Are Queer Women Ditching Pride?

By Cindy Rizzo

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A recent survey taken by the lesbian dating app, HER, and reported in Pink News, Broadly and them, asserted that this is the case. Almost one-third of all the women HER surveyed said that they did not feel welcomed or comfortable at Pride events. The numbers rose even higher among bisexual women and those who identify as queer. And, even more troubling, only 40% of those women who live in an area with a local Pride event said they would be attending.

Why is this the case?

HER’s marketing director offered an explanation, speculating that perhaps Pride events are driving women away because they are too male-dominated.

My Own Survey of Women About Pride

I wondered about that, so I created my own survey to see what I could find out. Surprisingly, I received 256 responses in just a few days. Those who responded were mostly over 40 years old and identify primarily as lesbians.

What my own survey revealed was that, similar to the one sent out by HER, about one-third of the women responding had either never been to a Pride event or had not been in a long while. On the flip side, two-thirds said they either attend every year or every few years.

So now let’s look at their reasons for staying away.

The reason that a majority of the women I surveyed ranked as number one for not attending Pride was “scheduling conflict.” I guess queer women are a busy bunch. Male domination of Pride was only cited as the primary reason by a tiny five percent, lagging behind Pride being “too commercial”, “too overwhelming,” just “not being in the mood” to attend and a general feeling that Pride “does not represent me.”

When I asked about peoples’ level of comfort attending Pride as a queer/bisexual/lesbian woman, most felt “completely comfortable,” with just a small minority answering “not very” or “not at all” comfortable.

When all was said and done, I have to admit, that this data had me scratching my head in confusion. If women felt comfortable at Pride and if they didn’t see it as male dominated, then why were so many staying away?

Going Beyond the Numbers — Is Pride Too Commercial?

Fortunately, my survey asked women if they would volunteer to be contacted by me so I could explore their responses in more depth. Forty-one indicated that they’d be happy to do so and supplied their email addresses.

It turns out that lesbians aren’t happy with Pride, not because it’s too male dominated, but because it’s too commercial and not political enough. For example, Sarah told me, “my main problem with Pride is how commercialized it is. I don’t really feel embraced as a woman, although I don’t necessarily feel excluded either. Mostly I feel like major corporations are trying to sell their products to me, and I feel alienated as someone with radical politics.”

A very similar sentiment was expressed by another woman who emailed me.

“My main turn off,” she said, “doesn’t have much to do with the inclusiveness of the event as much as the gross corporate pandering and commercialization that has increased in recent years. I didn’t bother attending the parade this year, because previous years told me it would be way too long and mostly full of local corporations and businesses that inherently have nothing to do with helping LGBT communities.”

Margaret added that as an older woman, she didn’t view Pride as particularly accessible. “We don’t go to the BIG Pride March,” she said, “as it is now 1) too commercial, 2) too overwhelming and 3) for us elders who do not begin at the start, it is too long a march, at least for me and the new hip.”

The Reasons Why Pride Might Appear Male-Dominated

Some of the women who emailed me did mention the issue of a male-female gender divide, but with much more nuance than simply saying that Pride is too male dominated. For example, Roey linked the commercial nature of Pride events to the issue of gender.

“The more commercial Pride is,” she said, “the more it highlights the young and fit and superficially beautiful, and the temporarily trendy. And that is very gendered, in my opinion, since women have always had a wider range of beauty and desirability, and have been less focused on obsessing over certain types of beauty. It seems to me that Pride has generally lost meaning, aside from being a big party.”

Justine noted that because men have more money, they may be able to have a larger footprint at Pride. “To be sure,” she pointed out, “the men’s organizations usually have more presence and more money (and have more bars, which finance some of the floats) but that’s an economic reality and not something to whine about.” She added that Pride events “are welcoming to any woman who wants to join. I’ve never felt in any way excluded or turned off.”

In contrast, an article in the online publication, them, which is focused on the lives of queer people of color, also pointed to the issue of finances, but asserted that money is often a barrier to lower income queer people. “If there’s going to be one Pride for a city, for everybody,” stated a woman from Pittsburgh, “which is what these big Prides are billed as, they then should act like [they’re for everybody].”

