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By Carlos García León, Queer, non-binary, Mexican-Statesian, and fundraiser

I do not know when this started, but we’ve all seen it. Corporations and organizations stamp a rainbow on their logo, say “Happy Pride,” sometime during the month, and call it a success for the rest of the year.

It is Pride Month, which of course means that all queer people gain superpowers and are being cared for by the prime lesbian herself, the Moon. (Apologies if you didn’t know that, but it’s true and I don’t make the rules. Mother Nature is gay. Like, why else would there be rainbows?) 

The month of June is also a time to remind ourselves why Pride exists in the first place — to commemorate the fight against police brutality and oppression. (Sounds familiar, huh?) And while there have been many victories since Stonewall (and even before Stonewall), there is still plenty left to fight for. Currently, in the U.S., there are a record number of anti-trans bills being introduced. Outside of the U.S., there are still 69 countries that continue to consider homosexuality illegal. The sheer existence of queer people is still illegal — can you belive that? Let us never forget that. 

When I think of Pride, I always think about the Ancient Greeks and how queerness was way more accepted back in those days. They had queer gods! I mean, Athena was a butch asexual, Artemis a femme lesbian, and Apollo our favorite pansexual.  My favorite story of queerness in Ancient Greece — of which there are many — is of our well-known Achilles and his lover and best friend, Patroclus. 

Now, I’m no historian (just a measly fundraiser with a passion for finding representation in all the places) but what I know of Achilles and Patroclus is through the lovely storytelling from Madeline Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles. If you haven’t read it yet, let me summarize it for you: 

Achilles, an undefeated warrior, is forced to go to war — for what is probably the most fragile hetero-masculine reason ever — to fight against the Trojans. Patroclus joins him because they are inseparable (and for the ‘love of his country,’ I guess). Because of this love, Achilles refuses to step onto the battlefield since  there’s a prophecy that tells him he’ll die once he does. He wants to spend more time with Patroclus, so he tries to stay alive for as long as he can (and it’s part of the reason why the Trojan War lasted 10 years). It’s not until Patroclus goes out into the field himself to end the war and dies that Achilles decides to succumb to fate. 

I mean what else is there for him to live for?

So what does this queer tragic love story have to do with fundraising? 

It tells us that queer people have had to fight so hard for love and acceptance for eons, and we’ve experienced such loss and suffered so many casualities as a result (and the lack of acknowledment of these deaths from any country’s goverment is equally awful). This fight put upon us has its cruel hands in philanthropy, too. 

Here are some things that have been roaming in my head, that have caused me anger and a great sense of wrath this month — I want to start destroying the cruelty immediately, for the liberation of joy and queerness. 

Rainbow Capitalism 

I want true social justice and equity — I want to not only be appreciated, but to be fought for. Fight for my full existence.

I do not know when this started, but we’ve all seen it. Corporations and organizations stamp a rainbow on their logo, say “Happy Pride,” sometime during the month, and call it a success for the rest of the year. 

Every year, rainbow consumer products are mass produced to get queer individuals and allies to buy them, with many of the proceeds not even going to local or even national LGBTQ+ organizations that are truly putting their efforts toward the safety and legality of queer individuals to thrive and live. 

Rainbow Capitalism is just as performative as saying, “Black Lives Matter,” before giving money to developers to displace communities of color for their capitalistic wet dreams of a Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood. It’s metaphorically perfect that these corporations paint their buildings with gentrifying grey and white as their default when the queer community’s colors come from a rainbow. (And it is also metaphorical, that black, a color that represents communities of color, happens to be the result of all colors of the rainbow combined to the max). 

To all of you Rainbow Capitalizers, let me tell you what I don’t want:

I do not want you to replace your logo with a rainbow version of it for a month. I do not want you to just ‘appreciate’ me or my fellow LGBTQuties while you stab us in the back by paying for and supporting anti-trans and other anti-LGBTQ+ laws and regulations in our government, which affect us all on an individual basis. I do not want you to say “Happy Pride” while your boiled-down essence of diversity and inclusion is an illusion that doesn’t erase the continuing battles that queer people, trans, gender non-conforming people, and those living outside of heteronormative ideals face on the daily. It is a dangerous tactic that lets these organizations get away with violent practices and gaslighting against queer people, merely by saying, “But we said, ‘Happy Pride in June!’” 

I want true social justice and equity — I want to not only be appreciated, but to be fought for. Fight for my full existence. 

If you are going to attach a rainbow to your organization or have a Pride grant or event (that you inevitably give to non-LGBTQ+-led organizations who merely have LGBTQ+ staff members or programming — I’ve been watching and seeing this), you better also be giving money to organizations really doing the work. You better ensure that part of the grant strategy is to actually give money to the queer community — not just a program for them. Don’t just throw a party because you think it’ll make money for you and satisfy the community. That is a band-aid idea that doesn’t do anything to the overarching problems that exist. 

If you are a corporation that gives money to both sides to remain “neutral,” whatever that even means — what I know is that you are actually really comfortable making money off of me and making money at the demise and denial of my existence. (The thing is, there is no such thing as neutrality here.) 

