Gay Shame

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Gay Shame is a movement from within the queer communities described as a radical alternative to gay mainstreaming and directly posits an alternative view of gay pride events and activities which have become increasingly commercialized with corporate sponsors and "safer" agendas to avoid offending supporters and sponsors.[1][2] The Gay Shame movement has grown to embrace radical expression, counter-cultural ideologies and avant-garde arts and artists.

Background and history[edit]

Gay Shame was created as a protest of (and named in opposition to) the overcommercialization of the gay pride events. Members attack "queer assimilation" in what they perceive as oppressive societal structures. As such, its members disagree with the legalization of same-sex marriage,[3] stating that:

Gay Shame began in 1998 as an annual event in Brooklyn, New York. Held for a number of years at DUMBA, an artists' run collective center, bands such as Three Dollar Bill and Kiki and Herb and speakers such as Eileen Myles, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Penny Arcade appeared at the first event, and the evening was documented by Scott Berry and released as the film Gay Shame 98. Swallow Your Pride was a zine published by the people involved in planning Gay Shame in New York. Three issues were released. The movement later spread to San Francisco, Toronto, and Sweden.

LAGAI - Queer Insurrection (formerly Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention)[4] put such a protest in context. They wrote that the "origins of the LGBTQ movement are revolutionary [...] Now, some of the same people who participated in those fabulous outpourings of anti-establishment rage tripped over each other on the way to City Hall to have their love blessed by Gavin Newsom, successor to Dan White and Dianne Feinstein, darling of the developers, persecutor of the homeless, and cause of Gay Shame getting beaten and busted by the cops on more than one occasion."[5]

In 2002, AlterNet published a piece by queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca who lived in San Francisco about Gay Shame. What he wrote expressed many of the ideas of Gay Shame:

In 2009, according to an article on IndyBay, SF Gay Shame had a protest outside San Francisco's LGBT Center.[7] A press release they put out about the event they wrote:

That same year there was an event of London's chapter of Gay Shame, which they had a so-called "indoor playground of interactive art and alternative ideas...[which was in a] club [that] shares a similar non-commercial, anti-consumerist angle...[and there were] thirty-five sideshows, 100 performance artists and 3,000 revellers."[9]

A book titled Gay Shame was reviewed on Lambda Literary in 2010. The reviewers noted that the book looks at the origins of Gay Shame, the question of gay pride and challenges readers to "question and explore the possibility that the modern LGBT rights movement's push for acceptance, assimilation, and—they would argue—pride, results in a loss of something importantly queer as it attempts to eradicate shame...[by] exploring the ways in which pride and shame connected with race, gender and sexuality."[10]

In 2011, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore was interviewed by an online publication called We Who Feel Differently. Carlos Motta, the interviewer asked about how to open up spaces, and in an response, Mattilda described her work with Gay Shame:

Gay Shame was also mentioned on Mission Local,[12] the Bay Area Reporter,[13] writer Toshio Meronek on the Huffington Post,[14] a radical magazine titled Slingshot,[15] SF Weekly,[16] Sarah Jaffe on Alternet,[17] in a 7-page article in the Quarterly Journal of Speech[18] and many others.

Fizzling out and the aftermath[edit]

The San Francisco Gay Shame became a non-hierarchical direct action and radical queer collective that continued from until early 2013 when it petered out. It was also "primarily responsible for the protests, mobilizations, and guerrilla tactics that shut down the city of San Francisco in response to the declaration of war on Iraq".[19] An interview posted on the Mission Local website noted that the group began organizing in 2001, doing radical direct action with ideas like the "Goth Cry-In" which they described as a "space for basking in our sadness around the current state of LGBT politics and the horrors of the larger world." The group also said that "the current state of LGBT politics is a scramble for straight privilege" and that "things like health care...should be available to us all...[but that] a queer identity is about challenging institutions of domination, like marriage and the military, not becoming part of them [because]...we would be working against traditional institutions and building connections with people that make us feel love, joy, freedom and safety — which in many cases, as we know, is the exact opposite of marriage...[since] Gay Shame supports gender self-determination in all its manifestations."[20]

