Revolution for Sale: Pride, Community, and Advertising


By the time I was twenty-five in the summer of 2012, I was certainly a certified radical queer; I had been a veteran of many picket lines both in my hometown of Indianapolis and in Terre Haute where I went to school, I had seen my name splashed across local newspaper headlines and even racked up a few appearances on the evening news for my activism. Pride was something I believed in heart and soul, a high-octane rock n roll sort of pride, the kind of pride that drives a person to say “Enough!” and take to the streets. But despite all my experiences up to that point, I had never made it out to a Pride Festival.

In June of that year, I finally made the pilgrimage to the Pride Festivities in Indianapolis. I hadn’t been able to do it before due to my job as a camp counselor, being at camp during June and all. But that job was over after nine years, so I could finally go. I put on my black beret with all my street buttons and ribbons on it, wrapped my Colors around me and headed downtown.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, I think I was looking for an oasis, a home in a sense if you can dig that. I figured I’d run into other like-minded young radicals and maybe even score a new gig or two. I had been out of street activism for several months and was looking for some action.

Well sadly, I didn’t see any of that. Instead I saw tents and booths hawking cheap merchandise emblazoned with rainbow colors. The closest thing to any activism I saw was the booth of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign). I saw cut lean pretty boys strutting around shirtless, teasing the crowds in hopes of scoring at least a free drink. I saw corporate feces being smeared with our rainbow colors, like a bank or a beer brewery was really gonna be on our side just because they decided to hoist our Colors for the day.

This was Pride, this was our celebration of the Stonewall Riots, our time to embrace each other and keep up the fight. Instead it seemed we had allowed our forefathers (and mothers) vision to be turned into a den of corporate thieves and there was no Christ to drive them away from our temple.

It was a revelatory experience for me, no doubt. But maybe not in the way I had planned. I went in expecting to find like-minded activists; instead I left the events feeling isolated, too heavy and crazy for even my own community. Later that night I went to Rocky Horror and found a haven of radical queers, activists, and just plain weirdos.

This isn’t just a question of advertisers taking over my hometown’s Pride festivities; this is a national campaign of injecting corporate smack into our celebrations.

Consider Oreos campaign in 2012, in “honor” of Pride month; the famous cookie posted a picture to their Facebook page consisting of a big Oreo with six layers of cream, each a different color, forming the famous Rainbow Flag. The text simply read “June 25 Pride”. A Kraft foods spokesperson was quoted in the Huffington Post in regards to the ad campaign saying “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness.”

Or Burger King, in 2014, the fast food chain unveiled a special Whopper available only at their San Francisco locations. It was wrapped in Pride colored wax paper. Customers were initially baffled, wondering what the Pride Whopper had on it. Turns out it was just a regular Whopper, a reflection of the company’s then current marketing campaign “Be Your Way”. A senior vice president of marketing told TIME magazine “We felt that [the Proud Whopper] could bring to life a message of equality, self-expression, authenticity and just being who you are.”

While the Pride Whopper was released only during Pride Week and only in San Francisco, images of the burger’s wrapper quickly spread to social media, attracting many reposts and calls of support, claiming that the burger chain was on our side.

Of course, both companies marketing campaigns also attracted a small amount of protest, with many taking offense and claiming that both companies had “abandoned moral values”. Needless to say, there were also calls for boycotts which promptly went nowhere and were ignored. I’m still not sure what moral values these people had attached to their burgers and cookies, but apparently those values had been violated.

These ad campaigns and the prevalence of big corporate advertising in our Pride Festivities mark a strange watershed in our movement. Companies don’t generally like to gamble with their advertising and pissing off a large potential customer base definitely constitutes a gamble. Think about it, would Burger King or Oreo have run such a campaign say ten years ago when the culture wars were reaching their zenith? I doubt it, back in 2004 we were still a viable threat and the conservatives were exploiting people’s fear of us for all the votes they could get (the conservatives were ultimately successful in that campaign, Bush got another term and many states outlawed marriage equality in their state constitutions).

