Archive for lgbtq

Corporate Pride: The Monetizing of the Queer Experience

Walking down the streets of SoHo shopping district during the month of June, you’ll see several dozen storefronts plastered in rainbow colors. As part of the LGBTQ community, my immediate reaction is, for lack of a better word, pride. I feel represented, wanted, and supported.

As acceptance of queer identities (very) slowly but surely becomes commonplace in the overall American perspective, corporations undoubtedly move with their consumer base toward their political beliefs. This can be a natural phenomena under a capitalist system but upon deeper reflection, it feels exploitative. On the other end of the corporate pride month marketing rainbow is not unequivocal support for queer identities. It is capitalistic exploitation via the monetizing of queer culture and experience.

As a policy student and during this Pride month, I want to inform people how corporation’ support for queer identities can be thinly-veiled, and under the veil is corporate profit and greed.

First, we must explore what Pride is about. Pride commemorates the Stonewall Riots, a rebellion against police attempting to arrest queer people under the archaic sodomy laws in which men (and women) could be arrested if they did not abide by heterosexual, cisgendered norms. At its core, Pride is not about rainbow colors placed on a sock. Pride is about fighting back against a discriminatory system — a system in which corporations have long acted in support — that limits queer expression and rights. Pride is also time to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments the queer community has achieved despite a thriving system against us. Pride is about recentering acceptance as core to our community despite all the pain the queer community faces. Pride has never been about profits.

Corporations do not contribute to the core of the Pride commemoration when they only paint their storefronts, merchandise, and services in rainbow colors. The limited-time offerings of low-quality rainbow T-shirts at higher prices is not an in-depth reflection on the queer experience. It’s a move to use queer symbols as profit. Furthermore, when corporations gain these profits, they seldom put it back into the community that is likely buying their Pride-centric goods and services. Even the corporations that do such a thing, likely by partnering with nonprofits for their Pride campaigns, seldom donate more than 15% of their profits to their partner. This is why Pride and corporations is a largely parasitic relationship – corporations profit off queer culture and its burgeoning mainstream acceptance to then give no true benefit to the queer community.

I recognize that some may say this critique is too harsh. I can acknowledge that the awareness of queer identities and acceptance as social progress is something that corporations actively play a role in. This is simply not enough though. Queer acceptance in all spaces should be a basic human right, and praising corporations for providing an open expression of that acceptance one month out of the year is a diluted accomplishment.

When it comes to Pride campaigns, corporations can take the extra step to acknowledge queer struggle, pain, and history by donating ALL the profits gained from Pride month campaigns back into the queer community through scholarships, non-profit contributions, leftist political campaign donations, and other avenues of economic, social, and political empowerment for the LGBTQ community. Only then can the negative qualities of capitalism be somewhat mitigated to ultimately not exploit the queer experience for corporate profit.

Next time I’m in SoHo, I want to know the places I’m shopping at support my community more than just a rainbow clothing campaign. I want them to support our collective struggle to navigate a heteronormative, homophobic, and transphobic system. I want to know that the money I spend at their stores, on their Pride campaign, is used for my community. If they are going to use queer culture as a design, they must understand queer history and be actively fighting to end the queer struggle.

Pride Month at Columbia University, at SIPA, and in NYC

Pride Month is still going strong as we head into mid-June, and New York City has a strong connection to Pride. June was chosen for LGBTQ Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots in June 1969, where black, brown and trans members of the LGBTQ community protested against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. Today, the Stonewall Inn is a National Historic Landmark; back in 1969, it was the target of an anti-gay legal system and rampant homophobia.

Being a policy and international affairs graduate school in the center of New York, LGBTQ rights in law and policy is a course that Adjunct Professor Jessica Stern teaches here. She describes the course as “life-changing,” not just for LGBTQ students, but also for straight allies.

This is something that is a beautiful part of a large school of critical thinkers (and do-ers) in the diverse and dense city of New York: you have every opportunity to learn about the intersection of LGBTQ rights, race, policy, and law – as well as the history of the LGBTQ movement.

That being said, I am writing this post from my own perspective as a straight person and generally average New Yorker.* I used to live in Hell’s Kitchen, an extremely gay-friendly neighborhood. I worked closely with many Broadway workers, and every single one had lost close friends and loved ones during the AIDS crisis. I’ve gotten out of the subway countless times at the Christopher St. stop, right in Greenwich Village where the Stonewall Inn is located. Even if you’re not in New York City, being on the internet exposes us to countless words and phrases that were invented and coined by the gay community, with users enthusiastically commenting “yas queen!” without knowing where it came from.

Being at SIPA will cause you to think about your place in the world, and what your work in policy and international affairs will mean for others. What does it mean to have inclusive policy? What work needs to be done to shift rhetoric and policies in my country? What do I need to learn to be more effective in creating sustainable change?

Pride Month is a celebration: of the LGBTQ community, of dignity and equality – and honestly, the marches and parties in NYC are really fun.

This month, I’m also thinking about what it means to be a straight ally. I was once told by a friend that he didn’t want an ally in this movement; he wanted an accomplice. He wanted someone to conspire with him, to protest with him, to actively change the status quo with him.

Professor Stern says that it’s essential to incorporate LGBTQ studies into curriculum. Perhaps this is something you’re intimately familiar with, and perhaps this is something that you’ve never thought about because of your environment and upbringing.

At Columbia SIPA, you have the opportunity to learn things, that you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Tomorrow we’ll share a post from a SIPA student about his perspective on Pride Month in New York City as a policy student. Until then, some resources:

*I ran a first draft of this blog post past a SIPA student who pointed out that I was missing the intersection of race within the LGBTQ movement. I include this as an anecdote of the SIPA community being a supportive environment in the collective quest to do better!

Life Beyond the Classroom: Spectrum

SIPA has so much to offer beyond the classroom, and we’re excited to hear from Spectrum during this Pride Month! Read on to learn more about what they do and stand for here at SIPA.

Spectrum is a student organization at SIPA that uses advocacy and information to advance local, national and international transformations, in favor of LGBTQIA rights. We bring together the talent of SIPA students who wish to make a difference in favor of equality and non-discrimination, particularly with regards to sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.

One of the most important goals of Spectrum is to maintain a friendly community where everyone feels welcomed. Spectrum is committed to supporting our members in their well-being. We’re committed to providing safe spaces for all students and take anonymity seriously.

What do we do? Along with panels and working lunches on topics related to LGBTQIA rights in the U.S. and the rest of the world, we throw the best happy hours to unite our community over a drink or two in informal settings!

  • Spectrum panelistsThis spring semester, we held a panel on Sexual Violence and Mental Health. Our guest speaker Jessica Stern, president of OutRight Action International, spoke on the importance of creating new and adjusting old policies that would address sexual violence in the United States. Monica Pombo, representative of the Sexual Violence Response unit at Columbia University, talked about counseling and medical services available for students on campus. Dr. Cindy Veldhuis, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, talked about the phenomena of sexual violence and how to address it.
  • We invited former and current SIPA students who successfully landed a job to share their experience in finding that job. Guest speakers included Jason Fauss (BlackRock), Nick Donias (KPMG), and Daniel Peciña-Lopez (European-American Chamber of Commerce in New York).
  • Spectrum also unites queers across the entire Columbia University. This past April we recently had a joint happy hour with LGBTQ communities from Columbia’s Law School, Business School, School of Science and Engineering, School of Social Work and School of General Studies.

Spectrum is an inclusive community — everyone who cares about LGBTQIA is welcome to become a member. Join us through OrgSync and our Facebook group to stay up-to-date with current events.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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