On pinkwashing and homonationalism

Posted on Nov 17 2014 - 1:38pm by Robert McAuliffe

As acceptance of the LGBT community has advanced in society, we’ve witnessed a sort of bizarre turn of events. Instead of queer-friendly being used as a pejorative, it is now being used within certain progressive circles as a kind of multi-purpose advertising label: “Now 20 percent more queer-friendly!”

Indeed, this label can even be applied to institutions and policies that otherwise society would see as inherently unjust. Politicians, CEOs and even military leaders are now using their support of LGBT rights as a way to desensitize people to their other negative actions and as a cudgel with which to bludgeon their political opponents.

They are like wolves with flashy new wool makeovers from their friendly gay beauticians down the street.

Israel and America are two powerful purveyors of this phenomenon. Both countries have incorporated queer-friendliness into their political agendas (for the most part) and now, use this progressive stance as a means of “pinkwashing” (a term that originated within breast cancer activists for companies using anti-breast cancer branding as PR while harming society in other ways).

Israel has, of course, come under fire internationally for its discrimination against Arab Palestinians within its borders, as well as its colonialist expansion into the West Bank and violent shelling of the Gaza Strip. Despite this, the country sells itself as a Mecca for the LGBT community.

As of 2010, the Israeli government has spent more than $90 million on its “Brand Israel” campaign, marketing the country as an attractive tourist destination, specifically for the gay community. Tel Aviv has come to be known for its gay clubs and nightlife, and this image has been advertised to the world as the face of Israel.

More attractive than having dead Palestinian children as the face of Israel, no?

The inherently cynical and exclusive nature of this advertising campaign is evident in the fact that the many queer Palestinian people being shelled in the Gaza Strip and whose homes are being taken away in the West Bank would hardly be able to have fun in Tel Aviv’s gay clubs.

As in the film “The Invisible Men,” the Israeli state often uses this gay-friendliness to malign Palestine, depicting queer Palestinians as suffering and needing to be rescued from repressive Islam by the state of Israel. Queer Palestinian groups such as al-Qaws, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and Palestinian Queers for BDS are actively trying to fight this effort, exposing the inherent cynicism of Israel using queer people as scapegoats to justify their oppression of Palestinians.

The American government, as well as many American corporations, is an offender here as well.

Since the demise of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the American military has been recruiting using their gay-friendliness as a means of attracting more of America’s youth to serve.

Does it really count as progress that I, too, can now participate in the violent subjugation of the third world?Instead of privileging their queer identity and standing in solidarity with queer people around the world, those who choose to serve in the military privilege their American identity and perpetuate the imperialism the American military fosters.

LGBT support has also been used as leverage for international relations. Hillary Clinton, among others, has held America up as a shining light of progressive guidance in the face of the Middle East and Africa, whom she characterizes as “backwards” due to certain oppressive religious practices.

While it is true that many Middle Eastern and African countries are institutionally anti-gay, this Islamophobic stance simultaneously ignores the faults of America (which is certainly not the most progressive country in the world on LGBT issues) and imposes a homogenous Western understanding of queer identity onto the rest of the world. It also ignores the role American fundamentalists have played in the advent of African anti-gay laws and the role American foreign policy played in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which is largely anti-queer.

Instead of imperialistically imposing Western standards on the rest of the world, queer people deserve the right to define their own identity in terms of their own culture. The Western narrative of “gay rights” does not apply to all societies and all contexts. Scholars have termed this American use of LGBT issues to push the neoliberal party line in the international field and inaccurately portray America and the West as superior living spaces for queer people as “homonationalism.”

American corporations use “homonationalism” domestically to promote their products and profits.

At the Pride Festival in my hometown of Saint Louis, one of the biggest sponsors was Monsanto, one of the most notorious corporate pushers of injustice around, and very few people I talked to seemed to have a problem with this.

Google, through its Legalize Love campaign, has entered into the realm of promoting LGBT rights internationally, again neglecting the cultural differences in the international queer community.

The problem here is that corporations are not non-profits. Anything they are doing has a profit-motivated end, including promoting LGBT equality.

So, given that, I reject the use of my identity by corporations to perpetuate the inequality-inducing conditions of capitalism. Homonationalism in action is seen in the celebration of LGBT “visibility” within the realms of corporate and military America, as the recent celebration of Tim Cook’s coming out has shown.

Just as I will not be clamoring for queer representation among serial killers and human traffickers, I refuse to celebrate the proliferation of queer CEOs and the ability of people like me to serve in the military.

To the corporations and oppressive governments of the world, take this as a message: don’t use my identity to gloss over your perpetration of oppression. There can be no liberation unless there is liberation for all, so if your liberation involves perpetuating capitalism, sexism, racism or imperialism, then it must be bullshit.

Robert McAuliffe is a junior international studies major from St. Louis.

Robert McAuliffe