Gay Shame – A Radical Alternative

Gay Pride has become little more than a giant opportunity for multi-national corporations to target-market products to gay consumers. Major companies focus on Pride-oriented ad campaigns, from beer and liquor companies like Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Cuervo, Smirnoff, Skyy and Bailey’s to clothing companies like Polo, Banana Republic, Reebok, and Macy’s, car companies like Saab and BMW, and drug companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoWellcome, and Abbott Laboratories. In San Francisco and many large U.S. cities, Gay Pride is a fenced-off event, where an endless parade of floats, from the vapid to the downright scary, marches by: gay AT&T employees, gay Genentech employees, “gay-friendly” politicians like racist Mayor Giuliani of New York or pro-gentrification Mayor Brown of San Francisco, gay stockbrokers, gay realtors, gay cops…

Many of the companies in attendance at Pride mask reactionary agendas in order to court the gay dollar: right-wing Coors and Philip Morris, union-busting Budweiser, and the old standbys—drug companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoWellcome, who always choose profits over people’s lives (especially people with AIDS). If the organizers of the Pride Parade offer any agenda at all (sometimes they do not—last year’s San Francisco theme was “Queerific”), it is usually organized along an assimilationist axis: gay marriage and gays-in-the-military are common preoccupations. This year, though, SF Pride has gone off the deep end by adapting Budweiser’s advertising motto for the official theme. “Be Yourself—Make It a Bud” has become “Be Yourself—Change the World.”

Queers appalled by “Budweiser Pride” are organizing to confront the corporate beast with Gay Shame actions at the June 30 SF Pride Parade. These actions will encourage people to celebrate queer identities in ways other than buying a bunch of crap. So many people are alienated by the consumerism and the assimilationist agenda of “pride,” and we call on everyone to resist this tyranny.

Gay Pride has not always been such a spectacle of consumption; it’s roots lie in the famous and everyday acts of queer resistance to police brutality (Stonewall Riots, Compton Cafeteria Riots, etc). Furthermore, since the beginning of corporate-sponsored “pride,” queers have resisted by various means, from physically attacking the organizers, to blocking elected officials from marching, to breaking into the march with anti-consumerist messages. The first Gay Shame event took place in 1998 in New York, organized by a collective of queers who challenged the limiting agenda of of a gay movement that refuses to address racism, misogyny, heterosexism, and classism as an intrinsic part of organizing. The free event took place at dumba, a queer household and performance space in Brooklyn, and consisted of drag, spoken word, and dance performances; speakers and tabling on issues of welfare “reform,” poverty and homelessness, the crackdown on public sex and queer visibility, personal queer histories, and needle exchange; vegan food; dancing and community-building.

1Since then, Gay Shame festivals of resistance have occurred in numerous cities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including San Francisco, Toronto, Stockholm, and Barcelona. These events have taken various forms—in Barcelona, for example, organizers blocked the parade with shopping carts.

In San Francisco, the first Gay Shame event occurred last year, when we took over Tire Beach, a rotting industrial park on the San Francisco Bay. We turned Tire Beach into our queer autonomous space for the day, which included free food, t-shirts, and various other gifts, bands, spoken word, djs and dancing, a kidspace for children, and speakers on issues including gentrification, U.S. colonization of Vieques, and prison, youth, and trans activism. We encouraged people to participate in creating their own radical queer space, and people argued about political issues, created visual art, poured concrete and made a mosaic, dyed hair, mudwrestled naked, and had sex. We organized the event in less than a month, and over four hundred people trekked out to Tire Beach to join in the festivities.

As organizers of Gay Shame in San Francisco last year, however, one of our main critiques was that, in spite of our efforts to create a politicized space, many participants were rude to the speakers and seemed uninteresting in anything beyond partying and socializing with their friends. This year we resolved to be more confrontational, to ensure that our political agenda would remain clear.

Gay Shame presented the Gay Shame Awards on May 25, in the center of the whitewashed gayborhood of the Castro. We rewarded the most hypocritical gays for their service to the “community,” in order to expose these evil-doers who use the sham of “pride” as a cover-up for their greed and misdeeds. Hundreds of queers dressed to excess and jammed Harvey Milk Plaza and blocked Castro Street for several hours of dangerous glamour. Award categories included “Making More Queers Homeless,” “Helping Right-Wingers Cope,” “Best Target Marketing,” “Best Gender Segregation,” “Best Racist-Ass Whites-Only Space,” “Exploiting Our Youth,” “The IN Award” (For Celebrities Who Should Never Have Come Out in the First Place), and “Legends” (Straight Allies for Reactionary Gays). We presented a radical queer extravaganza, a fun and biting critique of the reactionary gay mainstream– in the belly of the beast.

Gay Shame is committed to fighting the rabid assimilationist monster of corporate gay “pride” with a devastating mobilization of queer brilliance. If you’d like to get involved, call (415) 540-2947 or email