A few women did speak directly to what they saw as the lack of lesbian-focused events. For example, Liz said, “One issue that I have with most Pride events now (and usually) is the lack of ‘Lesbian’ events, women’s music, etc. The L in the LGBTQ seems to be disappearing, which I find disturbing after so many years fighting for identity.”

And historical romance writer T.T. Thomas shared her observation that the issue is more about the general discomfort and vulnerability women feel in the world.

“I feel the Pride celebrations have an extra responsibility to provide inclusion, security, and services to women because they are women. Not because they are lesbians or bisexual women or trans women, etc. … If I, as a woman, don’t feel included and safe at Pride celebrations, it is because I have always felt unsafe in the world at large, and the facts suggest I have damn good instincts and reasons to feel that way.”

Similar to Liz, she went on to say, “Make me see the ways in which my participation in Pride celebrations will take my gender into account, as well as my sexuality. The AIDS crisis cemented forever the inherent bond between the G and the L in our alphabet and nothing will breech that bridge. I show up to Pride events as much to maintain that bond as any issue to do with women.”

Are Queer Women Creating Home-Grown Pride Events?

So, what are women who stay away doing during Pride? Samantha, who is a woman of color and one of the younger women to answer the survey, provided an interesting response.

“I’m typically going to things being thrown by women-identified or genderqueer organizers” she said. “I also seek out spaces that are welcoming and safe for people of color. My worst Pride experience was actually related to my race and not my gender identity (i.e., drunk white woman plunging her hands into my hair, yuck). Finding alternative spaces is key.

“Pride for me has become more of a time to connect and commune with queer family than to party or be in ‘the scene.’ As I get older, Pride feels too loud, too crowded, too expensive, and too alcohol-soaked. If I had my druthers, I’d only do the Dyke March and the annual picnic I host as an alternative to the Pride Parade. But given that I have friends I want to spend time with and a significant other who likes to party, I have to make compromises! So my goal each year is usually to design the most comfortable and manageable Pride experience I possibly can.”

This perspective makes me wonder if perhaps lesbian/queer/bisexual women are, in the words of the song, “doin’ it for themselves.” Are there alternative block parties, house parties, beach outings, picnics and other get-togethers that don’t make it into the Pride schedules? Are women, who these surveys show believe that Pride is important, just creating new spaces in which to celebrate it?

My Own Personal Prides

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This year I attended two Pride marches, a smaller one in the New York City borough of Queens, where I grew up, and the giant march in Manhattan. Both featured way too many delegations of local politicians and their supporters, all at the front of the march. The Manhattan parade went overboard with corporate floats from banks, airlines, and retail stores. Queens Pride was a bit more down to earth. I was able to stand and watch just about wherever I wanted, and it was heartwarming to cheer on a small delegation from the Drag Story Hour, a group of drag queens who read to children in local libraries.

Manhattan (AKA NYC) Pride drove me crazy. The police blocked off so many streets that it was impossible to figure out how to even watch the parade. Also, those of us marching were required to wear wristbands which had to be shown to police before we could line up.

As for the issue of male dominance, I have to admit, it wasn’t top of mind for me as I watched both parades. Personally, in a week where migrant and immigrant children were being forcibly removed from their parents and the Trump administration was continuing its ongoing assault on so many of us, I wanted the parades to be more political and more about resistance.

But as I marched with my synagogue through the streets, greeted by thousands of cheering people, it was clear that the prevailing mood was one of joy. This made me remember what my rabbi always says — “Joy is an act of resistance.”

There are definitely portions of the lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s community that are staying away from Pride. It’s not clear, however, that male dominance of these events is the primary reason. Rather, it seems, it may be one of a number of contributing reasons that include commercialization, lack of political focus, and the overwhelming nature of the events themselves. But that doesn’t mean that Pride organizers can’t do more to attract those who don’t feel welcomed.

I hope this piece as well as the articles I’ve linked to will lead to changes, including the recruitment of more queer women to be part of the organizing. Maybe then, some of the things that are driving them away can be toned down, and what matters to them can be more visible.

All of this can be summed by paraphrasing Doctor Seuss with a quote that was likely uttered by the Grinch’s bisexual sister:

“[She] puzzled and puzzled till [her] puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something [she] hadn’t before. Maybe [Pride], [she] thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe [Pride], perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Is a NYC Jewish lesbian, a long-time activist for social & racial justice, a queer in philanthropy, & a writer about all things LGBT plus lesbian romance.

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