Activism / June 27, 2024

Pride and Genocide Don’t Mix

The St. Louis Pride parade is being sponsored by Boeing—even while its weapons are used to slaughter people in Gaza. What kind of a sick society are we living in?

Sara Bannoura, Anya Liao, and Olivia Engel
The St. Louis Pride parade in 2015.

The St. Louis Pride parade in 2015.

(Michael B. Thomas / AFP via Getty Images)

It sounds like a dystopian nightmare, but it’s all too real: The Boeing Company—the fourth-largest arms manufacturer in the world—is sponsoring the St. Louis Grand Pride Parade on June 30, all while its Missouri-made bombs are killing people in Gaza.

Pride St. Louis, the group that organizes our city’s local PrideFest every year, appears proud of this. Its website prominently trumpets the fact that the Grand Pride Parade is “presented by Boeing.” While we oppose corporate sponsorship of Pride in general, this particular sponsorship at this particular moment is especially disturbing.

For eight months, the United States has rushed US taxpayer-funded, US-made weapons to Israel, killing 38,000 Palestinians and injuring 85,000 more. Some of these weapons are made in our own backyard here in St. Louis, 20 to 30 minutes from where PrideFest will take place.

UN experts now say that arms manufacturers may be complicit in genocide, and Boeing is a headliner in the lineup. Between 2021 and 2023, it was the largest supplier of weapons to Israel, with just one 2021 export license deal totaling $731 million.

But Boeing’s complicity began long before October 7. Its B-17 “Flying Fortress” has been used by the Israeli military since 1948, the year Israel declared statehood atop Palestinian land and carried out the systematic ethnic cleansing known as the Nakba.

An image from the Pride St. Louis website.(Pride St. Louis)

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Since then, Boeing products have been used consistently in Israeli bombing campaigns and “electronic warfare and intelligence gathering.” Recently, the Israeli military used Boeing’s GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDBI) for two mass killings in areas the military deemed “safe zones”—the Rafah tent massacre on May 27, which killed 45 people, and the UN school massacre on June 6, which killed 33 people, including nine children. Earlier this year, Israel used Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions to kill 43 people in a home, 19 of them children. Both weapons and the SDBI’s carrier, the F-15 jet, are manufactured in the Greater St. Louis area. Boeing implicates Missouri workers, taxpayers, and electeds with its role in slaughtering families in Gaza.

There is one horrifying viral image from the Rafah massacre that we will never forget—a father holding up the body of his decapitated child, now identified as baby Ahmad Al-Najar. What kind of sick society blasts the logo of the corporation that profited from this at a cultural event that has its purported origins in queer liberation?

Corporate sponsorship of Pride events is a slap in the face for many who celebrate Pride’s lineage. Pride was born from the fire of the 1969 Stonewall Riots when queer and trans organizers fought back against police oppression. Many of these movement leaders also rejected US imperialism, seeing the fight against military aggression abroad as materially tied to the fight against state violence at home. For instance, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two iconic trans women of color who helped lead the queer liberation movement, forged solidarity with The Young Lords, a grassroots group fighting the United State’ colonial occupation of Puerto Rico and for economic and political self-determination in the US. Similarly, AIDS activists in the 1980s organized against US-funded death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua—when Reagan sent millions to the Contras while refusing to invest in HIV/AIDS treatments at home.

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Here in St. Louis, home of the Ferguson uprising and a multiracial, multifaith Palestinian solidarity movement that runs broad and deep, we know that the movement for queer liberation has been fueled in part by trans women of color demanding investment in queer life and divestment from state violence. We know that queer Palestinians have long pointed to the absurdity of their occupiers marketing as “gay-friendly” entities while terrorizing their people.

Such public relations practices—dubbed “pinkwashing“—invoke queer rights to justify and mask colonial violence. In Palestine and in St. Louis, these tactics insult our struggle for queer liberation and hide a long history of occupation, displacement, memoricide, and state violence.

Thankfully, our St. Louis LBGTQ+ community has a history of rejecting the pinkwashing antics of PrideSTL. Since its corporatization, our community has resisted through boycotts, political education, community forums, and direct action. Spurred by protests over the police killing of Kiwi Herring, in 2019, Pride STL even disinvited uniformed St. Louis City and County police (who participate in IDF training programs) to their march. Unfortunately, this concession was later revoked.

Boeing is not the only arms manufacturer engaging in pinkwashing. Airbus, BAE Systems, and Lockheed Martin—whose products are used against Iraqi, Yemeni, and Palestinian civilians—have also long sponsored Pride events in the US and Europe. And Boeing is far from the only complicit corporation to flaunt its logo at the St. Louis event. Another sponsor, Bayer, develops the chemical weapon white phosphorus in collaboration with Israel Chemicals Ltd. (also in our backyard). Bayer also developed the ecocidal “Agent Orange” dioxin used in Vietnam, and “Zyklon-B” hydrogen cyanide used in Holocaust gas chambers.

What if resources we devote to violence, surveillance, and punitive “justice” could be used to support St. Louisans? The City of St. Louis currently allocates $289 million of its budget toward Policing and the Director of Public Safety, while “Other” services receive $25 million. City funds can support only two domestic violence shelters. Boeing’s war products division recently received another tax abatement to the tune of $155 million, money that would otherwise go to public schools and services. Divesting from militarism and investing in our people is central to queer liberation precisely because queer and trans communities of color are disproportionately bludgeoned by crises of police brutality, domestic violence, and housing.

To be queer is to understand that our liberations are not separate at all. To stay queer is to be unco-optable. We stand in solidarity with Palestinians, whose experiences of occupation and resistance reverberate across borders. From St. Louis to Palestine, we reject the dystopia of homonationalism. We reject attempts to pinkwash genocide and to erase the anti-racist, anti-occupation solidarity forged by Rivera, Johnson, and so many others.

Pride St. Louis’s decision to headline a war profiteer during an active genocide should shock us all. We will not normalize it. No pride while the US facilitates and Boeing arms genocide.

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Sara Bannoura

Sara Bannoura is a storyteller from Bethlehem with Palestine Solidarity Committee St. Louis.

Anya Liao

Anya Liao is an artist with Palestine Solidarity Committee St. Louis.

Olivia Engel

Olivia Engel is a Jewish writer born and raised in St. Louis.

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