If you walk through most UK city centres in the run up to Prides you’ll see a plethora of rainbow flags. This can be seen as a show of solidarity from LGBT+ friendly businesses. But it can also be seen as part of the commercialisation of Pride. This is exemplified by the rainbow logos used by companies such as Barclays, or the controversial Skittles promotion in 2017. But what exactly are these coffee chains, supermarkets, banks and clothing chains doing? Are they funding lobbying groups to push for better support of transgender teenagers? Are they leading the fight to decriminalise homosexuality across the globe? Or is this a marketing exercise, designed to boost their image as a ‘socially conscious’ corporation and support their revenue streams?
I am aware that Pride organisers have a difficult job, and have costs which must be met. We can also see this problem as a sign of progress, not so long ago major companies associating with Pride would be unthinkable. However the commodification of Pride (sanitising and repackaging it as a brand that is palatable to businesses) runs the risk of marginalising the voices of those who struggle under the status quo. The possibility of companies removing their sponsorship if Pride takes a stance they disagree with doesn’t need to be explicitly stated either, it suffices that the organisers are aware that it could happen. On a personal level I also find it deeply uncomfortable when I see companies using the LGBT+ community, party of my identity, to sell products.
Ultimately it boils down to a question of what Pride should be. The earliest ones were deeply, radically political, fighting for rights and protections denied by broader society. Peter Tatchell recalls that at the first London Pride in 1972, men kissing in public was an arrestable offence and ‘Gay is Good’ was a radical slogan. Now they are closer to a celebration of what has already been achieved. So should we be fighting to expand freedom? Or should we throw a party?
There are still huge LGBT+ issues to fight for, from combatting entrenched homophobia in the UK to raising awareness of legal discrimination which still takes place in many countries (72 countries still criminalise homosexuality, with 8 retaining the death penalty). If Pride is to be an effective campaigning tool then it cannot be afraid to challenge the status quo, even if that is less palatable to the mainstream. To my mind corporate partnerships and advertising undermine this freedom.
I respect that Pride has been important to the LGBT+ community, and that many people enjoy it as it currently exists. But during this time we should think about the problems around Pride as well as celebrating our successes, and ask what we’re trying to achieve.
I welcome discussion and the sharing of alternative views or relevant experiences in the comments, but please keep it respectful.