Image Credit: Karl Bewick
The first Pride I ever felt comfortable going to was York Pride 2019. To say the least, the day was a disappointment; it rained all day, and I didn’t find the love of my life. However, what really struck a chord with me was the heavy emphasis on company sponsorship throughout the day.
Consistently, logo after logo was splattered across the parade and it left me feeling like the community I had finally felt accepted within was nothing more than an advertisement space. I recall seeing a banner which said something like ‘LNER proudly brings you York Pride 2019’. I remember thinking, no, LNER you do not– the suffering and tireless effort of thousands in the LGBTQ+ Community has brought me Pride.
Despite the fact that in-person Pride has been cancelled this year and last, the over-emphasis of companies has continued. These businesses make up vibrant advertisements and say they ‘support Pride’, but to me it all comes across as pretty empty. Recently, model train company, Hornby, came under scrutiny for their ‘LGBTQ+ Pride Wagon’. The model itself was fine, but what underlined the community’s anger was the fact that they did this without donating any of the proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities. In a statement posted on Twitter in response to this criticism, they said that ‘we’re not donating any money at present but we’ll be keeping this in mind for the future. We wanted to show our commitment to the LGBTQ+ community with this model alongside our existing Pride models & hope that it’ll be a benefit & encourage awareness.’ This is emblematic of companies’ belief that they are helping LGBTQ+people by coating whatever stuff they usually produce with a rainbow. Despite this, it is clear that the only person this is for is themselves, as a way to seem ‘relevant’ and ‘appeal’ to the market. However, if your only contribution to Pride is a colourful looking bit of LGBTQ+ merch, then you are the problem.
Hornby has since apologised (only after they were called to), aptly saying in an official statement that ‘waving the flag is not enough. We must promote the LGBTQ+ community by donating the proceeds’. Whilst it is good that they eventually apologised, and have changed their initial plan, it demonstrates the ignorance of these companies’ belief that their blatant virtue signalling does not go unnoticed. I am not entirely cynical about companies ‘waving the flag’. For one, it does help to attain wider recognition of the community, it is always nice to get official support for a cause that is important to so many. Additionally, the sad truth of the matter is that Pride groups are usually charities– they need the money from sponsors to organise events and continue what they are doing.
However, the emptiness of these actions is too much to ignore. Whilst it helps fund Pride, it weakens the message and history which this month is meant to symbolise. Instead of being a month for remembrance and celebration, it is a month of advertising and free goodies. To me, this all boils down another wider issue of Pride, which is that we are often far too removed from the past struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals who came before us. Again, if Pride for you is simply a month to get drunk and dance with rainbow paint on your face, you are also a part of the problem. Whilst this is a vital part of Pride, it is diluting the real meaning of this time of year.
I could not be sitting here writing this article, publicly publishing it in a newspaper, had it not been for the work of countless protesters and activists. Pride was not always a party - it began as a protest. It began in New York, across three long nights of LGBTQ+ individuals who refused to continually take the abuse and prejudice they had long endured. Figures like Marsha P. Washington, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera –lesbians and trans women of colour who bravely fought back were the first to begin the Pride movement. They helped pave the way to where we are today, and I think we have become far too privileged to forget this. Back then, no one supported them and they were left alone against the whole world.
Now that Pride is a ‘popular’ event it has become an opportunity to capitalise from. This does nothing but disrespect the figures who fought for our rights and it is, therefore, something the community and our allies should not buy into. If companies really want to show their support for Pride, then start donating more to LGBTQ+ charities, and stop seeing Pride as an opportunity to put your logo in pretty rainbow colours. Ultimately, Pride is not about parties or rainbow flags or quippy slogans on t-shirts, it is about celebrating a community and remembering the painful history that has led us to this moment.