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Questions around Pride in London

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corporate sponsorshhip, UKIP appearance, Pride, londonAre histories of political struggle being erased?

The organisers of London Pride have revoked UKIP’s invitation to the LGBT parade taking place on 27 June this year. They have also relegated trade union members from the front.

But the corporate sponsors retain their headline positions at the event. So you have to ask: is there a danger of compromising the founding messages and the history of LGBT struggles and liberation?

London’s Pride is less than three weeks away, and as the biggest single event in London and the largest LGBT celebration in the world, its significance cannot be underestimated.

This year’s festival has attracted its customary share of controversy; organisers have revoked UKIP’s invitation to join the parade amid “concerns for safety”, and the historically militant group Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) has refused to take a position at the front of the parade in solidarity with trade union members denied the same opportunity.

The parade will now be led by LGBT representatives from around the world holding their national flags, but corporate sponsors like Starbucks, Barclays and Citibank, will appear ahead of groups like the TUC and LGSM.

Will appear before groups whose role has been fundamental in defining the political struggle for LGBT rights and visibility, as well as the history of Pride.

On 5 June Pride in London organisers said that “We aim to unite our community, not divide it, and our intention is to serve the whole of our community with an inclusive event, so to exclude any group is not a decision we take lightly.”

The question of who to exclude is divisive.

Far right groups like the English Defence League (EDL( and the British National Party (BNP) have been denied spots in the parade in previous years and this seems justified.

But now there are the ethical implications of permitting corporations and banks such a prolific role in the event, especially when they practice business in countries that have yet to even recognise LGBT rights.

Pride depends on corporate sponsors for funding, but is the message and history of LGBT liberation being compromised?

The success of Bafta award winning film, Pride, has helped to repopularise the struggle that united miners in the thick of 1980s Thatcherism with queer communities confronting brutal police repression, no rights and ubiquitous prejudice.

And as the co-founder and secretary of LGSM, Mike Jackson, told PinkNews, “Our experiences show how much can be achieved when we stand together. This is a fundamental part of our history, of LGBT rights and of working people’s rights. We are not two separate communities; we are the same.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984-5 miner’s strike, and initial plans for the Tredegar town brass band to lead the 2015 parade would have paid respect to the 1985 parade led by miners to repay LGSM for their support.

But this year LGSM will now walk with trade union members in block C, almost a mile back from the front of the parade.

The political discussions continue over the decision to revoke UKIP’s invitation to march in the parade.

An online petition campaigning for UKIP’s removal which raised over 2000 signatures, says: “Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip, clearly does not support the values of acceptance that Pride promotes, and Ukip is an inherently homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist and misogynistic political party.”

Protestors reportedly threatened sit-ins and other direct action if the party were allowed to participate in the parade.

Although Farage reversed UKIP’s opposition to same sex marriage just before the General Election last month, the party’s history is littered with instances of homophobia and racism.

And during his election campaign, Farage himself warned of what he called the dangers of HIV positive immigrants ‘exploiting Britain’ for health tourism, and several UKIP candidates have voiced openly homophobic remarks.

But UKIP’s (new) chair of LGBT, Flo Lewis, told the Guardian: ‘The board of Pride in London have not decided to reject our application. Instead they have decided to rescind the invitation under threats from and complaints by other members of the LGBT community.

‘All people, regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation, can find a home in UKIP,’ Lewis continued.

‘It is a sad day for diversity and freedom when these people are prohibited from expressing themselves as part of the wider community.’

But as Pride has grown in scale and popularity, it is not only political parties that have clamoured to assert their LGBT credentials despite ambiguous track records, but also corporations.

This year, Barclays is headline sponsor for the second time, and the bank will use the celebration to promote its new app Pingit, which allows people to donate money to LGBT causes and buy food and drink. Citibank, Exterion and CMS are other large corporate sponsors.

Does the headlining of these companies, and their commercial use of the event, detract from Pride’s message, or enforce it?

There are some obvious advantages to their involvement; demonstrating public support of LGBT rights sets a good precedent for diversity and helps to increase visibility and challenge discrimination, particularly in the workplace, where there has been increasing pressure for companies to be more inclusive and representative.

