The Gay ‘Sellouts’

The famous Princess Bride quote “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something” fits quite well into our current social climate where commercials and ads jump out at us from every corner. Companies have to scramble to stay relevant and they are trying to reach new audiences by being ‘current’ and, as we all know well enough, it doesn’t always work out (Pepsi, I’m talking about Pepsi).

So, if we have these massive corporations reaching out to different markets, inevitably, LGBTQIA+ people end up becoming a part of that conversation. The famously dubbed ‘pink pound’[1] is becoming more and more desirable. According to Crunch, its estimated worth is £6 billion per year, and while the term still is often linked with gay men, it is being increasingly used to describe the purchasing power of the LGBTQIA+ community in general.

As June was Pride Month, many companies came forward with different campaigns that celebrated pride. Nike did an ad for its #BeTrue pride collection featuring the legendary performer and vogue artist Leiomy Maldonado. After years of ads featuring different athletes, Nike recognised voguing as a legitimate sport that deserves praise for its intricacy and the amount of hard work that goes into it. Nike’s act of featuring a transgender woman performing something which has so much of its history linked to the LGBTQIA+ movement is one of the few instances of mainstream sport brands shining a spotlight on queer issues. This has led to people discussing the intentions behind a big brand’s choice to play on themes connected with the queer community in order to appeal to a wider audience. For example, David Levitz and Ash Hardell talked about “pinkwashing”[2] and the commercialisation of the LGBTQIA+ movement in a recent video together, saying that brands like Skittles and Target producing this kind of merchandise makes them wonder if these companies have ulterior motives.

Pride Marches are also being accused of becoming too commercial. There are a number of activists who have expressed the opinion that Pride marches are becoming increasingly commercial and are watering down their original political message. Some have criticised Pride Marches by saying that Pride is now just an excuse to party, that people have “lost sight of its identity — and of the many challenges that the gay community has still to overcome. The outside influence of brands is ‘classic pinkwashing’”.

While the amount of people attending the march in New York City has grown by a third, a survey showed that more than a quarter of the attendants in 2014 identified as straight. These numbers could suggest a deviation from the original aim of Pride, which is to create awareness of the social and political issues concerning queer lives. That is not to say that it has become just a party for straight people; there are many straight allies who want to show their support. However, this could mean that Pride is now more focused on catering to the ‘general’ public. Last summer, a group bore a black coffin on their shoulders along the parade route at London Pride, symbolising what they, and others, perceive to be the death of the movement. In addition, smaller Pride celebrations are closing down because of a lack of funds and sponsors.

Two opposing camps become visible in this debate. There are those who are not pleased with the influence that big sponsors have on Pride marches. Then there is the opposing side that argues that sponsors are needed in order to make the events as accessible as possible and help raise public awareness. This was the case for Leicester Pride – the organisers had to set up a donations page because they struggled to find sponsors, without financial support the event simply could not happen.

The real question is this: Are the giant, faceless corporations that do not care about helping anyone but their wallets just trying to profit off of yet another marketing strategy? Can something good come out of this?

Amrou Al-Kadhi, a drag queen performer, talks about general, mainstream venues demanding that queer performers should just be grateful for being given the chance to perform for free. They feel as if they are just tokens for cis, straight people to come and see something unusual and for the venues to bring in the ‘pink pound’. If voices of people like Al-Kadhi are not taken seriously and they themselves are considered just an obscure attraction, then queer people have the right to be sceptical about anyone wanting to make a profit selling products connected to queer culture. This is not to say that everything is just about the ‘evil corporation’ wanting to make money, but there is always the danger that the message will be watered down in order to appeal to a larger audience. Shannon Keating brings up the history behind “The Future is Female” slogan t-shirt and points out how a product whose proceeds were donated to a charity supporting the cause got taken over by bigger clothing companies that do not share their profits with any of the charities that the t-shirt was originally made for.

This debate reveals that providing a platform where marginalised voices can share their stories, and have others understand their struggles, is vital and needs to be focused on. While the mainstream is starting to recognise more queer performers and creators, it is important that it is not done in the spirit of ‘tokenism’ but as a gateway to understanding and acceptance.

This is also, firmly, an issue for the publishing industry to consider. There is a lack of diversity in the industry and a need for representation, a need that commercial publishing cannot fulfil in its current state.

When LGBTQIA+ focused venues close down, like the legendary LGBTQIA+ bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, that closed in 2014, it is often a large blow to the community. Places aimed and created specifically for queer people should be uplifted and supported – giving a platform to those avoided by the mainstream is crucial to creating a change. While Nike’s decision to feature a trans woman in their ad is a significant move forward, more energy needs to be put into places that are specifically created by and for queer people. These places need to be supported not for how much they can entertain the mainstream, but because they’re one of the main reasons for the continued survival of the queer community.

Written and researched by Lenka Murova 

[1] Def: “The perceived spending power of homosexuals as a group; (in plural) money belonging to, or earned by, homosexuals” from Oxford dictionary



Liberal snowflakes demanding safe spaces

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by Lenka Murova 

The phrase ‘liberal snowflakes’ has been thrown around a lot recently, assigned to those who are pushing their ‘extreme liberal agenda’ and are easily offended and unable to face reality. It appears that by asking for equal rights, these ‘snowflakes’ are overreacting and infringing on the rights of others. There are loud opinions voiced from each side every day and many have strong views on the topic and refuse to budge.

More often than not, ‘liberal snowflake’ gets thrown in with ‘safe spaces’. There are those who mock the entire idea and deem it as ‘pussyfying’ the nation, claiming that the liberal agenda is going too far and trying to create a bubble that does not mesh with reality.

By definition, a safe space is “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.”[1] I don’t know about you, but nothing in this definition sounds like something we shouldn’t strive towards in our society. So why do people get so angry when someone claims they want a safe space?

University campuses are often brought up in the debate concerning the need for safe spaces. As universities are places for debate and learning, many argue that safe spaces go against that very idea, infringing on the right for free speech. Their claim is, how can you freely express your opinions if you have to act according to the rules of safe spaces? However, these same people are often unaware of how skewed their perception of free speech is. If someone wants to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ and argue that many women lie about being assaulted and thus should not be taken seriously when they report it, they’re simply perpetuating wrongful ‘facts’. Rehashing the same argument over and over in academic debates and perpetuating this viewpoint only validates people outside these academic circles to use it as ‘alternative facts’ to win arguments. Narratives like these cause real damage to victims of such crimes by spreading false information. This has nothing to do with protecting free speech, it only excuses abusive behaviour.

What many do not understand is that safe spaces are meant to provide reassurance and a sense of belonging for those who are still not widely accepted in society. Rudo Ellen Kazembe lists all the ways that these safe spaces help people work towards improving their lives. LGBTQIA+ people are one of the main groups who are criticised for needing safe spaces. However, Katie Dupere points out the harsh reality that there is no real safe space for queer people. The danger of physical or verbal assault is still an everyday reality for many. That is why we continuously seek others who are a part of our community, so that we can be surrounded by people who understand what we might be going through. The pursuit of safe spaces is based on this idea, wanting to be around others who understand and accept you for who you are. It’s about knowing that you have a place that you can turn to, a place where you don’t feel threatened.

But all of this is just the ideal, perfect version of what a safe space should be. More often than not, though, reality doesn’t match up. Undeniably, there are many marginalised groups which have to struggle in their everyday life in a way that privileged people are not even aware of. It is those who have to fight for equal rights that deserve to have somewhere they can turn to when the outside world is too hostile. The LGBTQIA+ community is a minority that has been constantly fighting for equal rights and their place in society. However, even the LGBTQIA+ community is guilty of overlooking certain issues and allowing stereotypes to fester. There are reports about trans women of colour being physically assaulted and killed on a daily basis in the US, yet there is not enough activism devoted to this issue. The recent UK election made trans people who were registering to vote jump through multiple hoops, which many found discouraging. Recently, black and brown colours were added to the original pride flag during this month’s Pride events in Philadelphia. While they did this to show support for people of colour in the community, they received an immense amount of backlash.

Safe spaces lose their meaning if we exclude certain minorities from our communities. Safe spaces only make sense when they are safe for everyone in the community, not just the select few. There is more than one colour of the rainbow on the flag for a reason, the reason being that the community is immensely diverse. It is hard to argue for the need of safe spaces for marginalised groups in view of the harassment they are subjected to, especially when it happens within our very own community. Being hypocritical does not provide much legitimacy, not to mention that it also hurts the common cause.

That is why we have to work harder on improving our own community, why we have to uplift and highlight the voices that have been silenced for so long. Equality means equality for all. It is necessary to create safe spaces where everyone can express their thoughts and share their experiences without fear. These spaces should provide an opportunity to recharge after a constant battle against discrimination. Spaces that give people within the community strength to venture outside and create a safer world. This requires constant work, discussion, improvement, listening to each other and working towards making change and being critical of our own community and ourselves.

It is necessary to focus on providing a platform for those who are continuously denied their representation in the mainstream. The publishing industry has this opportunity to amplify voices that many in the commercial media view as too risky and unmarketable (with particular emphasis on profitability). Through publishing work that reflects the personal truth of the marginalised, it is possible to create safe spaces where people can affirm that they are not alone in their experiences. A publisher can be seen as a ‘gatekeeper’ – someone who makes the crucial decision of who and what can and cannot be published. That is why it is necessary to have a publishing house dedicated to giving a voice to underrepresented sections of the public. By publishing the work of writers whose stories reflect diverse communities, it is possible to bridge gaps in people’s understanding of others and their experience of life.



Written and researched by Lenka Murova