I can remember the day presale tickets dropped for NYC pride weekend 2023. It was roughly October last year, and my phone blew up with texts urging me to lock down 2023 Pride tickets like my life and reputation depended on it. For a nominal fee ranging from roughly $90 to upwards of $250, I too could undulate amongst hundreds (or thousands) of my fellow alphabet people at marathon parties like Planet Pride, Pride LA, Horse Meat Disco, and Ladyland.
We’ve reached the time of the season commonly referred to as the “Gay Ironman” marathon: multiple weekends in a row of celebrations, and if you can afford it, lavish trips to Fire Island and Provincetown. I scraped together something in the ballpark of $600 to buy tickets to this year’s parties, transport, drinks at the venue, and whatever the host of the pregame I was headed to was missing at the last minute. Other money-conscious Pride-goers have shared their budgets on TripAdvisor and Reddit threads. Chicago, for instance, comes with the general recommendation to budget somewhere in the ballpark of $100 a day for events. Other coastal cities truly run the gamut, depending on whether you’re just going for the parade or girding your loins for a 72-hour bender.
And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on general release tickets. Friends of mine who, like me, wait until the last minute to buy tickets for things, found themselves at the whim of the resale market. In 2022, tickets for that year’s Pride LA concert resold for upwards of $400. Horse Meat Disco tickets for this year have been reselling anywhere from $230 to $280, to folks with deep pockets or a paralyzing fear of missing out. No matter how you slice it, it feels like Pride tickets have become incredibly expensive.
All this comes at a time when “rainbow-washing” is at an all-time high, as corporations like Lockheed Martin (yes, that Lockheed Martin) and the CIA sashay into the world of bedazzled socks and shirts with their version of corporate queerdom. But for all the eye-rolling done at corporations, the price of Pride events has as much to do with the network of promoters, nightlife personalities, drag performers, and artists we support as it does the partygoers. What goes into pricing a ticket is far more complex than just the numbers on a website – and COVID-19, unfortunately, has played a part in it.
“Following the pandemic, venues have been eager to recoup their losses – and that’s been reflected in the price of a ticket,” says Eliel Cruz, a Brooklyn-based LGBTQ+ activist, writer, and nightlife promoter. Cruz helps run parties Stuntsz, which celebrates queer and trans performers of color, and hosts huge NYC Pride parties like Planet Pride and Ladyland, heading up events that typically run anywhere from dozens to hundreds of attendees year-round.
“There’s a confluence of factors that go into the price,” he explains, pointing to one-off parties like Pride LA or Pride in the Park in NYC adding musical talent like Christina Aguilera and Kim Petras to their rosters. “Pride parties that would feature one or two special guests now look more like music festivals. In an ideal world, we’re compensating queer and trans performers and people of color adequately.” This is especially crucial, given many drag queens and performers make the bulk of their income during the month of June.
Promoters like Eliel are still conscious of folks who can’t afford the cost of tickets. Latinx-focused parties like Papi Juice and underground techno parties like Unter frequently have a guest list reserved for queer and trans people of color: “I regularly list people who can’t afford the price and offer greater leeway to disenfranchised folks,” Eliel adds. For him and many others, Pride parties are about providing a safe and celebratory space, where queer people can experience the ecstasy of belonging – an essential act at a time when many LGBTQ+ spaces are under threat.
The question of corporatization and the financial cost of Pride actually predates the first festivals in major cities, argues Marc Stein, an LGBTQ+ historian, professor at San Francisco State University, and author of Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement. “Conflicts about whether it was okay to sell gay merchandise and political buttons coexisted with questions of police presence, and whether parties should be sponsored by bars,” he says of the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day of June 28th, 1970, widely regarded as the first organized Pride parade in a major city. “While the ‘gay bar’ is itself an essential queer space, there’s also a great deal of exploitation and division within them; Stonewall itself was an exploitative space!”
Stein recalls a specific cultural moment during the 90s: “Sponsorship campaigns—think Keith Haring’s ad designs for Absolut Vodka—catapulted queer representation into the zeitgeist and into the world of big business. Not,” he adds, “that this was anything new.” All this culminated in a more expensive Pride, where sponsored events demanded ever-increasing premiums.
So, are Pride tickets still worth it? I say abso-fucking-lutely! Moments of queer ecstasy are feeling fewer and further between these days. The prevailing atmosphere this Pride month has been that of rage and uncertainty: Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is cropping up nationwide, and federal battles have ensued to protect the rights of trans adolescents and drag performers. As queer spaces are squandered and threatened, it feels more vital than ever to show up and show out for events that emphasize equitable representation and celebration, all the while being cognisant of the lighting techs, bartenders, drag performers, house DJs, bouncers, and yes, promoters that the price of admission benefits.
One only needs to draw a cursory comparison to what can be referred to as “heterosexual table culture”, where straight clubs charge hundreds or thousands of dollars year-round for clubbers to have a private space within the venue. Yes, tables and bottle service do exist at gay clubs and bars, but I’d argue that even the most upscale and exclusive queer spaces are far more user-friendly than their straight analog. Reaching into our coffers and forking over the cost of entry feels more purposeful than it would in your average cishet venue.
So, yes: My wallet feels a bit lighter this year than I’d expected, which probably stems from my crippling fear of checking my Wells Fargo account every month. But, at the very least, I’ll go to sleep the night of June 25th knowing that I went hard for a better cause than straight people do.