Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Bucking the mainstream nothing new for Gay Shame


Mary Mortgages, right, from Gay Shame, participates in a small demonstration in San Francisco focusing on housing for PWAs as part of an action marking 20 years of ACT UP. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Did you ever get the feeling, during Pride, that something wasn't quite right? The yearly festivities are meant to celebrate our queerness, our otherness, and our right to exist and be who we want to be. Increasingly, however, it seems as though the parades and parties act in homage to politicians as well as corporations that want to sell us alcohol, medications, vacations, healthcare, cigarettes, and cable packages. Some argue that Pride is a celebration of assimilation.

What happened to the community's radical beginnings? The "radical" side of the gay liberation movement, and Pride as a movement, began in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. That summer, queers at the Stonewall Inn decided they'd had enough of the regular police harassment gay bars and patrons faced, and were ready to fight back. Riots began on the evening of June 27 and early morning of June 28, and demonstrations occurred in Greenwich Village for nearly a week afterwards. The following June, celebrations were held to commemorate the Stonewall riots. These events comprised the beginning of what we know today as gay Pride, now called LGBT Pride in San Francisco and in many other cities.

Over the years, it seems as though Pride celebrations have become inundated with products and ads, free samples and surveys, mailing lists and a platform for companies to hawk their wares at the "gay market," and for politicians to tout their support to the powerful gay voting bloc.

This year, San Francisco Pride has no less than 25 corporate sponsors. While 50 percent of the gate revenue raised during Pride goes back to the nonprofits that provide volunteer labor, the money is not donated until "all operational costs (i.e., stickers, buckets, signage, and other associated expenses) have been deducted from the donations received. Each individual donations partner's share of the 50 percent will be based on the number of volunteer hours supplied. ... The remaining 50 percent retained by San Francisco Pride will help cover administrative and operational costs for the Pride event." according to material on Pride's Web site at

"The mission of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration Committee is to educate the world, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture, and liberate our people," according to its Web site.

But there is something about what Pride has become that does not sit well with some people, including members of Gay Shame, who describe themselves as "a virus in the system."

"Gay Shame started as an alternative to Gay Pride. Gay Pride had become a disgusting consumerist and assimilationist nightmare, and Gay Shame was devised to be a space for queers who didn't want to deal with that shit," said Mary Sumptions of Gay Shame San Francisco. (Each member of Gay Shame identifies him or herself as "Mary.")

"Queer folks exist because of a legacy of direct action activism. However, the gay mainstream is actively working to 'clean up' all forms of queerness that do not fit into the white, upper class, married, heathery dream," explained Mary J.

Lindsey Jones, executive director of Pride, wrote in an e-mail that while the event started as a small local celebration 37 years ago, today it has grown into one of the largest gay Prides in the world.

"Unfortunately, the event can no longer be supported by 'passing the hat' and collecting donations," said Jones, who noted that half of the voluntary $5 gate donation provides funds for local nonprofit organizations. "The donations collected at the gate are not enough to cover expenses and 50 percent of these funds are granted to Community Partners."

Jones said that keeping the event free and accessible to all has been a priority for the Pride Committee. The gate donation is not mandatory and no one is turned away. Pride events in cities such as San Jose and Long Beach have an admission fee for their festivals.

Corporate sponsors are asked to support Pride at a higher cost so that nonprofit organizations and small local businesses can participate fully in the event at lower prices, Jones added.

As for Gay Shame, Jones said, "All of us, in a free society, have the right to alternate points of view, beliefs, and understandings. The members of Gay Shame serve an important counterpoint. Diversity, in all forms, is a good thing."

Jones said that she invites Gay Shame members to talk with Pride members about their differences.

While Gay Shame San Francisco produces direct actions, albeit on a small scale, at least in recent years, it has also held periodic "Gay Shame Awards," during which members recognize people who "should be ashamed of their disservice to the queer community, progressive politics and social justice."

"Gay Shame evolved to a direct action spectacle because people really wanted to challenge a racist, classist, sexist mainstream gay culture," said Mary Sumptions. "We have focused on a variety of issues from the hypocrisy of the nonprofit industrial complex to AIDS evictions to gentrification. Our group has been very good at making connections between these different struggles."

This spring, Gay Shame teamed up with the newly formed ACT UP Bay Area, taking part in a demonstration in the Castro to commemorate ACT UP's 20th anniversary and to focus on AIDS housing issues.

The group is also involved in direct action in the Tenderloin to fight gentrification.

The phrase "Gay Shame" and groups calling themselves as such have been in existence for nearly 10 years and originated in Brooklyn, New York, according to an entry on Wikipedia. Working under the tenets of direct action and complete equality (i.e. no leaders, no decision-making without consensus), Gay Shame as a movement has often been criticized and rejected by the mainstream of gay culture.

In 2003, Gay Shame participants clashed with the contingent of then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom and Pride Parade monitors and two people were arrested. The charges were dropped. The group also protested when Newsom kicked off his campaign for mayor later that year and during a fundraiser at the LGBT Community Center.

Gay Shame members put out a poster of the late Bob Ross, founding publisher of the Bay Area Reporter, after his death in December 2003 entitled "Ding-Dong! Bob Ross is Dead!" and said they were "dancing on" his grave because of his support for Mayor Willie Brown over gay Supervisor Tom Ammiano in the 1999 mayor's race, and for supporting Newsom in his 2003 election, among other issues.

And Gay Shame is opposed to same-sex marriage.

"Fighting for gay marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of combination is not activism," said Mary J.

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