And it is also great business.

LGBT groups have long been targeted as a niche group of loyal consumers, but as LGBTQIA awareness and themes have become increasingly disseminated in more mainstream channels, and in the wake of Ireland’s recent Yes result after their same-sex marriage referendum, it is a good marketing strategy for companies to position themselves in support of diversity and acceptance.

But as Nic Holas – queer activist and writer – told the Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s all very good to say ‘yes, we’re inclusive and yes we’re pro marriage equality and we love the gays’ but if they’re directly profiting off work with other nations that are doing the exact opposite that’s pink washing.

“Marketing is effective when it comes to making corporates appear more human but the profit will always drive the decision-making process.”

What is the effect of corporations co-opting messages of political struggle and histories of militant activism?

Should right wing political parties with LGBT contingents be banned?

The very essence of inclusivity suggests an acceptance of all who self-identify as LGBTQI, and those identifying as allies, but many claim that to create a space inclusive of all groups who want to be involved is to depoliticise Pride and commodify its symbols for the gain of those once considered hostile to the movement.

A source close to the dispute told the Morning Star: “For many years there are some people involve in Pride who wanted to airbrush out the true history of how LGBT liberation was won.

“We want a proper remembrance of our history.”

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/12/corporations-spoil-the-spirit-of-pride-london

    ‘Don’t let corporations spoil the spirit of Pride’ and a couple of other things.

    A letter to the Guardian, 12 June 2015:

    Like many other trade unionists and activists for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people we had been really looking forward to marching at the front of London Pride this year alongside members of the original Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) in a recreation of the spirit of solidarity so brilliantly depicted in the film Pride in this, the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.

    We were shocked to see that the Pride in London (PiL) committee has now decided not to allow supporters of LGSM from the unions to march at the front with them, preferring instead to give pride of place to corporate sponsors such as Barclays, Citibank and Starbucks.

    This domination of the corporations at Pride must be questioned, and the success of the film Pride should have provided the perfect springboard for that. The fact that the chair of PiL is political head of broadcasting at 10 Downing Street shows how far we have moved from the origins of Pride protests in the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. It would seem that PiL is echoing the government in its determination to sideline unions and silence protest.

    We are determined to challenge the portrayal of Pride as a showcase for multinational companies. Among the companies currently sponsoring Pride are those who must be held responsible for the financial crisis, don’t pay their taxes and don’t allow unions to organise.

    LGSM will now be heading a union bloc in the middle of the parade, and we hope people will turn up in large numbers to join in with their posters, placards and loud voices. Thirty years ago we had to take on the union-busters and supporters of clause 28 under Margaret Thatcher. Today David Cameron has made clear his intention to shackle the unions and ramp up austerity measures that will hit LGBT people hard. It’s time to reclaim the true spirit of Pride.
    Michael Dance NUT LGBT advisory committee
    Jeremy Corbyn MP
    Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS
    Natalie Bennett Leader, Green party
    Benali Hamdache Unite member and equalities spokesperson for the Green party
    Mick Cash General secretary, RMT
    Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite the Union
    Ian Hodson President, BFAWU
    Philippa Harvey NUT national president
    Paul Kenny General secretary, GMB
    Mary Turner President, GMB
    Mike Jackson, Nicola Field, Gethin Roberts, Jonathon Blake, Keran James, Jeff Cole, Mark Findlay, Ray Goodspeed Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners
    Brenda Proctor North Staffs Miners Wives
    Rosa Kincaid on behalf of sixth form students from Pontefract who have raised £1,500 to travel to Pride to march with LGSM having been inspired by the film
    Alan Gibbons Children’s author
    Annette Pryce NUT national LGBT executive member
    Siobhan Endean Unite the Union national officer for equalities
    Fran Cowling NUS LGBT officer
    Daniel Suziki LGBT Youth Pembrokeshire
    Jeremy Douglas Chair, Unite the Union National LGBT committee and NEC member
    Geoff Dexter Co-organiser of trade union bloc, Birmingham Pride
    Debs Gwynn NW NUT LGBT rep

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