by Gulhaider Zaidi (St. Stephen’s College) & Naina Khurana (Miranda House)
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“This campaign is love and you are love….and you matter”- these subtle but puissant words of Chasten Buttigieg on his husband, Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign ignite a novel hope for the LGBTQ+ community in ways, more eloquent than capitalist firms, which pink-wash the world, can ever think. At a young age of 37, Pete Buttigieg is standing for President of the United States. More seasoned than the current President, having more executive experience than the Vice President, and having served as a veteran of war in Afghanistan, he is an openly gay Presidential candidate, who is currently the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He told the American Vice President, Mike Pence (who opposes same-sex marriage), “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” The Rhodes scholar and Harvard University graduate is the man standing right for America.
It leaves many of us flabbergasted to think of how the LGBT community, even in such developed nations, is expected not to advance into the world. Instead of offering genuine support to the community, certain groups have other ulterior motives lined up in their list of priorities. How the nation states use the name of the community to suit their ill-defined ends is not very appreciable. What defines these ill-defined ends is ‘homonationalism’.
The word ‘homonationalism’ was coined by Rutgers University scholar, Jasbir Puar in her book ‘Terrorist Assemblages- Homonationalism in Queer Times’, published in 2007. This idea has captured the limelight because of how relevant it is to the status quo. Homonationalism refers to the phenomenon whereby, some powers (a person, group or nation) claim solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, as a way to justify racist and xenophobic policies, especially ones against immigrants, Muslims or other countries. This way, the concept of homonationalism is condensed to mean that LGBTQ+ liberation policies can be co-opted by the nationalists of the far-right. For instance, the National Front appeals to the white gay people in France based on racist fear of Islamic homophobia.
A country which practices homonationalism dons itself in the superficial veil of being pro-LGBT and hence, modern. The State of Israel declares itself as a preserver and proponent of gay-rights as a way to rationalise the Israeli human rights abuses it inflicts upon Palestinians and minorities, including LGBTQ Palestinians. What should be noted here is that even if a country’s government or religion opposes LGBTQ rights, each country also has LGBTQ people and pro-LGBTQ organizations operating within it, even if only in secret. When we take actions against such countries, we harm pro-LGBTQ individuals as well. Israel does precisely that to the state of Palestine. Its occupation of Palestine also harms the Palestinian LGBT community. It clearly shows that Israel has other motives, which it tries to obscure by acting as a gay supporter.
In an article with the New York Times, Sarah Schulman discussed how the Israeli government began a marketing campaign named ‘Brand Israel’ in 2006, targeting LGBT men from 18-34 years of age. The campaign depicted Israel as a haven of modernity by showcasing the world how happy these gay men were out there, through attractive ads and slogans. By marketing itself as a ‘gay-friendly’ tourist spot, Israel proclaimed itself as a protector of the rights and freedom of the marginalised population.
This is referred to as ‘pinkwashing’ , which we will discuss shortly.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said that he would do everything in his power to protect the American LGBTQ citizens from the supposed oppression of the hateful foreign ideology. Indeed, Islam was the foreign ideology that Trump was referring to, which included many Middle Eastern countries, he later included in his travel ban. While Trump claims that he will protect LGBTQ people from anti-queer Muslims, he has still slackened LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and works with a largely anti-LGBTQ political party. Mike Pence’s aversion to Pete Buttigieg’s potential position as the first gay American president clearly describes how homonationalism has pervaded the minds of people in big positions. No wonder, it is hypocrisy.
Homonationalism forces LGBTQ people to align with political ideologies, even when those ideologies actively work against queers. For example, Homonationalism often covers up human rights abuses or distracts people from a supposedly ‘pro-LGBT’ country’s anti-LGBTQ policies.
Homonationalism also reinforces homonormativity– the belief that LGBTQ people are no different from straight people and that ‘good queers’ should want the 4 Ms (marriage, matrimony, military and money) whereas ‘bad queers’ oppose the 4 Ms and are a burden. After all, marriage has been considered the pinnacle of queer participation in civic life. However, marriage also upholds the nation-state as the supreme arbiter of sexuality, in a way that sometimes allows those inside the institution the right to remain, while others outside of it to be deported.
Homonationalism may have its roots in politics, but this can’t hinder it from trickling down to rainbow capitalism. Yes, it does appear good on the surface but once we dig deeper, we get to know what it really entails. Today, the rise of the LGBTQ+ community, its increasing worldwide acceptance and their growing purchasing power has forced corporations to reconsider their marketing strategies in order to compete in the LGBTQ+ niche market. Rainbow capitalism is when businesses incorporate queerness and LGBTQ+ rights movement into their marketing , products etc as a facile attempt to make money off of the growing market.
