These days the average wedding cake costs about half-a-grand. Imagine working 64 hours back-to-back at minimum wage to save up $466 to buy a wedding cake for the soon-to-be most important day of your life, knowing that that chunk of change is actually a minor cost of your big day. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $35,000. That’s almost three full years of working at a minimum wage.
These amounts are not out of reach for many gay men that I know. And it’s not all that surprising, for the first time in history, gay men are getting paid more than our straight peers — about 10% more to be exact. And that’s not even taking the racial wealth divide into account for white gays. This is not to say that we haven’t struggled; we have and still do. But, as the report points out, it does mean that our deeply unjust and racist economic system doesn’t seem to care if you’re a faggot anymore — as long as you’re white and have a modicum of class privilege. A cake shop owner turning us away, even if backed by the U.S. Supreme Court (thanks, Colorado), doesn’t exactly plunge us into economic precarity. Being able to buy a fancy cake and throw a wedding aren’t top of mind for the vast majority of the queer community, LGBTQIA+ people, working-class, poor, Black, immigrant, Muslim, and queers of color. Survival is.
The fact that some of us can pay for weddings and their cakes is not equality for the gay community. To be clear, winning a 10% premium on earning potential is a victory for capitalism, not gays of any class or race. Instead, as gay white cisgender men, we must not deny the invitation to continue to struggle for the full liberation of our community.
There are abundant critiques of and campaigns against the proliferation of the consumerist measures of queer liberation. These critiques, often offered by working-class and poor queer people of color, are building on the founding principles of queer liberation as a movement led by Black trans women and queers of color to free all of us from state violence and economic exploitation, not a desire to gain more visibility within those systems. As the chant goes, “Queer Liberation! Not Rainbow Capitalism!”
Although today I’m more likely to be caught among those shouting out cops and racist and classist gays the reveling in Pride, I didn’t come into liberation struggles through my sexual identity. I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist church in the small progressive city in upstate New York where exploring my sexuality was encouraged and celebrated. The heteropatriarchy didn’t let me off easy, though. I was bullied in school — mostly around my faggotty, twinky demeanor. However, my community and church made it abundantly clear that I was loved and welcome to be myself.
Because of my unique experience of acceptance — which I know not all gay men share — I gravitated toward anti-racism, anti-militarization, and economic justice movements throughout high school and college. These issues impacted communities I cared about and in which I moved with varying degrees of privilege. For example, as a white kid I directly benefited from educational tracking into Advanced Placement courses with mostly white kids, even though the Syracuse City School District was made up of predominantly students of color. I saw the underfunding of our urban school system and families of color pressed under an economy that wasn’t ever set up to benefit them. It was set up to benefit me.
My worldview included sexuality as a lens but I never led with that — so many other issues felt more relevant. The dissonance felt today between queer liberation and rainbow capitalism has been a tension long before the marriage equality campaign started to take over the gay agenda. I began exploring my sexuality in the late 2000s when the campaign for marriage equality was at its peak. In my experience the marriage campaign was the loudest priority ringing in my ears, yelling over the racial and economic justice priorities that I later learned were foundational parts of a more intersectional queer agenda struggling to be heard all along.
Although it wasn’t shown to me when I was growing up, I learned later on about the Black and Brown queer and trans communities that are and have always have been visionaries, strategists, cultural creators, and laborers of love within racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ movements. Audre Lorde and Marsha P. Johnson have been instrumental in holding a radically inclusive and intersectional center for the queer movement. Bayard Rustin — a Black gay man who was also a lead strategist in the civil rights movement — once wrote that “The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind.” The most vulnerable among us aren’t throwing down thousands of dollars for weddings or cakes. They’re struggling to find work or keep a job, to get healthcare and afford rent.
Transgender people of color are more than three times as likely as the U.S. population to live in poverty, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report. A Black transgender woman’s lifespan, on average, is just 35 years. As my friend and colleague Naa Hammond, a Black immigrant queer femme, recently put it, “In a country where you can still be fired in 28 states for being gay or transgender, the fact that class-privileged white gay men outearn their straight counterparts is a wake up call. White wealthy gay men must become vocal supporters of economic justice movements. Stand up for leaders who are organizing for employment protections and higher wages for all LGBTQ and working people — particularly those who are people of color, trans, gender non conforming, women, undocumented and working-class.” Naa works at Groundswell Fund — which supports grassroots organizing and policy change efforts led by low-income women, women of color and transgender people. Following the lead of these movements anchors me to stay true to my commitment that privilege isn’t liberation.
As white gay men with class privilege, if we do not listen to, respond to, and back the poor and working-class queer and trans people of color who continue to invite us into the next stages of our struggle together, we risk true collective liberation, including our own.
So this #PrideMonth let’s resist parades flanked by police departments and corporate commercials draped in rainbows and instead celebrate, learn, connect, and build together — we still have some hard work ahead of us.
Braeden Lentz is the Associate Director at Resource Generation, the only membership organization in the U.S. organizing young people (18-35) with wealth toward the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.
As a result of becoming a member of Resource Generation, our members end up giving away 16-times more money to economic and racial justice organizations than they did before. Learn more and support our work by becoming a member here. If you need help figuring out your class background, check out our definition of wealth and/or fill out this intake form to have one our national organizers get in touch with you.