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A blown-out close-up of the Trent Central Student Association's recently-announced bucket hats. Source: trentcentral.ca/shop

Editorial: Pride Month is Not Your Merchandising Opportunity

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
June 6, 2023
Editorial: Pride Month is Not Your Merchandising Opportunity
A blown-out close-up of the Trent Central Student Association's recently-announced bucket hats. Source: trentcentral.ca/shop

And so it is Pride Month, and what have we bought?

Amid the usual deluge of ill-conceived marketing campaigns and mediocre products reskinned in rainbows like alternate costumes in a fighting game, it seems not even our beloved student union is immune to the temptations of a little Pride month profit boost. 

In a June 1st Instagram post, the Trent Central Student Association showcased the newest addition to their merch shop, which has long befuddled me, a white twill bucket hat (because of course it’s a bucket hat) prominently inscribed with the word “Trent” in capitalized Cooper Black font. The text is displayed in the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green Blue (Trent is a five letter word) with an appended smiley face in the analogous Violet. Congratulations to Trent, whoever he is. I hope he and his boyfriend are very happy. 

I'm picking up Good(?) Vibrations from this bold display font perhaps best known from the cover of The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds.

Look, I wasn’t about to say “I told you so,” but you know what? I told you so. I fucking I told you so

I’ll admit, even my notoriously humourless self is not immune to the delight of purchasing apparel and paraphernalia which prominently declared my identarian label of choice, however, having a trans-flag printed dildo sit out on my desk for the better part of a year did somewhat quell that instinct. That said, I do own a shirt which outs me as a self-professed “FAG,” though considering some anonymous parties tried to strip me of my salary the last time I called myself such, forgive me for not wearing it this time around. 

In spite of the arguably extremist opinions I harbour about typesetting, I realize that selling an ugly bucket hat is not some sort of crime against gay people (though if I’d’ve been in charge of that design you could well expect a monospace, a slab font, or some sort of tasteful sans-serif). Certainly, the Trent Central Student Association is no Raytheon Technologies or the like. Still, seeing as the Association represents the student body as a whole, and not only that, is entrusted with a considerable sum of our (or our parents’) money, I feel there’s merit in highlighting certain facts about their budgetary tendencies.

In the 2021–2022 fiscal year, the TCSA spent $12,778.76 of what I can only assume to have been student money on producing association-branded merchandise. Fine, great. I’m not one to buy a sweatsuit in the same shade of green as the split-pea soup used for practical effects in The Exorcist, but I don’t speak for every student and I’m sure there is a market for such things.

It is, however, interesting to note that in the same year TCSA merchandise sales amounted to a cumulative $12,282.00. Now, I’m no business student, but my plebeian humanities degree does not preclude me from being able to perform the calculation of “Profit = Revenue – Cost,” which handily demonstrates to us that the Association recouped a whopping… 

$-496.76. 

Huh, Interesting. 

That’s right dear reader, our minority-elected overlords on high somehow misplaced half a grand of student funding somewhere between the steps of “producing vanity products” and “breaking even.” See now why I’m a bit skeptical of this whole affair—I was really hoping my non-refundable $88.00 levy fee went towards replacing the bat from the Burnout Bonfire Bash. I’d never, after all, want our Association to find themselves empty handed should an autumnal-themed sequel of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes take place at little ol’ Trent University, and suddenly we find ourselves needing to protect ourselves from bloodthirsty gourds.

As a matter of fact, if one looks at the “Discretionary Revenue” section on the TCSA’s third draft budget for that year, they will note that the running actuals demonstrate the Association misplaced not just the $500.00 from their merchandise, but a cumulative $1,533 (and 5 cents!) of student money from various discretionary ventures. That’s quite literally more than half of what I earned Arthur last year (my salary is legally public knowledge for those interested).

“Evan, stop being such a whiny killjoy,” I hear you say. “That ‘girl voice’ of yours is making my ears bleed.” I promise, reader, that I am nearing “the point,” if you’ll just bear with this line of questioning. Sure, a Pride hat doesn’t hurt anybody, I’ll not contest that. Still, my real question is: who does it help?

