Thu Jul 25, 2024
July 25, 2024

‘Pinkwashing’ counters movement for Queer liberation

By RUSS O’SHEA

Queer people today find themselves in a startling position. In the time since the Stonewall Uprising, the community seemed to have been making slow but steady gains, achieving, for example, legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. But over the last decade or so, things have begun to tumble backwards.

For the second year in a row, the ACLU is tracking over 500 anti-LGBT bills pending in the U.S., which target every aspect of life from civil rights to health care, from self-expression to participation in society. In addition, the threat of anti-Queer programs like Project 2025 loom on the horizon. The powers that be are trying to force Queer people out of public life and back into the closet. At the same time, they make money off of our image during Pride Month and use our communities to justify the genocide of Palestinians.

As the capitalist class is forced to contend with ongoing crises—the falling rate of profit, decline of U.S. hegemony, growing social and labor movement—it must tighten its grip on the working class to maintain supremacy. Queer and especially trans people are a very convenient target of some of the most brutal assaults on workers’ rights. The nuclear family is seen by the ruling class as the most efficient means of maintaining the workforce, dividing workers among strict gender roles of men and women that produce both commodities and more workers to be exploited under capitalism.

Trans people are especially threatening to the ruling class because of the challenge that they pose to the gendered subordination that is a corollary of the existing social setup.

The capitalists have many mechanisms of enforcing oppression, including the police. The lineage of violence against Queer people by state forces can be traced back to the earliest days of both policing and the Queer rights movement, most memorably in the U.S. at Stonewall, where a police raid on a Queer gathering space erupted into an uprising led by Black and Puerto Rican activists against police brutality.

It is important to recognize also the connection between the settler-colonial emergence of Euro-American rule and smashing non-binary gender roles on this continent. That dynamic was epitomized by Spanish Conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s mass murder of Indigenous people in 1513, when he set dogs against 40 male-assigned Cueva Indians for being “sodomites,” since they had “assumed the roles of women.”

The role of the police in protecting capital, and therefore attacking Queer workers, is why the demand of “No Cops at Pride” is raised, and also why increased police militarization such as the construction of cop cities are especially threatening to Queer and trans people. The wealthy elite also greatly benefit from the growing boldness of the far right, who much like police, carry out the task of enforcing cisheteronormativity and class-based oppression.

Capitalist rainbow washing

A more subtle trick of the ruling class to maintain Queer oppression is through pink washing or rainbow washing. This is when corporations or politicians use Queer identities and communities to sell a product or promote a political campaign while either not doing anything to help Queer people, or, more likely, actively engaging in policies that harm Queer people. Like many tricks of the ruling class, pinkwashing is a method of obfuscating the source of oppression; without the smoke and mirrors, the answer would clearly be class society.

In the decades following the Stonewall rebellion, rainbow-washing became more and more commonplace, as the ruling class grew more fearful of what a militant Queer rights movement could mean for their position as rulers. Having become a rainbow-themed advertisement for companies, many refer to today’s NYC Pride as “corporate pride” and opt for alternatives like the Queer Liberation March which seeks to revive the militant spirit of Stonewall and “reclaim pride.” This year, the march resisted efforts to rainbow wash the war on Gaza by raising its banner against war and genocide.

On the other side of things, we’ve seen this Pride season how the ruling class is using Islamophobic rhetoric to divide the movements for Palestinian and Queer liberation. A joint statement from the FBI and DHS claimed that “foreign terrorist organizations” connected to Oct. 7 in Gaza would target Pride events this year. This is meant to work hand in hand with Israel’s rainbow washing of itself. Israel portrays itself as the only safe place for Queer people in the Middle East, benefitting from stereotypes alleging that Arabs are homophobic to justify its ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Of course, the FBI statement was not intended to protect Queer people—which would necessarily mean ending the genocide that is killing, among others, Queer Palestinians—but has meant an increased police presence at Pride events and a pretext to repress Queer people and their allies in solidarity with Palestine.

Our movements need to overcome the divisive rhetoric and join forces: We won’t allow the politicians and the corporations to rainbow wash the slaughter! No pride in genocide, all oppression is connected!

Democratic Party not on our side: Build the movement for Queer liberation!

While Republicans lay the groundwork for the criminalization of Queer lives, how has the Democratic Party responded to the attacks? They lean heavily on pinkwashing to capture those that support Queer rights. And at the same time, the Democrats bolster the forces of repression against Queer people, namely the police, to crush movements for Queer liberation. Beyond the lip service, what is their “solution” to the unprecedented crisis queer people in the U.S. face today?

Standing behind a genocidal president, who has done nothing to meaningfully challenge the legal and extralegal onslaught his administration has presided over, these politicians just tell us we need to vote for them to avoid even worse treatment under the Republicans. At the same time, they join forces with Republicans in places like New Hampshire, where the two parties teamed up to ban gender-affirming care. In addition, the Democrats advise Queer people to leave places like Florida and move to “blue” states. This is not a solution; we cannot leave the most vulnerable behind but instead must be organizing everywhere in defense of Queer rights! In the “progressive” states, we need to be working proactively to safeguard our rights—rights that were not granted by politicians who wanted to do the right thing but were won after decades of grassroots organizing and bringing people into the streets!

How do we outflank the attempts to rainbow wash and water down the movement for Queer liberation? We must start from the fundamental understanding that the interests of Queer people and the interests of the corporations, the police, and the ruling class are irreconcilable. The companies and the politicians do not stand for Queer rights; instead, they have a vested interest in keeping Queer people down and out. They paint themselves as progressive as a way to side step an outcry.

The interests of both political wings of the ruling class, the Democrats and Republicans, lie in maintaining a system that oppresses Queer people and all oppressed and exploited people. The only way that we can turn back this offensive is through a mass movement that is independent of the parties of the ruling class and that brings together workers and oppressed communities. With millions in the streets, we will be unstoppable.

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