Day 6

Taylor Swift has a new gay anthem and Pride flags are everywhere. Is this progress?

This year's Pride month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and amidst the sea of rainbow flags and corporate sponsors, some LGBT activists say the corporatization of Pride poses problems for the movement.

'People in the LGBT community are not brands. We're people with desperate needs,' says Nicki Ward

Toronto Star columnist Shawn Micallef says that the corporatization of Pride is a positive step, but companies need to show greater involvement in the community. (Jason Vermes/CBC)
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When Taylor Swift released a new, pro-LGBT single this week, she was quickly accused of capitalizing on Pride month celebrations for a buck.

The video for You Need To Calm Down features LGBT icons like RuPaul, Ellen DeGeneres, the cast of Queer Eye and Laverne Cox. It also prominently features her reunion with Katy Perry after a much-publicized falling out.

But for an artist who has been famously apolitical until late, the gesture was questioned by activists and media alike.

Yet this June, like each June for the past few years, Swift isn't the only one rolling out the rainbow carpet.

Brands, from Canada's big five banks to small-town breweries, have plastered their locations, logos and social media feeds with rainbow adornments.

That's seen as progress — acceptance of a once marginalized community — to many. But for others, it's nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell products, co-opting the very real struggles of LGBT people around the world.

'It's still quite dangerous out there'

Shawn Micallef, a columnist for Toronto Star and the co-founder of Spacing magazine, understands the value of feeling represented.

Growing up in the '90s, the gay-friendly bookstore he frequented was shrouded in secrecy with patrons worried of being seen entering or exiting.

"It was a place whispered about, right? And if you were seen going in there there might be trouble," he told Day 6. "To see kind of that dramatic turnaround with this visibility is amazing."

Micallef applauded Scotiabank's effort to include the Trans community flag among rainbow flags at their Toronto financial district office. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

The Technicolor facades, however, have the downside of lulling onlookers into believing a false sense of progress, he said.

"Things have gotten better for some people ... but for a lot of people, they haven't found that level of comfort. It's still quite dangerous out there," he said, pointing to anti-LGBT protests at a Pride event in Hamilton, Ont. turned violent earlier this month.

"That safety that some of us get to feel is really thin."

The reason the Pride movement lives and breathes over the years is because of the outrage. It's not because of banks.- Nicki Ward, trans activist

Noting that this year's Toronto Pride parade grand marshal is Rainbow Railroad — an organization that supports LGBT refugees in countries with oppressive laws for sexual and gender minorities — he questions what corporations are doing beyond flying the rainbow flag.

"I wonder [if] all these corporations — some of them who run the RRSPs — are there investments going into some of these countries?" Micallef asked.

"They could provide a lot of leverage to make life better in those kind of far-flung places."

LGBT people 'are not brands'

Trans activist Nicki Ward is less complimentary of corporate pride.

"People in the LGBT community are not brands. We're people with desperate needs," she told Day 6.

"When you get people marketing to, and putting a brand on, suffering ... dealing with human oppression as if it was a brand issue, these are appalling ideas that we accept as normal."

Nicki Ward is a trans activist in Toronto and opposes to corporate Pride branding. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

According to Ward, the commodification of Pride month can overshadow the fact that Pride started as a protest — not a parade.

She will march in Toronto's Trans March two days before that city's Pride parade on Sunday.

"Gay men now have many, many rights, but women still fall far behind and trans women even further," she said. "That's why they are still marching and perhaps feel more a greater affinity for that than the parade itself," she said.

"The reason the Pride movement lives and breathes over the years is because of the outrage. It's not because of banks."


To hear more from Shawn Micallef and Nicki Ward, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.

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