LGBT+ history month

Pride flag is about unity in struggle

Leeds Pride 2011, photo Leeds Socialist Party

Leeds Pride 2011, photo Leeds Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Rachel Gambling, Essex socialist party

‘Rainbow capitalism’ is the term given to the corporate bandwagon-jumping of brands using the iconic gay pride symbol – the rainbow flag – to decorate their products during ‘Pride season’. In 2017 Skittles chose to “give the rainbow” back to the community by selling white sweets instead of their usual multi-coloured ones.

While the notion of white Skittles might be riveting for some, this and widespread ‘rainbow washing’ is a hollow attempt at trying to cover up big businesses’ true intentions: to sell more products during a period that is meant to commemorate the Stonewall riots and the rainbow symbol that is about the true, diverse, working-class history of LGBTQ+ struggle.

Corporations never address the real history behind Pride, but nor does the British education system. Only last year did the government decide it should be compulsory to teach LGBTQ+ inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in schools. But at the same time they banned the use of anti-capitalist materials within the curriculum.

To understand the history behind LGBTQ+ oppression, and why (in pre-Covid times) people protest, march and party in the streets of Soho and across the world, it is essential to have some understanding of the struggles that have taken place, including the 1969 Stonewall riots. It is impossible for the true lessons to be drawn from these events without looking at the links between the oppression of LGBT+ people and capitalism and class society.

There are attempts by the capitalist-owned media to re-write history and undermine our collective memory, including of Stonewall.


Like Pride, the Stonewall story has become commercialised and sanitised. The involvement of queer and trans people of colour, poor queers, and non-queer people of colour is often obscured.

But this was also the period of the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests in the US. In France, the May revolutionary strike movement had taken place the year before.

The class divisions within the LGBT+ population were highlighted to an extent by these events. Richer LGBT+ people were reported to “characterise the events at Stonewall as ‘regrettable,’ as the demented carryings-on of ‘stoned, tacky queens’ – precisely those elements in the gay world from whom they had long disassociated themselves.”

Many people are unaware that the Stonewall Inn was a bar in New York owned by the mafia. Marc Stein reported: “Most of its patrons were working- and middle-class whites in their teens, twenties, and thirties, but there was a significant presence of African Americans and Latinos as well. Gay men, drag queens, street queens, transsexuals, sex workers, and others who transgressed gender and sexual norms frequented the bar, as did a small number of lesbians.

The riots were an outburst of stored-up anger. They also marked a watershed moment in the public visibility of LGBT+ repression and conflict, and a wave of organisation and political struggle followed.

The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was quickly formed, directly challenging politicians, the police and media on LGBTphobia on a regular basis. The GLF had anti-capitalist, anti-racist and anti-establishment politics.

STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, was founded by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.

If the Stonewall riots are reclaimed from corporations profiting from rainbow capitalism during Pride, and instead reintroduced into collective memory as a show of unity between the working class against police brutality, there is an opportunity to use it as a chance to unite not just the queer community, but the black community, and the wider working class too.

Improving our knowledge on queer history and the organisations and individuals who contributed to these revolutionary moments can allow for greater solidarity against capitalism.

  • National meeting for LGBT+ members of the Socialist Party
  • Sunday 14 March, 2-5pm
  • Contact your branch secretary for the details