Their website described themselves as committed to "a queer extravaganza that brings direct action to astounding levels of theatricality [that rejects a] commercialized gay identity that denies the intrinsic links between queer struggle and challenging power...counter[ing] the self-serving “values” of gay consumerism and... fighting the rabid assimilationist monster with a devastating mobilization of queer brilliance."[21] Despite this, in 2012, according to writer Toshio Meronek, a criticism of the "corporatization of Pride events has officially gone viral...[and] that Pride actually started as a day of political action called Christopher Street Liberation Day."[22] At one point, after Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, Gay Shame put out a flier declaring: "No Gays in the Military! We need you on the streets. Keeping the status quo in check and on fire."[23]

After the end of the last chapter of Gay Shame, there were some reflections on the movement as a whole. One of the main organizers, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore of this group told the San Francisco Bay Guardian that:

This is similar to what she said in a radio show in late October 2012 called Horizontal Power Hour.[25][26]

In June 2013, an article on White Rose Reader added to this, noting that: "Starting in 1998, these “Gay Shame” events promoted counter-cultural ideologies and radical expression...some have picked up on this: a blog popped up recently to demand Gay Shame, started by a 48-year old queer male DJ."[27]


Seemingly in September 2013, Gay Shame SF or San Francisco Gay Shame, re-emerged as noted in a Twitter search of the #GayShame hashtag.[28] On their website, the group said that in their weekly meetings, they started the meeting to plan certain protest actions, while also holding "smaller meetings throughout the week to plan specific actions and activities."[29] In the past the Modern Times Bookstore Collective has noted events of past meetings, such as one in September 2013.[30] On their about page, they repeat what seems to be their slogan, that they are a 'Virus in the System' and they further describe themselves as "committed to a queer extravaganza that brings direct action to astounding levels of theatricality. We will not be satisfied with a commercialized gay identity...We seek nothing less than a new queer counter the self-serving “values” of gay consumerism and the increasingly hypocritical left."[31] This page continues, noting that all meetings of Gay Shame SF are consensus based, meaning everyone has agree on decisions before they proceed and that they will make sure everyone is fully informed on the actions that are going to occur. When any member of the group speaks to the press, they will identify as 'Mary' so no one is seen as a leader, incorrectly identified and so anonymity can be preserved.

On the site of SF Queer, there is a calendar of upcoming events in the week Gay Shame SF is listed. The specific entry gives a description of their organization, which the same on their webpage, and the specifics of where the meeting is being held.[32] On the sidebar of the website, it says that "for current Gay Shame activities, visit"[33] Additionally, Gay Shame has a Facebook profile as well, which likes topics ranging from Jessie Evans, Queers For Economic Justice, to ACT UP/San Francisco.[34]

Additionally, other chapters have emerged as well. In around May 2013, Gay Shame San Diego emerged, describing itself on a Facebook page as being "created as a protest to the overcommercialization of pride events and opposes queer assimilation. Gay Shame was started in 1998 in Brooklyn, NY, and was active at DUMBA, the artists' collective that the movie Short Bus was based on."[35] This Facebook page has covered topics ranging from same-sex marriage, Lou Reed, gay pride, and much more. Around the same time, a tumblr of the organization popped up as well repeating the same description on their Facebook page [36] and it has been around ever since. Their tumblr currently has reposted stuff written by Gay Shame SF, criticized capitalism, spoke about queer and trans liberation, and much more.


Due to the opposition to mainstream LGBTQ culture, some have criticized Gay Shame. One blogger named Dyneslines who argued that "In pondering this strange phenomenon, it is hard not to detect disturbing elements of willful abjection and internalized homophobia...There is some evidence that the gay-shame trend is subsiding. That outcome is certainly to be hoped for."[37] Another criticism, from a queer perspective, while praising the group in certain ways, commented: " is difficult for the group to wholly remove themselves from the overarching structure as their ideology demands... By removing individual names, and by extent, individual identities within the group, Gay Shame conforms to the very commercialization it seeks to fight against."[38]

Academic conference[edit]

An academic conference at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor occurred in March, 2003.[39] Supposedly, during that weekend, there was friction between the activists and the academics, growing out of different strategies, and the activists' claim that the academics didn't do enough to acknowledge their power and class privilege, and to share more of that with the activists.[40] A professor from the University of Texas adds to this account, reviewing a book called Gay Shame:


