It’s been eye-opening to understand the rationale, as argued at recent community meetings, of those who oppose Pride Portland’s decision this year to reduce branded “swag” (beads, Frisbees, etc). This is a reasonable policy, and the outcry by a vocal few has perplexed me until now.
One person objected by arguing that a branded plastic Pride item glimpsed by a closeted youth might be just the thing that tells them they’re not alone. Another argued that a corporate sponsor did Pride a crucial favor last year by flying in volunteers when the city came up short.
What both objections tell me, encouragingly, is that these folks still want LGBTQ people to be seen. But it also tells me that they’re willing to accept a cold substitute for the real thing.
We need bodies, not beads. It’s depressing to think that a Frisbee, as opposed to a visible role model or ally, should furnish the inspiration to “come out.” And it’s equally depressing that the solution to a volunteer shortage isn’t to redouble community-building efforts, but to import well-meaning outsiders.
We need bodies. Pride Portland’s decision to allow branded T-shirts and banners is both practical and poetic. T-shirts are worn by people. Banners are carried by them. Pride is relational. The insistence on showing up, versus sending a hollow message in plastic, is socially and spiritually radical. It should not trouble business partners at all.
As a queer Portlander away at school, I’m eager to return for this kind of Pride.