Those June Gay Lifestyle Expos

By: Bob Minor

It wouldn't be the first time that someone pointed out that Gay Pride Festivals aren't gay pride festivals any more.

They're no longer defiant statements that affirm against mainstream bigotry that LGBT people are proud and healthy anyway. They're now concerned with being liked by the straight world.

They're no longer dominated by the actions and agenda of organizations that continue to fight for equality, acceptance, and progress. Those organizations' booths get squeezed in, if not out, by businesses large and small that want to capitalize on the LGBT dollar.

Pity the small town festival with no businesses that cater to their community and too small for national corporations to care about it. They just have settle for pride in who they are.

Music and musicians that celebrate a lifestyle, not LGBT life, dominate Pride stages. Speeches by activists from local, regional, and even national, organizations meant to inspire us to continue the fight are drowned out by entertainment stages or ignored as breaks to refill with alcohol before the next performance begins.

Pride started to celebrate the June 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York. Now they must be profitable enterprises. Can you imagine those West Village street people and drag queens first weighing whether their defiance would be financially feasible?

There are those who think the change is just great. It means we've arrived and are acceptable. It means business loves our money. It means we're "post-label."

They measure our worth by our buying power. They seem to believe LGBT people are GAP-buying, latte-drinking, light-beer-guzzling (or fine-wine-sipping), concert-going, Lexus-driving, gym-devoted, home-mortgage-owners who no longer have problems with being fired from their jobs, attacked on the streets, or kicked out of public accommodations. What's wrong with people who don't fit this lifestyle anyway?

Picking on pride fests, isn't the point at all, though. Parties can really be fun.

It's just that they're part of a profound change in LGBT communities that attempts to mold everyone to fit into the stifling values of a broader culture.

Mainstream national media portrays LGBT people this way, and loves it. "Gay-themed magazines lighten up: publications back off from social issues and glom on to lifestyle and entertainment," was the headline of a May news report originating in the Sacramento Bee and reprinted nationally.

Gay magazines like The Advocate and Jane and Jane, the story reports, are now: "more about the 'active lifestyle,' as the media cliché goes. Home improvement. Fashion. Celebrity culture…. The gay media are not immune to the trends that have recently dominated mainstream publications - in other words flash over substance, influenced by (what else?) the Internet."

So, while pride festivals have come to sell a lifestyle little different from Home and Garden Shows and Travel and Leisure Expos, LGBT magazines have morphed into People and US Magazine.

It's no surprise that LGBT people are in sync with such changes. Everyone who's brought up in our culture should have been taught that being all we can be means being active consumers. Any minority group learns to believe that keeping up with the dominant group is the way to fit in.

The box stores want your money no matter who you are. If Broke Back Mountain will make money, even Wal-Mart will splash ads all over. The only unacceptable lifestyle is one that doesn't relish and promote the joys of shopping.

Going out to the malls and buying stuff, remember, was the primary therapy Bush prescribed for the country after 9/11. Be scared, was the Commander Guy's message, but not so afraid that you'll quit shopping for distractions from what's going on around you.

This emphasis upon consumption does to LGBT communities what it does to the straight world around us. It enforces the idea that people are what they buy. We are our car. We are our CD library. We are what we drink.

Instead of opening LGBT lives further to their innumerable possibilities, many we have yet to explore, our cultural institutions have become places to learn a restrictive lifestyle that's sellable.

There can be token appearances of those who don't fit, but the dominant message is that there is another lifestyle to be admired and sought for by dedicating your purse to it. There may even be well-crafted messages that say you can purchase being unique just like everyone else.

Yet, the reality is that LGBT people have lives of great variety. There are many that aren't encompassed by this promoted lifestyle.

And since most don't fit the lifestyle, no matter how hard they try, the message of this consumer promotion is they should just try even harder, devoting their lives to fitting in.

Can't live the gay lifestyle at work or with your friends? You can do it here.

Don't feel right about your sexual orientation? We'll help you by showing you the way it's supposed to be lived.

Not having enough fun in your life? Look how much fun we appear to be having.

Don't even aspire to the lifestyle? What's wrong with you?

You can be acceptable after all. Read our magazines and go to our festivals and you can see how to be really be gay.

What's sad about all this is everything we lose.

We lose those we marginalize, those who don't fit in because they can't afford to, choose not to, or have unchangeable attributes that prevent them from doing so. After all, there is still something very white about this gay lifestyle.

We lose our commitment to inclusiveness. Instead of opening broader possibilities, we limit them to those who chase the latest version of products along with us.

We lose the edge we have to create our own humor, theology, arts, and culture. Instead we copy the acceptable in a society that's desperate for new answers to the same old problems it hasn't solved for centuries.

We lose our ability to speak truth to a very sick culture. And if you've looked around you lately, you know straight culture is deeply ill. It needs outsiders, not insiders, to save it.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and author of the forthcoming When Religion is an Addiction. He has authored Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society: The Minor Details and Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human. Reach him at www.fairnessproject.org.

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