Pink-washing, Pride Parades and Imperialism

One of the many ways white supremacy and global US hegemony operates is through the institutionalization of a consistent narrative that purports America and “the allies” as civilizational predecessors and role models to “the others.” When a lie is told consistently over and over again, it becomes truth, or at least half-truth. Provision of “gay rights” and liberation in the US is one such lie, told consistently by western corporate media. I say corporate because it was only recently that a mere legalization, that too only a year ago, of marriage equality and other basic civil rights such as freedom of expression etc. does not mean “liberation” in the true sense of the word.

What is most often left out is that the socioeconomic realities of most trans folks in this country endure—due to social stigma—non-acceptance and exclusion at educational and vocational spaces where they grow and nurture as citizens. But that is the last thing corporate media will highlight because it hurts capitalist sentiments, and capitalist realities. Simply chanting “freedom” in the elite boroughs of Chelsea, New York and the San Fransisco Bay Area might bring freedom of expression to the upper class white Manhattan-ites but will not bring jobs or elementary level education to the black trans folks. And let’s not even talk about wage equality yet!

This “liberal” narrative colonizes and perpetuates already existing powerful hegemonic western imperialism in a highly patrimonial tune, by pink washing wars and drones and the apartheid. Israel hosts Asia’s largest and oldest pride parades in Tel Aviv, also known as “Love Parade” in Israel, but the annual demonstration has changed significantly from one that focuses on “radical leftist politics” to a pleasure seeking, entertainment street with as many as 100,000 participants from around the world (mostly Europeans of course!).

One can imagine how much liberation the pride will bring to south Tel Aviv’s Ethiopian refugee camps and surrounding black neighborhoods, or to the ghettos of Jerusalem where Zionist politics has pitted age old Sephardic Jewish communities and Arabs against one another. [I have not even mentioned Palestine here because the pride parade was not meant or intended to bring decolonization, it was meant as a “civil rights movement” bringing justice and equality for Israeli citizens].

Following the footsteps, America’s major allies in the region, and Israel’s neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan are also seriously considering allowing the pride parade in cosmopolitan cities like Beirut. As long as the oppression against Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan’s deserts—where UNHCR and Jordan officials can shoot someone to death if they dare leave the camp to enter the mainstream country—is not mentioned, the parades are likely to earn green signals to “pass” the litmus test of “Human Rights” from New York and Geneva.


Let me quote a few words from a radical queer friend from back home, a Pakistani activist and critical thinker:

“I couldn’t decide what I found more ironic—the UN presenting itself as the ultimate protector of queer individuals around the world when it blissfully ignores, and often times perpetuates, the neo-imperialist pink-washing carried out under the garb of ‘LGBT rights,’ or Pakistani people cheering the denial of rights ……. The UN should not be telling us how to treat our gender and sexual minorities. We should be the ones telling the rest of the world how to respect our queer citizens….”

Let me now quote a few words from a letter sent to a leading Kolkata-based rights activist Anindya Hajra by a group of Bangladeshi queer “comrades” (that’s what they call themselves), who take the idea of “global class struggles” very seriously, to be shared as widely as possible:

“....The silence on some deaths and the outrage on others fits very neatly into the West’s agenda of domination—for here is yet another example of a third-world country whose ‘free speech’ needs saving from backward Islam. For one, it provides the West with key bargaining tools with which it can ramp up military outposts in the third world to fight its own battles….”


My goal in this blog is to continue the conversation and critique of the gay rights activism in the US, not to make universal statements about what gay rights will look like in global south, postcolonial nations. I am no “native informist” on that subject. There still are many young gay men and women (at least the ones that I know of) in Pakistan who actively choose to adopt this universal, western-based advocacy campaigns and narratives despite cultural and national differences. Yet, there are also many who don’t. My intention is that one particular group of cosmopolitan, globally minded, western-educated upper class gay men (note: mostly men) does not get to speak for the “masses.” I believe this realization and sensitivity is essential if we really are serious about liberation, decolonization, equality and dignity.

 Photo credits: Fae and Athlour