There have also been annual themed events titled "Gay Shame and Lesbian Weakness" in London, England associated with the club night Duckie run by Simon Casson and Amy Lame. Although documentation about when the first event happened is hard to come by, the event was occurring annually by 1998, if not earlier.[42] The 2004 event was billed as "Now in its 9th great year." The event includes performance art and queer-bash make-overs and is also referred to as The Annual Festival of Homosexual Misery.[43] The 2009 event has been announced as the last. But, since Gay Shame SF has re-emerged, new events are likely to happen as well.

Duckie Gay Shame Themes[edit]

  • 2004 Homosexual Misery. It's a nightclub. It's a theatre event. It's a rip-off.
  • 2005 Homosexual Misery. London's inverted underbelly prove that Gay ain't nothing to be proud of.
  • 2006 Euroshame for EuroPride, the booths and shows themed as different European countries.
  • 2007 Cancelled due to Arts Council England funding diverted to the Olympics.
  • 2008 Masculinity, betting, boxing, trucker fun.
  • 2009 Femininity.
  • 2015 National Borders (the plight of LGBTQ asylum seekers).[44][45]

From 2001 to 2004, there were Shame events in Stockholm, Sweden.[46] Gay Shame SF meets every Saturday at Modern Times Bookstore.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gay Shame. David M. Halperin (editor)
  2. ^ Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History by Heather Love
  3. ^ a b "GAY SHAME OPPOSES MARRIAGE IN ANY FORM". Gay Shame. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "About LAGAI - Queer Insurrection". LAGAI - Queer Insurrection. Retrieved 16 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Marriage Is Still the Opiate of the Queers
  6. ^ Gay Shame
  7. ^ Gay Shame Protest: "De-Center The Center"
  8. ^ De-Center The Center event on June 29th, 2009
  9. ^ Gay Shame 2009 Gay Shame serves up a 'festival of femininity' at the Brixton Academy
  10. ^ ‘Gay Shame’ edited by David M. Halperin & Valerie Traub
  11. ^ An Interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
  12. ^ TAKE FIVE: Gay Shame
  13. ^ Bucking the mainstream nothing new for Gay Shame
  14. ^ The Year Queers Fought the De-Politicization of Pride
  15. ^ Gay Shame - A Radical Alternative
  16. ^ Gay Shame in San Francisco -- Mary Wants You!
  17. ^ Gay Shame: A Challenge to Gay Pride
  18. ^ Gay Pride and Its Queer Discontents: ACT UP and the Political Deployment of Affect
  19. ^ That's Revolting!
  20. ^ TAKE FIVE: Gay Shame
  21. ^ Archived SF Gay Shame website
  22. ^ How Gay Shame Really Feels About Corporate Pride
  23. ^ Gays In The Military - Flyer From SF Radical Queer Group 'Gay Shame'
  24. ^ Boom life: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore talks about 'The End of San Francisco'
  25. ^ Episode 47: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Gay Shame and Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?
  26. ^ Episode 47: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Gay Shame
  27. ^ The Commercialization of "Gay Pride"
  28. ^ Results for #GayShame
  29. ^ Gay Shame: A Celebration of Resistance
  30. ^ GAY SHAME Meeting
  31. ^ Gay Shame: about
  32. ^ Gay Shame Meeting at Modern Times Bookstore
  33. ^ SF Queer
  34. ^ Gay Shame Facebook profile
  35. ^ Gay "Shame" San Diego Facebook page
  36. ^ Gay Shame San Diego link
  37. ^ Gay pride versus gay shame
  38. ^ Gay Shame—Removed From Neoliberalism?
  39. ^ Gay Shame Conference 2003
  40. ^ Gay Shame Redux
  41. ^ Stephen Low on "Gay Shame"
  42. ^ UK Gay-lesbian-bisexual Google Group
  43. ^ Hello dUCKiE!
  44. ^ "Border Force". Duckie. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  45. ^ "Background Context" (PDF). 
  46. ^ SHAME
  47. ^ current Gay Shame website

External links[edit]