It is now beyond cliché to see a wall of corporate rainbow logos when Pride month starts. Many of these logos belong to some of the worst, most unethical companies currently operating, with a list of workers’ rights abuses the length of your arm, immeasurable environmental destruction, and histories of warmongering. These repulsive corporations hijack a liberation movement as their own advertisement vehicle and, in doing so, consequently subsume any political character through its commercialisation.
What’s worse is that these corporations are actively invited to our spaces by corporate suck ups. There are LGBTQ events where a small number of event organisers undemocratically accept sponsorship money from the likes of Shell and HSBC. This came to a head when the British LGBT Awards announced Shell, BP, HSBC, Santander and Macquarie Capital, among other grim names, as its sponsors for 2023 and sparked mass opposition and protest with many nominees, including Joe Lycett, pulling out of the awards.
I helped to organise an alternative awards ceremony outside the venue as part of Fossil Free Pride alongside the climate group Tipping Point, with stunning drag performances, music, and speakers from frontline community groups like Glencore Resist, Stop EACOP, Stop Rosebank, West Cumbria Coal Mine Action, and Stop the Silvertown Tunnel. We felt that we had to show that there is an alternative to this corporate version of the LGBTQ movement. Of course, a joyful and united grassroots-led protest in the streets, standing firmly in solidarity with the Global South, was a far better time than whatever corporate nightmare might be happening inside the British LGBT Awards. Although I could have organised an awards ceremony in my shed and it would have been better than some celebrity bore fest with Shell and BP – and I wouldn’t have charged £800 a ticket either.
We all know by now that these companies are responsible for looting and plundering land, destroying major ecosystems, and military violence. Shell knew about the global environmental damage of fossil fuels in the 1980’s but actively concealed this information from the public. BP lobbied the British government to invade Iran in 1953 and Iraq in 2003 and now flagrantly boasts about its Iraqi oil field contracts. In 2022, Shell reported profits of £32.2bn and BP reported profits of £23bn. HSBC has invested $144bn into the fossil fuel industry since 2016 and Santander invested $51bn in the same period. Macquarie Capital are one of the members of the Riverlinx Consortium who hold the contract for the Silvertown Tunnel, a £2.2bn project in London that will increase local pollution and emissions. For these kinds of companies to be advertised at the British LGBT Awards represents a defeat for the LGBTQ community and everyone that we stand in solidarity with internationally.
This is not just a problem with the British LGBT Awards, many UK Prides are still accepting sponsorships by banks that fund fossil fuel projects to the tune of billions. By advertising themselves in these spaces, fossil fuel companies and financiers gain social license to continue their destructive activities. Myself and a group of other grassroots organisers have launched the Fossil Free Pride Pledge. Which calls for Prides to commit to no sponsorship with fossil fuel companies or the banks that fund them, with 10 Prides so far signing the Pledge and local groups actively campaigning across the country. However, many continue to have sponsorship agreements with the likes of Barclays, who are Europe’s largest investors of fossil fuels. Boycotting these banks puts pressure on them to change their investments and, without these reckless financiers, new fossil fuel projects would be stopped in their tracks.
This kind of mess would be completely unimaginable in the early LGBTQ movement. Our movement has historically been strong in refusing to accept systems that harm and dominate us. Now, in the mainstream sphere, our movement has become unrecognisable to the dynamic, inspiring liberation movement that it once was. When Prides embrace corporations and silence regular queer people, they can’t claim to meaningfully represent anything about the queer liberation movement or anybody in it. The absolute minimum that we must demand is that Pride should be for queers, not rapacious multinational corporations.
The good news is that we can have liberating anti-capitalist queer Pride events without having to spend a lot of money. It doesn’t cost much to march alongside other struggles, to join a picket line for precarious workers, to disrupt the offices of BP or Shell through demonstrations, or to share skills and knowledge for our liberation. It costs a lot less to demonstrate outside the offices of transphobic politicians than to book a celebrity performer. Give everybody who comes to Pride a copy of Beautiful Trouble with their first drink. Our movement has a rich history of utilising these and even more revolutionary tactics to reclaim some degree of power back from capitalism.
That’s a Pride you could actually feel proud about too. Young queer people will go to Pride and watch people like them unapologetically saying that this world is not good enough for them, and that we all have the power in ourselves to change it. In contrast, the LGBTQ movement of today says we should love who we are but with the caveat that we can’t make our corporate sponsors too uncomfortable. There is more shame and conservatism than pride in that message, and it’s the only LGBTQ movement that a lot of young queer people have ever known.
There’s still plenty of time for queer parties too, and you know the parties organised by left-wing grassroots groups are much more fun and sexy. The LGBTQ movement can’t just be a social routine though. We don’t party together to celebrate being free, the truth is that most of us are secretly, desperately unfree in many ways.
At a time of global insecurity, rising temperatures, growing conservative and far-right movements, and economic precarity, we need a strong LGBTQ movement that can fight back against attacks, join up struggles, and cut through mass conservative psychology. It’s impossible to have the movement we need if we are accepting companies like Shell, BP, HSBC, Santander, and Macquarie Capital into our spaces. Instead, we need to drop these sponsors, make it unmistakably clear that we do not accept their activities, and work to intervene in the violence that they cause.
~ Steff Cave
Images: Alex Sturrock