Collaboration with Akriti (they/them)
Edited by Yatin Srivastava
Even though we can’t pinpoint the origin of Queer Culture, it grabbed global attention right after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Since then, the culture has been evolving, but more so through the rise of artists ranging from music to fashion, such as Frida Kahlo, Yves Saint Laurent, Marsha P Johnson, RuPaul, and Freddie Mercury. Even recently, Beyoncé won the Grammy for the best Dance record by collaborating with and crediting legendary Queer house music producers like Honey Dijon, MikeQ and more. Queer people are driving the culture. From the rise of House and Techno to Punk to Jungle, it all started as a Queer movement. But it’s not just music but also movies and TV shows such as Sex Education, Schitts Creek, and Pose that have gained public appreciation through representation and authenticity to both Queer and non-Queer communities. Many avenues of the entertainment industry are embracing Queer culture, but there is a long way to go.
Queer culture refers to the cultural expressions, identities, language, and experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. It challenges traditional norms, expectations and expressions through art, literature, music, fashion, and activism. The culture is diverse and constantly evolving. It encompasses a wide range of intersecting identities, experiences, and perspectives within the community, and quite often, these art forms, such as Ballroom, originating to create a safe space for individuality and expression for African-American & Latinx Trans women, depicted in shows like Pose, Paris is Burning and Drag, popularised into today's mainstream and pop culture by Rupaul through Rupauls’s Drag Race are a form of activism itself. Both of these forms of expression have been around for the LGBTQIA+ community for centuries, catering to the upliftment of these marginalised groups for decades and giving birth to the different cultures that are popularised today by the media.
Pride celebration should be through a local context and not global uniformity
The first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Christopher Street Liberation Day, occurred on June 28, 1970, with marches in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. These marches marked the birth of what would become known as Pride Parades or Pride Marches. Soon, the day of celebration would become a month-long celebration, but not before sparking pride movements around the world. Thus, International pride month arose as a celebration for LGBTQIA+ communities worldwide. While Stonewall drove the first International celebration of pride, it also sparked protests all over the world.
In India, the long fight for LGBTQIA+ rights started in the twenties, but it manifested in the form of the first known pride parade in Kolkata in 1999. Subsequently, Delhi and twenty other cities followed to host pride marches to decriminalise Section 377 of the British colonial penal code, which criminalised homosexuality. The code was revoked after a twenty-year battle, but to date, vulnerable communities continue to face persecution and discrimination. As a result, Pride is celebrated in India across the winter, where different states celebrate differently from November to January.
Many parts of the world have created pride celebrations that cater to the local pride communities. For instance, Brighton, the official Queer capital of the UK, celebrates Pride in August. Germany and many other European cities celebrate Pride as Cristopher Street Day (CSD), named after the street where the Stonewall Inn is located. CSD events occur throughout the summer months, typically from May to August. Berlin, Cologne, and Munich are some cities in Germany known for their vibrant CSD celebrations. Even Australia, Japan and Brazil have local celebrations in addition to International Pride Month, which sometimes lasts more than a month.
Rainbow Capitalism - the Commodification of Queer Liberation
Every June, Queers worldwide experience a sudden overflow of queer support from brands, much of which is distasteful and displays the commodification of the queer liberation movement, aka rainbow capitalism. Suddenly, you can buy everything rainbow-coloured and, in many cases, for double the price. Many initiatives in June crop up from the impulse to take a stand and fit their initiatives onto a checklist for what would make an ‘ethical, responsible, and inclusive company’. This speaks to a much larger issue of misunderstanding and accountability.
Brands and promoters organising pride events don’t always understand the movement's history or the sensitivities around them. In the Indian context, Pride Parade is celebrated in November, and the number of events in November is negligible compared to June. In the previous newsletter, ‘How 'Glocalisation' and 'Internationalisation' have distinct approaches to emerging cultures, ’ we looked into the importance of regional context and authenticity. Yet, India has not seen strong initiatives relevant to Indian history. This is only one example of the many countries where Queer people don’t have rights. What does pride look like for queer people in Palestine, where Palestinian DJ-producer Sama Abdulhadi was jailed for throwing parties with ample permissions and sponsorships or in Uganda, where very recently Ugandan President Museveni criminalised same-sex conduct, including potentially the death penalty for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” into law.
Allyship and ensuring growth for the LGBTQIA+ community requires nuance:
- Importance of context in creating safe spaces for all: Exploring literature and entertainment from the context of the Queer community before diving into creating opportunities. This enables the creation of an environment that makes marginalised communities feel safe and welcome. Embracing cultural nuance also lowers the risk of backlash and showcases authentic support. Studies and focus groups should be organised on local levels that enable companies and brands to understand the community and provide comparable data to understand how to improve situations for the community.
- Representation creates opportunities: Having people from the Queer community in decision-making not only helps bring a new set of artists that are otherwise lesser known but with strong ties to the community, it also enables an exchange of ideas between people with different ideas, creating new and unique experiences through diversity. This will be essential in bringing communities together and reducing cultural prejudices and unconscious biases.
- Understanding needs and providing accordingly: In the latest BE THE CHANGE study by Tunecore and Luminate, nearly two-thirds of transgender and/or nonbinary individuals report ignoring their pronouns or witnessing this happen to someone in the workplace. Transgender respondents also indicate that they have been deadnamed by coworkers and management (34%). When facing such exclusion and disrespect frequently, it is logical that 27% of LGBTQIA+ respondents report feeling unable or unsafe to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. When meeting new people, try integrating inclusive language into your regular conversations. If you mistake someone’s pronouns or name, apologise, correct yourself and move on.
Discrimination has no place in the celebration and elevation of a community. Nearly two-thirds of transgender and/or nonbinary individuals report ignoring their pronouns or witnessing this happen to someone in the workplace worldwide. 74% of industry professionals and creators recognise a need for change and state that the industry should pay women and gender-expansive individuals salaries equal to that of cisgender men (Be The Change 2023). Unsurprisingly, community members are often underpaid and, on many occasions, are not paid under the guise of ‘exposure’. Since Pride month creates a burst of opportunities for Queer artists, combining two and two to understand the situation is easy, which rarely leads to opportunities post-Pride.
It’s time for the Queer community to lead their narrative
Pride must be the month to celebrate how far the community has come and evaluate what society can do to safeguard their cultures and identities better. Representation is critical for a wholesome and inclusive culture. People and companies that want to engage with LGBTQIA+ rights must bring in decision-makers from the community to lower the perception gap between Queers and non-Queers. This enables access to those who need it most, in the way that they need it. It’s time to create using your narrative and collaborate with others who share the same or are willing to learn to be an ally. All this enables a community and the people and the artists together to build the culture and create new contexts that enable the creation of progressive cultures that drive change. Finsta, a queer rapper from India, has taken control of creating space for herself, her allies and her community. She has, in ways, found a way to bring together people from different contexts to create one story. As a result, it is clear now that bringing more Queers to line-ups and programming brings more diverse audiences to events in India. There is no scope for gatekeepers in a culturally diverse future. If Beyonce can cater to these nuances and win a Grammy, the music industry must reconsider its approach.
The LGBTQIA+ community globally have pioneered many cultural moments in the music industry. It’s time for queer artists to gain representation on rosters. This is only possible with the efforts of the community and allies. Authenticity and representation are essential to preserving the essence of Queer culture. Pride month should enable opportunities year-round. It should work as an opportunity to showcase new talent rather than be used as a checklist.
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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures.