When Harvard Business School tweeted MBA candidate Jacob Meiner’s dream to be “the first openly queer U.S. Secretary of Defense” in early May, his purported lack of shame was quickly ridiculed. “I wanna do imperialism, but with rainbows,” one mocking tweeter replied. “Warms my heart to know there’s a chance the person orchestrating double-tap drone strikes might have an HRC bumper sticker,” another wrote.
Then Gay Shame came rolling in. “The reason our group formed was to stop this,” they replied.
Established in the late 1990s, the anti-colonial, anti-capitalist organization based in San Francisco describes themselves as a “virus in the system.” As a Gay Shame representative tells me, the group initially formed in opposition to the “racist pro-cop parade now called Pride,” and as quoted in The New Inquiry, Pride’s “self-serving ‘values’ of gay consumerism and the increasingly hypocritical left.”
As such, an assimilationist tweet like Meiner’s is perfect fodder for them. “Liberals are stupid and want the easiest ‘solutions’ so they’re ready to eat up all the most counter-revolutionary ideas,” the Gay Shame rep argues. (Gay Shame doesn’t identify their spokespeople individually. They credit all interviews to a “Mary.”) Along those lines, they’ve strongly derided trans reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and gay Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who they feel both have traded in their principles for profit and popularity.
That said, Gay Shame insists it’s not bullying or gatekeeping queer identity. “We’re all kinda bitchy and are good at taking shit apart, but we’re also weirdly optimistic, even when we know better,” Mary says.
In fairness, too, their strategy is pretty commonplace today, as many queer people now shame certain members of the community as a strategy aimed at narcissistic gay public figures who don’t appear to stand for anything but themselves. Essentially, gay shaming has become increasingly appealing to those of us who feel disillusioned with the Pride-enabled dreams of the gay bourgeoisie — gays as cops, gays as secretaries of defense or gays as media elites who consider takes on “why is iced coffee so gay” to be good journalism.
Again, as evidenced by Gay Shame’s two-decade-plus existence, none of this is exactly new. In fact, satire and shame were core to late 1990s/early 2000s queer activism. At the time, lesbian chic was trendy thanks to k.d. lang’s Vanity Fair cover with Cindy Crawford, and even conservative TV shows like NYPD Blue were introducing gay cop characters. Quickly then, the LGBTQ community’s concerns about representation and agency were molded to fit a neoliberal lens — maybe most of all in Israel, where much of the country’s LGBTQ activism concentrated its energy on demanding full immersion into the government, military, etc.
However, in 2001, following Palestine’s Second Intifada, Kvisa Shchora (Hebrew for “black laundry”), began intervening in Tel Aviv’s Pride parades, wearing black clothing and carrying placards that read “no pride in occupation.” Like Gay Shame, Kvisa Shchora incorporated street art and satire into their public demonstrations while also motivating the crowds to feel shame as a kind of call to solidarity.
If Gay Pride demands the inclusion of gays into the state as it currently exists, gay shame (the concept) focuses its energies on abolishing all systems of marginalization therein. In the U.S., this has meant Gay Shame (the organization) taking a stand against capitalism. “We’ve also hated prisons, rainbow flags and the sadness of most nonprofit formations,” Mary explains.
Social media, of course, has only hastened the mission — most noisily (and noticeably) in cis gay male circles on Twitter. The goal of cyberbullying such able-bodied, shrimp-skinned muscle gays (often considered the face and body of Pride) is to inveigle them into a shame they demonstrably lack.
Beyond Meiner, the other person to recently find themselves in the crosshairs is Fran Tirado, former lead editorial strategist for Netflix’s LGBTQ+ content vertical The Most. “Happy June to all brands launching a Pride campaign!!” he tweeted during last year’s Pride. “A reminder: you are about to capitalize on our identities/marginalization for corporate gain !!! It is therefore worth giving a second thought to your limited edition rainbow product !!”
This year, however, he added the following to his tweet: “*sticks finger into the air* Pride is almost here. I take consulting gigs, so if you are planning a Pride campaign and need some help messaging/casting/concepting, I can help. 🙃Email in bio.”
Even co-organizing the Brooklyn Liberation march — a massive gathering of 15,000 people for Black trans lives a few weeks ago — didn’t stop Tirado from being antagonized by queer people online. (Tirado didn’t return my repeated requests for comment.)
Tirado certainly isn’t the only queer person critiqued for arguably selling out to a corporatized Pride. It’s also yet to be seen how effective this kind of mass social policing is yet to be seen. (As it stands today, this kind of gay shame is almost entirely performed by gay men targeting other gay men who have eaten the apple of pride.) But now, Black Lives Matter protests have inspired calls to remove police from Pride and exposed the very white, very affluent organizations that have long backed the event.
Still, Gay Shame remains skeptical. “We will see what the politics and commitments are moving forward,” Mary says, “or if it’s just more PR shit to trick people into believing the same old murderous politicians.”