This year London Pride coincided with the day England beat Sweden in the quarter finals of the World Cup. The pubs of Soho filled with two types of people: the England fan and the LGBT individual, many of whom were in fact the very same person. The mutually exclusive relationship that has been presented in the past is increasingly withering away. At least for a day, football fans were no longer afraid to be gay and gay people were no longer afraid to be football fans.
But this happy scene hides a more sinister truth. On a day to day basis outside of the accepting enclave of Soho, these individuals must hide parts of their identity. As a football fan, a man would be frowned upon walking into the Emirates in the arms of another man. Fans are forced to return back to the closet and agents advise players to remain in the closet.
Beyond the sad reality of the sporting industry, there was a more pressing and visible issue during Pride: its commercialisation.
Every restaurant and shop along the route of the Pride parade had clad their exterior with the rainbow Pride flag. Aware of the spending power of the LGBTQ+ community, these companies were understandably keen to get behind the idea of Pride. But this was not evidence of support for the legitimate concerns of LGBTQ+ individuals, but instead was an attempt to extract as many pink pounds as possible.
Companies care only notionally about LGBTQ+ equality and are happy to support it when it is likely to benefit them. Although the shops of Regent Street were covered with rainbows, as soon as one gets the train to Romford, Redbridge or Richmond the scene changes. Shops are no longer donning the rainbow. This is because it is not the cool (or commercially sensible) thing to do.
These scenes show the way in which capitalism attempts to exploit and commercialise Pride.
If shops such as Starbucks and Nandos wanted to make a difference they would fly rainbow flags from their restaurants in countries where being gay is illegal. I doubt there is a pride flag flying proudly from a Starbucks coffee shop in Saudi Arabia, or from a Nandos in Dubai. This is because to do so would be commercial suicide. They would almost immediately be shut down by the police authorities. Even if they weren’t, certain customers might think twice before buying a Starbucks frappe or a half chicken medium.
Pride should not be railroaded by these companies trying to make a quick buck from the prejudices and discrimination that LGBTQ+ people have faced for centuries. Instead, if these companies want to make a genuine difference they should advocate for LGBTQ+ rights not only in the UK (where admittedly we still have a long way to come), but in those countries and communities where homosexuality is seen as a crime worthy of death.
As such, if these companies do decide to raise a flag, a massive responsibility falls upon them not only to advocate for LGBTQ+ individuals globally but also to ensure equality for LGBTQ+ individuals employed within their organisation. There is a rainbow ceiling that exists in many corporate environments, with LGBTQ+ individuals continuing to face barriers to executive and senior roles. Companies have a responsibility to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals within the organisation can progress as their heterosexual counterparts can, whether or not they are flying the pride flag.
With this commercialisation of Pride lies another issue. Pride clothing ranges are produced in countries where being gay is illegal. The BBC, for instance, revealed that H&M produced its Pride range in Turkey, China, and Bangladesh: three countries where it is illegal to be gay. A male factory worker, employed by H&M, might produce a ‘love is love’ t-shirt, but he still could not return home to another man without fear. For that factory worker, his love of another man would be devalued, demeaned, and viewed worthy of death.
Yes, companies such as H&M may be creating employment in these regions. But, in making these Pride ranges, they have charged themselves with an additional goal – promoting LGBTQ+ equality and rights. Through producing Pride shirts in countries where it is illegal to be gay, they are rubbing salt in the wounds of LGBTQ+ individuals.
If these companies want to make a real difference, inconspicuously producing Pride clothing in these countries is not the way to go about it. They should be providing ‘safe spaces’ at work for LGBTQ+ individuals, boycotting the government and threatening divestment from these countries. As multinationals, these companies have immeasurable power on the world stage. This is particularly true when their annual revenue is greater than the GDP of some countries where it is illegal to be gay.
These companies have an opportunity to champion a change and as customers, it is our right to ask for this change. We shouldn’t accept empty rhetoric and tokenism for the sake of making money. We should demand real tangible change, and if this doesn’t happen, Pride should be reclaimed from the overbearing corporate presence that pervades the event.