We have struggled for over forty years to be accepted into mainstream America and being a target audience for major corporations counts as a form of acceptance, what’s more American than consumerism? But is this the sort of acceptance we want? Have we wadded through rivers of spilled blood and hail storms of nightsticks and fists just to become corporate mascots of consumerism?

That’s a question we have to ask ourselves at this crossroads and for me personally, it’s not the sort of acceptance I want. I’m not fighting like hell just so that in five or ten years I can see stores offering big sales on Harvey Milk Day. In a capitalist society, one of the tools at the disposal of any activist is the power of the dollar and I say we use that power. We use that power to tell these big corporations to back off. We use that power to tell them that if they really support us then they will cease splattering their corporate vomitus all over our parties and they will cease zeroing in on us merely to line their pockets with our dollars.

Pride Festivals were born out of a sense of community, a chance for us to proclaim to the world that we are here, we are mighty, and we ain’t going anywhere. Corporate advertising has no place in our parades, we are a family, a network forged in the struggle for liberty and justice, and we don’t need our parties to have banners proclaiming “Welcome to Pride! Sponsored by the Big Corporation”.

The Day a Ninety Year Old Told Me to be “a Betty”

Be a betty

I am a 63 year old transwoman who is three years in on hormone replacement therapy.  When I was younger there was a huge lack of understanding, education, and role models in people who are transgender. I was confused and misguided and when I finally realized the truth about myself.  I was almost 60 years of age.

I struggled with alcoholism all my life and I was able to finally embrace it and own my recovery from it and in doing so, I saw my life had purpose and meaning. I was surprised when my head cleared and I began associating with other people who shared this disease and were living sober and were happy people!

Through these people I learned to begin to think differently and look at things differently. I began to find I had courage inside me that I never thought I had. I went through therapy. I attended a group for male survivors of sexual abuse. I joined a group of people who are transgender. I really worked on myself. I was sent to a doctor in Santa Cruz along with a letter from my therapist stating I had met all the requirements for beginning hormone therapy. She gave me two prescriptions, one for estrogen and the other for spirolactone which is a testosterone blocker.

At this time of my life I was having trouble finding work in my new profession as a caregiver/home health aide and it was very frustrating. I have come to believe that when I do all the right footwork amazing results happen. The day I took my first dose of hormones my cell phone rang. It was a woman who had seen my flyer I put up at the Carmel Foundation stating I was available for caregiving work and she asked if I would be interested in coming over to meet her mother. I told her I would be happy to.

Her house stands on a corner lot in Carmel just two blocks from the beach.
I parked my car and got out. I went through the rickety old gate and immediately noticed there were a couple of bird houses, one on the side of the house and another up in a tree. I have always loved birds and I collect bird houses. When I was younger I had wanted to be an Ornithologist. I also had wanted to be a Nun. I once told a friend this and they laughed saying I could have been the flying nun! So right away I felt a connection to this old house with the wood shingles and reddish paint on the window trim.

The door opened and a lovely woman with a big smile came out and greeted me. She introduced herself and told me to please come in and meet her mother. Inside the house everything appeared very old yet there was a warmth to the interior. She guided me to the living room where I saw this very sweet looking older woman with white hair sitting on the couch with her feet up on the coffee table knitting a scarf. She smiled at me. “Josie this is David. He came over to meet you.”

Right away she looked puzzled and she leaned forward and put her knitting down.
“David?” she said. ”David? Why did your parents name you David? You should be a Betty!”

I laughed, I was surprised at what she had said to me and I was trying to figure out what to tell her. I looked at her daughter who was smiling at me and it felt right to say “Josie I have no idea why they named me that but it’s been an issue with me…”

“Well I should think so!” she agreed.

The three of us sat and talked and found we all had some things in common. Josie grew up in Pasadena, California and I had lived there many years myself. Her daughter had been born in Gloucester, Massachusetts and I was born in Boston. Eliza, the daughter lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had been there for two months working with Josie and decided help was needed as Josie was dealing with dementia.