If we talk in terms of statistics, according to a 2018 estimation put up by Hong Kong based LGBT Foundation, the world LGBTQ+ community is worth approximately USD 4.6 trillion, which makes it the world’s fourth largest economy. In just one country-the US- LGBTQ+ business owners contribute over $1.7 trillion to the GDP, as per a report released in January, 2019 by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) .
Companies with strong pro-LGBT policies tend to innovate the most, have loyal employees, and experience significantly few cases of discrimination lawsuits. In addition to that, they are also positively perceived by their customers. This is simply because they use the human resources ( be it male, female or a transgender) upto the maximal potential. So it’s a win-win (apparently).
Sadly, the ill effects of rainbow capitalism have resulted in Pride becoming more about consumerism and people visibly ‘showing’ their allyship through purchased goods rather than being rooted in genuine activism. Rainbow capitalism sweeps the core of Pride under corporations colourful sponsored banners.
The saga doesn’t end here. Homonationalism may pave an avenue for pinkwashing. ‘Pinkwashing’ , as mentioned earlier while discussing the case of Israel, can refer to specific tactics, policies, or practices by states or groups which use gay-rights or LGBT-friendly policies to mask or to draw attention away from violent, exclusionary, or otherwise negative policies and practices. If homonationalism refers to the large-scale, historical and global processes at play, pinkwashing refers to the specific practices and policies of governments and groups.
In Nazi Germany, gay men were thrown into concentration camps. They were made to wear pink triangles on their clothing to make identification easier. The pink colour, of course, was a sign of feminism to the West (which is baseless!). However, the Gay Rights Movement appropriated what was meant as an insult and made pink a symbol of the community. Hence the term , ‘pink washing’.
Certain corporations have stepped forward to offer an apparent support to the community. It is as if celebrating LGBT rights is a fashionable trend in the marketing land. In today’s market, even queer products for a straight audience have become mainstream. As they say, “All that glitters is not gold”, many of these companies capitalize on the community’s name. Many corporations bring harm to the LGBTQ community by giving large donations to queer-phobic parties or groups. For instance, Google celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage by putting little rainbow-colored banners at the top of search results pages. But the company gave $ 500,000 to the Republican National Committee (RNC), which espouses anti-homosexual sentiments. Tim Cook (CEO, Apple Inc.), a gay man, has been a vocal public ally to LGBT causes. Cook has marched in the San Francisco pride parade with other employees. Both Cook and Apple endorsed legislation in Congress to ban LGBT discrimination. However, what is noteworthy is that the CEO still gave $45,900 to a fund to re-elect Paul Ryan and other politicians, who are anti-LGBTQ. Such politicians, who benefitted from the Apple’s recent fundraiser have been hostile to the same LGBT legislation that Apple supports.
Some scholars do believe that pinkwashing isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a sign that the LGBTQ community has made immense progress and there’s nothing wrong with trying to sell things to a particular audience. That’s just sensible marketing, right? But isn’t there something peculiar with taking queer people’s money and giving it to anti-LGBTQ politicians? Alas, that’s what some companies do: they clad themselves in rainbow flags to get queer customers to reach for their wallets, then they donate the profits to right-wing politicians who vote against LGBTQ rights. As is obvious, some giant MNCs have considered making profits, at the expense of the community, sadly.
As we try to understand the complexity of how acceptance and tolerance for gay and lesbian subjects has become a barometer by which the right to and capacity for national sovereignty is evaluated by developing a conceptual framework of ‘homonationalism’, homonationalism itself can be understood as bringing LGBTQ+ people into liberalism and into the national conversation – the Obama administration in the United States, for instance, made gay rights a central pillar of its foreign policy. Homonationalism brings (at least some) LGBTQ+ people into the fold of citizenry, in a departure from historic exclusionary practices. This stands as evidence of social progression and modernity. ‘Gay rights’, then, are used as a way of demonstrating Western superiority over the backward ‘others’ of the world.
In times like these, we should try to look into the invisible and see the structures that are hidden here; they are not names, not unknowns but they are controlling our lives. There is a need to articulate these structures in a way that makes them visible so that we all have choices and awareness about the way we want our society to function. The only way that is possible is when everyone uses their own knowledge and understanding to elevate their own thinking and improve not only their lives but the lives of others too.
- Puar, Jasbir K. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.