Most organizations when launching a Pride collection commit to devoting at least a meagre portion of their revenue to some queer-oriented not-for-profit. No such promises from our student union.

Well, I should stipulate that despite the Association proper not responding to a comment on the announcement post from a student concerned that “Pride isn’t an excuse to sell trendy rainbow merch (with the same ‘groovy’ theme as the Kiwi tracksuits) and it’s shameful for a ‘student union’ to jump on the bandwagon of capitalism,” recent internally appointed Association Services Manager Zoe Litow-Daye deigned to offer response from her personal Instagram account, a fact of which I had to be alerted to by a third party, as Litow-Daye has me blocked on Instagram! 

Regardless of your personal opinion on the hats in question, it bears emphasizing that the employ of a membership-based representational organization should not disseminate important communiqués about the conduct of said institution from their personal accounts, especially when they have blocked certain members of the body they represent.

Nonetheless, the Services Manager assured the concerned party that the commodities in question were “designed by queer students,” and that any profit made from their sale goes directly back into the Association’s Gender Affirming Care Grant, which was “founded by two LGBT staff."

I broach this subject only because in the same document from which I pull the aforementioned financial statistics, the Association’s Gender Affirming Care Grant amounted to $6,432, just over half the relative budget allotted to producing merchandise which—let’s be real—is not getting anyone laser hair removal. 

Let’s not forget that only the profits of the hat in question go towards the Gender Affirming Care Grant, which, for those following the formula above, means that instead of simply allocating a larger budget to the grant, the Association instead is feeding the money generated from selling hats (presumably to Queer students) back into a fund aimed at Queer students… so it's effectively as if we are buying into our own line of funding?

This handy flow chart demonstrates the process by which your money gets turned into a bucket hat which is used to fund a grant instead of just putting the money there in the first place! Editor’s Note: This graphic was designed by a Queer student.

I’m of the belief that action speaks louder than rhetoric in instances such as these, and the budget here tells me that the Trent Central Student Association cares less about allocating money to queer students than it does about selling things to them.

Regardless of how many members of the Association’s Board of Directors and Executive are themselves Queer, participation in the same corporate antics so many in the Queer community actively decry seems only to undermine any attempt at connecting with the Queer people among their membership.

My lived experience is more profound than a word on a bucket hat. It cannot be bought, sold, or reified. The TCSA may not be Target, or Walmart, or any other corporation cynically riding the coattails of Pride Month, though nonetheless their financial conduct betrays a greater concern with appearing sympathetic than in offering the material support so many Queer students need.

That fact aside, what does that say about the sustainability of producing all of these products which seem, by testament of the Association’s own publicly available financial documents, to not be selling? For the student union of a school known predominantly for their school of the environment (the merch is literally green!) that is—how do you say?—not a good look, gorg.

If I can be sincere for just one sentence, let me tell you that I’ve got better things to do than engage in Rainbow Capitalism™ discourse for the upteenth time. I don’t enjoy this, you know. I just feel that I, and every other queer student, deserve more dignity than being a sales demographic for an entity which is supposed to represent our collective political interests, not be a VistaPrint fashion label.

If you really want to make a difference, maybe consider selling something more practically aimed gender-affirming apparel. If the Trent Central Student Association starts selling gaffs at an affordable price I’ll be the first in line to buy one, no matter what they slather all over it (and this coming from a woman who owns ZERO Trent apparel, no word of a lie). What it comes down to is an issue of utility. In the grand scheme of things, a bucket hat does little to address the material struggles—alternate healthcare needs and learning accommodations, expensive cosmetic surgeries, bathrooms policing, and other such things—which trans and queer people face constantly by virtue of existing in this world, and the solution provided cannot be consumption.

We will never buy our way out of this. 

As a queer and trans student who is lucky enough to have her own pulpit, I want to be heard, not pandered to, and I know through the connections to my community that many people feel the same.

Yours truly,

Evan Robins

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