I spent a few days with Josie and it was clear she needed someone with her 24/7 and I worked out an agreement to live there with her for five days, 24 hours, with weekends off.
I also disclosed to her daughter that I was a transwoman who had just begun hormones.
She just lit up! She told me she had a cousin who was transgender. Here I find a job doing what I love and taking care of a woman who sees me as a woman. I began my transition and my life was far better than I could have ever dreamed.

Josie grew up very privileged. Her paternal great-grandfather was Gustavus Swift, the founder of a major meat processing company, and her maternal grandfather was Arthur G. Leonard, president of the Chicago Stockyards. He had built a beautiful big home right on the water at Eastern Point, Gloucester, Massachusetts which at some point a big storm had damaged it so badly they had it torn down. The property there is still owned by the family but only the Gatehouse still stands and Josie’s younger sister occupies the Playhouse next door, and another sister lives further up the road.

I began developing a deep bond with Josie. Her daughter returned to Santa Fe and I had yet to meet her two sons. One son is a photographer and was up at their ranch in Wyoming and the other son is in Rwanda coaching a bicycle team, he was the first American to ride in the Tour de France and he won the Race Across America back in the1980’s.

Josie was an Alpha Female and did what she wanted. She walked with two canes or used her walker. Every day at 5:00PM we had a fire in the fireplace and she wanted to go out and bring the wood in herself, forgetting she couldn’t do it carrying canes or pushing the walker. I was able to keep her dignity by letting her put the logs in my arms.

She always wore wrap around skirts and she thought any woman who wore slacks was suspect of being a lesbian. She seemed to be preoccupied with lesbians.

One time I was running through the house with a load of dirty laundry in my arms and she was sitting on the couch, knitting, which I called her office because she sat there and knitted all day and I stopped and kiddingly said to her, “Josie! We should go get drunk!”
She looked up at me and said, “I’d rather get laid.” and winked at me.

After dinner and her ice cream cone we would sit and talk and she disclosed things to me that were very personal. I felt honored she told me these things. Before bed time I would get her nightgown and place it over the fire screen to warm. She encouraged me to get in my nightgown and sit and knit with her. At first I wouldn’t because A. I didn’t own a nightgown and B. I didn’t know how to knit.

She taught me how to knit and went to Macy’s with me to pick out a nightgown.
We had a great time sitting and knitting in our night gowns at night or as she said, ”Shitting and knitting. She appreciated me helping her undress and get into her night gown. She would look down at her breasts and remark about her nipples. “I nursed three children.” she’d say. “Did you nurse yours?”

“I didn’t have children Josie.”

She really liked me tucking her in bed and giving her a kiss on each cheek and a hug.
I would then go to the door, turn and smile and say “Goodnight”, and go upstairs to my room and get in bed and read as I listened to the waves crashing at the beach. One time as I leaned down to kiss her she said to me “Lets hug like lesbians!” I laughed and hugged her, went to the door and smiled at her and as I turned to leave said “Lez be friends!”
I went upstairs, got in bed, and heard her door open.

“Are you still awake?” she called up to me.

“Yes I am” I replied.

“Then get on down here and lez get on it!”

I laughed. Ninety years old and she still has “it” on her mind. That August her grand daughter was getting married at the family estate out on Eastern Point and she began worrying how she was going to introduce me to everyone at the Yacht Club.

I had not quite decided what my female name was going to be so I hadn’t chose one yet.
We flew to Boston and the wedding had been moved up a day because Hurricane Irene was heading up the coast. We missed the actual ceremony which was held down by the water in the pitch dark with clouds of mosquitos all around. Both her sons had driven us from Logan up there, then jumped out of the car and ran down to the beach to catch the end of the ceremony leaving Josie and I in the pitch dark falling all over the patio furniture on her sisters back deck.

