The Fall of Pride

The Fall of Pride

If Pride were being challenged only by a diminished, if persistent, religious right, then its recent setbacks could be dismissed as temporary. But in fact the challenges are more wide-ranging. Pride is now criticized not only by conservative Christians, but by progressive activists who make a claim on its deepest meaning. Long associated with youth and the future, it is bleeding support among young Americans. 

On June 2, 2024, protestors temporarily halted the Philly Pride Parade. They were not congregants of the Westboro Baptist Church or representatives of the Proud Boys but members of a group called Queers 4 Palestine. They held up a sign saying “No Pride in Genocide.” As they explained in a statement on Instagram, they viewed the city’s Pride parade as a symbol of oppression, not liberation: a “public-relations instrument used by the corporate arm of the state to divert public attention away from the configuration of violent, repressive policies and practices inflicted upon Queer people worldwide.”

The interruption was the latest sign of the challenges facing Pride, a monthlong holiday that has united corporations and activist groups, political leaders and self-styled dissidents in celebration not only of gay liberation but of queerness generally. After decades of increasing buy-in, Pride appears to be losing public legitimacy. The change is reflected in a corporate retreat from Pride-themed marketing, shifts in public opinion, and conflicts among progressive groups about the meaning of Pride.

Inspired by the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the first Pride parades took place in 1970 in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As decades passed, Pride came to symbolize not only the increasing acceptance of sexual minorities, but the rising fortunes of an educated, urban professional class that valued self-expression, equality, and diversity. Marketers recognized this, and sought to exploit, in the words of Katherine Sender, a professor of communications at Cornell, the association between “same-sex eroticism and young, urban trendiness.” Alcohol companies, having little reason to fear alienating religious consumers, led the way.

In 2023, the backlash came. On April 1, the transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a picture on Instagram featuring a personalized can of Bud Light. The conservative commentator Matt Walsh called for a boycott. Kid Rock posted a video of himself shooting a case of the beer. Megyn Kelly compared drinking the beer to giving “a middle finger to women.” Bud Light’s sales declined by approximately 25 percent in a matter of weeks. Two executives associated with the Mulvaney promotion were placed on leave. Anheuser-Busch’s chief marketing officer stepped aside. Bud Light, the top-selling beer in the U.S. for twenty-two years, was dethroned by Modelo Especial.

Target faced similar criticism after social media accounts claimed that a size XS swimsuit advertised as having “light binding” in the chest and a “tuck-friendly” crotch was available for purchase in the children’s section. (Target officials responded that the suits were offered only in adult sizing and not intended for children.) Sales fell by 5 percent in the April-to-June period, the first such drop in six years.

Corporations took note. After years of increasing prominence, Pride commemorations were more subdued in 2024. Nike, which has offered Pride collections since 1999, declined to offer one this year. Target dropped Pride-themed childrenswear and offered Pride merchandise in only half its stores. Bud Light refrained from any Pride-themed advertising, instead highlighting its partnership with Dustin Poirier, a UFC fighter.

Due in part to these decisions by retailers, Pride was less prominent this year in the public spaces of American cities—as if Manhattan department stores had suddenly stopped doing Christmas displays. “I certainly haven’t seen a significant amount of pride items or flags outside, which kind of threw me because I live in a fairly progressive area,” lamented one commenter on the r/lgbt subreddit. “I’ve noticed this too,” wrote another. “Even when I was in the city I only saw a few.”

One reason Pride is less prominent in cities this year is that cities have other things to worry about. Despite its origins in rioting, Pride greatly benefited from the historic reduction in crime that American cities underwent in the 1990s. Cities suddenly became safe for the educated professionals whose values generally accorded with Pride, whether or not they happened to be LGBTQ.

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