SYMBOLISM IS NOT ENOUGH
Written by Da’Shaun Harrison
Editors Note: It was initially reported in this story that Project Q was involved in the rainbow crosswalk. That information was incorrect and we apologize for the misinformation. This article has been updated.
“Rainbow Capitalism,” also referred to as pink capitalism, is a term used to detail the allusion to incorporation of LGBTQIA+ rights into corporations with profit-incentives - especially as it pertains to White, cisgender, western, upperclass gay men. Rainbow capitalism describes how capitalism uses the identities/bodies/work of marginalized - in this case, queer - people to sustain itself. Solidarity from these corporations has extended to gay marriage, but not abolition of the police; it oversimplifies bills like HB2 to trans people not being able to use bathrooms that align with their gender, instead of recognizing that in many states trans people are not allowed to alter their birth certificate at all; it looks like adding black and brown stripes to the LGBTQIA+ flag, but not prioritizing the needs of Black and Brown queer and trans people. Corporations like Nike, Walmart, and Jack Daniels announce countless rainbow-colored products every year while investing in private prisons, slave labor, and ignoring the higher rate at which LGBTQIA+ people suffer from substance abuse.
Last month, the City of Atlanta announced that it would install a rainbow crosswalk that would be privately funded to “support Atlanta’s LGBTQ community.” While the gesture may look nice, and it sounds like it could be a great step in the right direction, it ignores the many issues that LGBTQIA+ people face in a city like Atlanta. This is not the first time Atlanta has sold shallow allyship to queer and trans people in lieu of seriously committing itself to the liberation of all queer and trans people. In October of 2015, during Atlanta Pride, a rainbow crosswalk was installed in the same place as the one announced in June. Over $40,000 was fundraised to implement this crosswalk, to the discontent of many organizers who believed the money should be spent on resources of necessity. What is worse, the city removed the crosswalk in 2015 two weeks after Pride, stating that they had no intent of making it an indefinite establishment. Almost two years later, the crosswalk is not only being installed again, but this time it cost nearly $200,000 and is being placed in Midtown - one of the most affluent parts of Atlanta.
The City of Atlanta is actively choosing to misuse funds, private or otherwise, that could combat systemic cissexism and heterosexism, or discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people in the city. In Atlanta, around one third of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQIA+, as reported by Project Q. In 2016, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative (SNaPCo) released a report noting that the greatest threat to women of trans experience is the Atlanta Police Department (APD). Detailed in the SNaPCo report, trans people of color have said that they are sexually assaulted by APD, that APD has a pattern and practice of profiling trans people, and that trans people’s encounters with APD make trans people less safe. It also explains exactly what actions the city could take to make Atlanta safer for trans people.
Instead of spending money on this crosswalk, money could have been spent on renovating already existing homeless shelters like Lost-n-Found Youth, which is the only LGBTQ focused homeless shelter in the southern US region and is poorly funded. The funds could have been spent on repairing abandoned homes and making them homeless shelters for LGBTQIA+ youth. The city could have spent the necessary money on finding and implementing solutions to end harassment and sexual violence against trans bodies. If Mayor Kasim Reed cared at all about LGBTQIA+ people in Atlanta, this money could have been spent on investigating APD, decriminalizing sex work, prosecuting police that have been reported for harassing trans people, creating pre-arrest and pre-booking diversion programs, and all other calls to action set forth by SNaPCo, SONG, and other organizations fighting for the liberation of Black and Brown queer and trans people.
It is not enough to simply perform ‘allyship’ when one has the privilege, access, ability, and finances to combat domination against queer and trans people of color. If liberation vis-a-vis queer and trans lives mattered to cities and companies, they would divest from private prisons, slave labor, and enabling substance abuse in queer communities and would instead invest in housing, funding, feeding, and aiding in the survival of queer and trans people. Emblematic gestures sans liberatory actions to follow do nothing for the most vulnerable of marginalized groups. Simply put, symbolism is not enough. If this crosswalk symbolizes anything, it represents just how cisgender heterosexual (and cishomonormative) people are willing to walk over the most disenfranchised queer and trans people for a false sense of allyship and representation.