The ceremony ended and a mass of humans began coming into view out of the darkness as I held Josie up so she wouldn’t fall over. We were driven over to the Yacht Club and people began making toasts and one of her sisters made a toast to Josie in honor of her 90th birthday. Josie got up and thanked the 200 odd guests then had me stand up and introduced me as David. “This is David and HER parents had wanted a boy and that’s why they named HER David. She should have been a Betty!”

Everyone raised their glass to me and said “Welcome!” I was very surprised at such a warm welcome.

Josie has passed away now, and I miss her.  She was a character, but that is not why I tell her story.  I am telling you this because this dear woman afforded me the opportunity to be ME.  While I am not actually “a Betty”, I AM a Dana, and I do not have to pretend to the world that I am a David anymore.  Thank you, Josie, my angel.

The Five Ways We Can Keep That Pride Feeling Alive 


It’s been a couple of weeks, and for me, the feeling is still there.  World Pride, 2014, in Toronto, was incredible, uplifting and empowering.  Just me and a few million of my closest friends, crowding the core of Canada’s largest city.  I finally had the chance to finally meet and spend time with a few incredible people who are out to change the world, and have changed my life.  People I’ve grown to love and admire while working with them.  Lyndsay, the powerhouse who created the Facebook page, Stop Teenage Suicide,  that started me on this journey of activism.  Her amazing young son, Mac.  Rush, my co-administrator on The Equality Mantra.  And Kel, the “fingers” behind Wipe Out Homophobia,, Adam and Steve and more incredible pages.

The energy was palpable.  The crowds, the laughter, the talk, the music…sheer pleasure.  The most amazing part was the fact that millions (and I do NOT use that count frivolously) of people, both LGBT and straight, were gathered in one place for the same reason; to promote LGBT issues on an international level.  An international Human Rights conference, social events, concerts, marches, “The” parade, and a huge amount of networking reminded us of the hardships faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world.  The fact that 2014 is the 45th anniversary of Stonewall shows just how far we’ve come.  But talks with people from Russia, Uganda, Zambia, to name a few brings to mind how much work there still is ahead of us.

So how do we keep this feeling alive?  Is it even possible?  Personally, I think it is.  There are many ways to do this without having to gather en masse.

  1. Join LGBT support groups. “Like’ pages on Facebook that promote equality, fight bullying, etc.  Even if, like me, you live in a country where equality is the norm, join groups in areas that don’t have these things.  I’m Canadian and work directly with groups centred in New York, Colorado, California and as far away as England.  Helping in some small way with these groups, and especially working with the people involved, ranks among the most rewarding experiences in my life.
  1. You don’t have to be LGBT to keep it going. The huge number of straight allies enjoying Pride was incredible.  Inspiring, really.  You are definitely a huge part of the reason for recent LGBT successes.  Continue to help us educate the world, showing that there really isn’t some dark sinister “Gay Agenda.”  We simply want to be seen as the same as everyone else – human.  And with your help, this is happening, more and more.
  1. Probably, the most important thing we can do is to stop our own in-fighting. We NEED to stop trying to separate the letters in LGBT (and throughout this blog, I’m including any and all other letters that are added to this) and continue to work together as a community.  We have to support and encourage ALL of the members of this vast and widely varied group.  Supporting Gay and Lesbian groups HAS to come with equal support and encouragement for Bisexuals, Transgenders, Asexual, Pansexual and any everyone else that identifies with us in some way.  Without this kind of unity, we’re just a bunch of different factions, making noise. There IS power in numbers, and together we have made, and continue to make a huge difference.
  1. I love the fact that for ten days, LGBT people and our allies from around the world collectively raised their voices and said, “We’re here, and we’re not going away.” Let’s keep it going, because now that we’re home, and spread back around the world, our raised voices will be heard around the globe.  In the words of President Barack Obama, “Our journey is not complete.”
  1. We have proof that we’re on the right track. As the closing ceremonies were taking place, this appeared over Young Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.  Even Mother Nature approves.  We ARE the gold at the end of that Rainbow!closingceremonyrainbow