up to do. Our parade entry criteria broadly reflect our Constitution which is essentially about GLBT pride and celebration.”

    Firstly, Animal Liberation does have many (not just ‘some’) queer members. In fact, as was explained to NMG, the Animal Liberation float each year comprises at least 80% of GLBSGDQ-identified people (out of around 100 participants, including Animal Liberation NSW’s executive director Mark Pearson). They happen to care about equal rights for all, including non-humans.

    And secondly, if NMG’s Constitution and criteria, as outlined by Rolik above, are to be applied to all Parade entrants, perhaps he could explain why the following floats (listed as entries in this year’s Parade) have been included and exactly how they fit the criteria:

    ‘The history of the hula hoop’, Taronga Zoo (an organisation that profits from the exploitation of and cruelty to sentient non-humans), Federal Police, NSW Police, fire brigade, ANZ, Virgin Blue, Foxtel, the Michael Jackson Thriller Zombie Marching Group, Raelians, Railcorp, a float about Neil Armstrong and the first humans on the moon.

    How are any of these ‘gayer’ than a float comprising around 80 GLBSGDQ community members?

    NMG’s letter comes shortly after Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) issued a media release claiming NMG had told them that although excluded groups may march with CAAH’s marriage equality float, “no unauthorised material” can be displayed. CAAH has urged all floats to engage in civil disobedience and display “rebellious” and “unauthorised” placards and other material.

    Whether NMG attempts to censor any “unauthorised” material on Saturday night remains to be seen, but as I mentioned above, NMG’s decision to pledge to consult with the community is to be applauded, as there are huge discrepancies between what people think Mardi Gras is or should be and what it is in reality.

    Kudos too to NMG for committing to consult with the entire queer community and not just NMG members, as so many GLBSGDQ people have given up being members because of what they perceive Mardi Gras to have become.

    I attended Fair Day last Sunday and was overwhelmed by the support from so many community members who were outraged that queer animal libbers had been excluded from the Parade, as well as the fact that actors were paid to take part in a corporate float in previous years.

    At the Radical Picnic later that day, I met a 78-er who was appalled by Mardi Gras’ allegiances to corporate sponsors at the exclusion of queer community members. Yes, times have changed and it’s not 1978 anymore, but it’s about time it was made clear exactly what the ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ Parade is.

    Is it an inclusive representation of our very diverse queer community? Or a sanitized selection of safe queers approved by the gaystream ‘fruits in suits’ as being suitable for entertaining the heterosexuals, sprinkled with a liberal dose of corporate vampires chasing the pink dollar?

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