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Transmissions: A Target for Pride

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

It was 25 years ago this year that I began to come out in earnest as a trans woman. My wife and I both came out as bisexual around the same time. Depending on how you want to count things, she and I have been in a lesbian relationship for about as long.

As a result, I often look at Pride events as a bit passe; I've been there, I've done that, and I have strands of cheap, plastic rainbow-colored beads. What's more, we're an old, married couple, so the notion of running about and partying seems contrary to cracking open a pint of ice cream and watching Netflix.

Pride events themselves have changed. What were slightly more than spontaneous parades have given way to glitzy, corporate-sponsored, multi-block street fairs. They've become a part of the mainstream, with all the good and ill that entails.

On the corporate-supporting side of this, fast food giant McDonald's has opted to "rainbow-ize" its large French fry containers. It's a first for the Golden Arches, but comes at the same time as allegations about ill treatment from a trans former employee.

In a lawsuit filed last month, La'Ray Reed, a crewmember in Redford, Michigan, claims "extreme sexual harassment" at the local franchise where she worked full-time between April and August 2015. In the suit, Reed claims to have faced insults and sexual harassment, as well as being required to use a rear bathroom that doubled as a storage closet. After she complained to the franchise owner, she was terminated, according to the suit.

So much for pretty, cardboard French fry boxes.

At the other end of the spectrum is Target, the discount retailer. The company has, with some stumbles, shown itself to be largely LGBTQ-friendly, insofar as it continues to assist the bottom line. Target's biggest positive action has been standing tall on transgender restroom access, even as the religious right and others rail against the company for it.

This month, many Target locations have a specialty section focusing on Pride-themed merchandise, even including trans-themed goods. I'm pretty sure it's the first major retailer to make such a move.

My feelings about this are a bit mixed. On one hand, I see it as pure capitalism, with Target making bank off the backs of our lives. That stinks. As I mentioned, so much of what was Pride has given way to the big corporations looking to advertise their wares to yet another demographic. In this way, Target is just one more in a long line – and it didn't even need to sponsor a booth at a local Pride festival to do it.

One could take a very cynical view of this, and see Pride sliding into a mockery of itself. Like St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, and even Independence Day, it may simply devolve into yet another excuse for people to wear goofy, themed goods and drink watered-down beer.

Yet I want to provide an alternate view: consider that I, who came out so long ago, still see a value in Pride. What's more, I think that Target selling Pride goodies may be a very good thing for us.

Consider how many young LGBTQ folks – who may otherwise be unable to get to a Pride event – may see a trans, bi, or good old rainbow flag in the very store they and their family shop in? What might that mean to them? How might it change the power of the narrative the religious right and others might use against us, to see Pride items a few aisles from the housewares and family staples?

We live in harrowing times. The Trump administration is whittling down our rights, while states as diverse as Washington and Texas face potential transgender restroom battles. Transgender people are still being murdered at elevated rates. We face a tsunami, with many seeking to erase us, hold us down, and shame us into closets and dark alleys.

Square that against Target's commitment to stock Pride gear in its stores. While it remains a consumer-focused, capitalist message – and I'm not going to suggest we throw in with anyone willing to slap rainbows on their products in June – it nevertheless pushes back against those who would rather see us simply go away.

That Target backs this up by being more progressive than many retailers is icing on the cake. It helps avoid being some form of LGBTQ-focused "pink washing" – that is, presenting a positive veneer on a otherwise problematic company or product – and instead enhances the company's more forward-thinking policies.

I find myself thinking of a possible young and/or closeted person seeing those items and realizing, for the first time, that they need not live in shame. Or that same person going to their first Pride event, as I did two and a half decades ago, and feeling a belonging they may have never known.

I may be somewhat old and jaded when it comes to my own involvement, but at the same time I feel a sense of duty for those who may need that extra bit of encouragement, and a place where they can feel welcomed and encouraged.

This is why, even now, Pride matters. Indeed, it may be more relevant in this era of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence than it has been in years, providing an all-too-fleeting moment of celebration in a pitched battle to secure what shreds of our rights that we can. We need this – to keep the flame alive as we go back to the front lines.

 

Gwen Smith tries to feel a little Pride every day. You'll find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.

 

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