Words by Alex Bond
My first time at London pride I unwittingly crashed the parade. I’m still not sure how it happened, or how nobody noticed my friends and I, especially since one of us was a 6ft2 drag queen wearing 6 inch heels. It was our first time at such a big Pride event, and it hadn’t even occurred to us that we would need wristbands for the march. We ended up behind a group of flag bearers and made our way through the streets, overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. Slowly, however, it dawned on us that everybody else was watching from behind barriers. We probably weren’t supposed to be in the parade. I glanced over my shoulder to see Tom Dailey waving at the crowds either side, along with floats from Barclays, Starbucks, Tesco and Disney. Meanwhile the army and police force marched up ahead. The presence of LGBT charities and community groups such as Gendered Intelligence, however, seemed rather meagre when compared to the huge number of corporations sporting motorised floats bearing their brand logo with some form hastily added rainbow.
On the one hand, the support of brands and the inclusion of LBGT people in advertising campaigns has its positives. It reflects the growing acceptance and assimilation of the community into the mainstream, and this sense of belonging in public life is a refreshing change. Yet big corporations suddenly jumping on the LGBT bandwagon is fraught with problems. Pinkwashing refers to the way that many companies attempt to present a cuddly, liberal facade by outwardly supporting LGBT rights in order to distract from their unethical practices.
Barclays, the headline supporter of London Pride, holds a 4.25% shareholding with BAE systems, the UK’s biggest arms dealer. Indeed, in 2016 the red arrows flew over London Pride in BAE systems aeroplanes and the company itself had a presence, advertising itself as an equal opportunities employer. BAE systems has sold arms to 21 of the 30 counties which the foreign office lists as having poor humans rights records, including Saudi Arabia.
Sky also had a presence in the parade, a company which has given over a 39% stake to Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News. The disingenuousness is staggering, while Sky employees are waving their rainbow flags the company appears to have no qualms about the conduct of Fox News, an outlet which has a long standing record of racism, homophobia and transphobia, as well as the sexual harassment of female staff. Recently Erik Erikson, a Fox News contributor, stated that LGBT people are responsible for the violence against them because they ‘go around making people uncomfortable’.
Even the houses of Parliament were illuminated with rainbow lights, and yet this seems like an empty gesture coming from a government which only a month prior decided to form a coalition with the notoriously homophobic DUP. Any ‘show of support’ or whimsical diversity speech from Theresa May appears to be entirely undermined by the actions her government have taken.
It became clear to me as the day went on that London Pride, and the LGBT movement as a whole, has been massively co-opted to suit corporate and political agendas. Meanwhile the march, which had once been a protest, seemed almost void of any mention of the discrimination still faced by LGBT people, particularly the trans community and LBGT people of colour. What is more, there was not a single bisexual group in the parade. Rainbow coloured frappuchino toppings do not address the issues still affecting the community: a quarter of homeless youth are LGBT, and LGBT people are still disproportionately affected by mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse and workplace discrimination. As a trans person, I would also like to be able to use toilets without fearing for my own safety.
While the party atmosphere is incredibly important, the apolitical and heavily corporate feel of the parade weighed heavily. I got the sense that this was an event catering for those in the LGBT community who are considered the most palatable to a straight society, namely those who are prepared to conform to it.
I’m not calling for a boycott of London Pride; instead we must challenge the way that its message has been diluted, and the way that LGBT identities have been exploited by corporations and politicians. It is time for Pride to be reclaimed by refusing to quietly comply, even if it starts with just a handful of protesters at London pride 2018.