'Last year, I was too happy to care that companies were using me'

Written by Marygrace Schumann

 Photography by Marygrace Schumann

Photography by Marygrace Schumann

Sometimes, I don’t really mind being manipulated.

 

In June of 2015, after the Supreme Court passed marriage equality, I started to see the LGBT+ community — people like me — reflected in companies’ advertisements more.

 

I knew how the game worked. Being gay was “in” now. My sexuality was something they could use to their benefit. My happiness, my community’s success— it something they could capitalize off of.

 

It made sense.

 

According to research done by the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBT+ community held $790 million in buying power in 2012 and Experian Marketing Services year discovered that the average income of people in a same-sex relationship is significantly more than a heterosexual couple’s income. We were a demographic that spent money, and, now that millions of people were using the hashtags #LoveWins on Twitter and changing their profile pictures to a rainbow filter on Facebook, they could use us with minimal risk. It was win/win situation for them.

 

Still, it was manipulative. They were playing a game— one where they were the only real winners, and I was merely a pawn.

 

But at the same time, I was busy celebrating. I was too happy to care. I smiled at the Tiffany’s first ad featuring a same sex couple and the cute lesbians in the Chobani Simply 100 commercial.

 

It wasn’t that I thought it was right for them to use the LGBT+ community. But it didn’t seem like a battle worth fighting to me. I didn’t really mind all that much. They made their money, and I got to be happy, for a split second, seeing people like me on my TV and in my mom’s magazines.

 

I thought about all the kids who would see it, and wouldn’t have to feel the way I did when I was their age: othered and isolated.

 

I knew I was being manipulated, but I didn’t care all that much. It wasn’t that bad of a game.

 

At Pride last year, I laughed at all of the companies, using “Love is love” and “Legalize gay.” It seemed funny, to me, the way they could spin this to make money— it became a joke between my friends and I.

 

Pride, an event that was born from a riot at Stonewall Inn in 1969, had become little more than a place for companies to advertise themselves.

 

It didn’t bother me all that much. I was too happy to care.

 

I was next to a lesbian couple and their daughter, who had set up a lemonade stand. We were in the shade. I couldn’t stop smiling, thinking that that could be me one day.

 

But June of 2016 isn’t like June of 2015.

 

Last year we were celebrating. This year we are mourning after 50 people were killed and 53 were injured at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

 

Last year, I was too happy to care that companies were using me. This year, as I rode the redline to Boystown, I was different. I wasn’t light, the way I had been before. There was a heaviness there, on my chest. I was celebrating, the way I always did at Pride, but I was wrestling with a tragedy I hadn’t come to terms with yet.

  Photography by Marygrace Schumann

Photography by Marygrace Schumann

The parade started with a tribute to the 49 victims; People carried posters with their faces, ages and names. It was powerful and beautiful, but I was angry that it had to be done at all. I didn’t want my community to be in pain.

 

We weren’t in the shade, and my skin was already burning.

 

As the parade went on, the mood quickly shifted. More companies started to show up in their cheesy floats. I laughed, at first, the way I did last year.

 

Until I noticed something.

 

Where last year there had been, “Love is love” signs on their floats and “Legalize gay” t-shirts, this year ABC 7 and Walgreens, among others, wore “We are Orlando” shirts as they danced and smiled, waving down at me.

 

I turned to my friend, grin just as big and just as fake as theirs. “Glad our dead can make them some money.”

 

I laughed, but not like I had last year. It was short and bitter, barely coming out of my throat. I wished I had remembered my sunglasses. I turned around and blinked, hoping my tears would just fall back inside of me.

 

There will be people who argue that those companies really do care. I can’t deny that there may be individuals working there who do. But a company isn’t a person.

 

A company doesn’t have a heart. A company does not cry, watching a parade, everybody happy and sweaty next to them. A company does not mourn. A company does not fear for their lives. A company is there to make money, plain and simple. If they didn’t believe they could make money off of this tragedy, they wouldn’t be doing this.

 

They wouldn’t be at Pride. They wouldn’t be using hashtags on Twitter and making Facebook statuses.

 

Sometimes, I don’t mind being manipulated by these big companies.

 

Perhaps I should.

 

Perhaps I should have cared more when they were using my community’s victory, one we’ve fought for since the AIDS crisis, as a ploy to make money. But I didn’t. I had won something and I felt full. I had the luxury of being able to turn a blind eye.

This year isn’t last year. I haven’t won anything. There isn’t enough of me left to be used.

 

Our tragedies are not for the taking.

 

Regardless if some of the individual people working for these companies genuinely care about what happened, they don’t get to use it. Very few of the companies who have been using the mass shooting in Orlando have donated money, or done anything to actually help. Instead, they’ve just taken our tragedy and turned it into their profit. It feels dishonest and insensitive for them to take my pain and use it as a marketing strategy.

 

Sometimes, I don’t mind being manipulated. I can look past it. I can roll my eyes and get over it.

 

This time, I do.

 

Contact Marygrace by email at Marygrace.Schumann@loop.colum.edu.