And all of your proceeds — yes, ALL OF THEM — better be going to queer organizations. Because if you are going to be visible about supporting the queer community and ‘uplifting us,’ you better be ready to fight with us — not just have a tiny rainbow flag at the entrance of your building. 

So yeah, I do not want your version of Pride Month. I am queer 365 days of the year, 24/7. Yes, even when I sleep because when I sleep it is queer because I am queer, because I am alive, and because if the government had their way — without queer individuals fighting — our government would rather see me dead. 

Binary thinking — not about it 

Black or white. Gay or straight. Man or woman.  Donor or beneficiary. 

Binary thinking has haunted me. It still haunts me. 

Life, as I know it, has always been about putting others in a box that sits on either side of this teeter totter. It’s a mechanism that allows privileged people to feel comfortable, so they can avoid the systemic issues of the world that have allowed their comforts. As someone who lives in the in-between though, it is constantly tiring to feel the pressure of fitting into one or the other. Binary thinking needs to stop because this outlook in the world has created more problems than solutions. 

(A brief tangent: Another type of binary thinking I am over is the idea of we are either nice or we are not. If one more person tells me, “Honey attracts more flies,” I will literally swat them. I never wanted flies in the first place.) 

There is beauty in the in-between. Take a look at gender and sexuality, two concepts that have truly destroyed the notion of binaries, two concepts that thrive within the spectrum of ‘any.’ The solutions to the problems in our world actually exist here — not in the places we have spent untold wealth on (ocean exploration, space exploration, a beyond-immense military budget for deadly weapons). 

The spaces in-between ‘any’ are other realms that we should invest in, not just within ourselves, but also we need to collectively invest in as a system, in order to create solutions for taking care of this planet, humanity, and our future. 

The U.S. also has binary thinking when it comes to race, often utilizing this to pit communities of color against one another. Rather than embracing the plethora of shades of black and brown, it has marked it as one or the other, which is a method of erasure for the many intersecting individuals who are Black and something else, or like me, Mexican and from the U.S., never quite good enough for either Mexico or the U.S. but still my own beautiful mix of being. 

And within the queer community, particularly from my experience in the gay community (here meaning men who sleep with men), there is a ton of misogyny with our behaviors toward women, femme men, and trans women. That’s where binary thinking takes us.  

Our fundraising structures should also avoid these pitfalls of binary thinking. I understand that binary thinking is comfortable for us, but is it the work? We should have learned by now that it is not. 

‘Returning to normalcy’ 

We should not be returning to normal. Normality should never be something we want to do or be for too long.

I’ve been seeing and hearing this phrase in solicitation letters, in fundraising workshops, and among colleagues and friends. Let me just say, that if this is how you feel, no matter the context, you have failed. Period. 

If you, as an individual, an organization, a corporation or foundation, want to return to normal — well, you really did not learn anything from the racial reckoning and the pandemic from the past year plus. 

If you are rushing to feel normal and not do anything different than before — then you truly have not sat through discomfort, and you have not taken into account the privileges that are allowing you to opt out when the world needed to take such a devastating pause. 

We should not be returning to normal. Normality should never be something we want to do or be for too long. While we should take the time to celebrate, to grieve, to experiment with what feels right —  we should also want to improve upon the things we have learned and make new ways of doing things. 

Perhaps when I say this, I am speaking from the many years I fought to be ‘normal’ — from the many years of feeling that I should be the one to change rather than expecting for ‘normality’ to change enough to embrace me. 

While we can appreciate the rising number of vaccinated people, the opening of states, the opening of restaurants and bars and getting to see family and friends again — can we also hold all of that, in tandem, with wanting to change the way we lived. 

Community-centric fundraising is, in essence, a method to change the fundraising we’ve known. However, it doesn’t mean that somewhere in the multiverse, there aren’t many other ways of fundraising that are also more equitable. Do I know all the different forms of what equity can look like? Absolutely not, but I am excited to see CCF grow and to see fundraising change in order to better fight for equity. 

I want to love like Achilles, not fight like Patroclus

I just want to just enjoy life without worrying about the next exhausting day that I’ll have to fight, without agonizing  about whether the next Supreme Court case will change laws that ruin the life I want to have and should be able to have. 

Listen y’all, I just want to take a nap without having to pay a therapist to help me battle the anxiety monsters that keep my sleep angels in a prison. 

As fellow queer poet, Maya Angelou, said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Carlos García León

Carlos García León

Carlos García León (he/they ; el/elle) is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian, and fundraiser. They were born in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico, but currently reside in the stolen land of the Shawnee and Miami tribes, also known as Cincinnati, Ohio and work as the individual giving manager of Cincinnati Opera. Their work, both in the arts and through writing, is driven by a fight for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice. Outside of working and writing, Carlos likes to stream TV and movies, read a good book, learn German, take naps under their weighted blanket, drink milkshakes, and look for the next poncho to add to their collection. They can be reached via email or on InstagramTwitter, and other social media platforms @cgarcia_leon.

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