Do brands exploit people’s political sexuality?

Pride London 2017

Following the terror attacks in London and Manchester - together with the tragic fire at West London’s Grenfell council estate- London Pride 2017 was a breath of fresh air for people who, irrespective of their sexual, social or cultural backgrounds, celebrated being themselves in the world’s biggest capital. More than 26,000 people joined the LGBT+ march. Tens of thousands watched the parade - dancing in the sun-kissed streets of London’s West End.

With youngsters wearing T-shirts featuring slogans like “I’m Generation Tolerance.” London felt united and proud.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan told crowds at Trafalgar Square that the event was the "best antidote to sorrow".

2017, marks half a century since UK’s parliament introduced the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales.

Prime Minister May said the anniversary mirrored just how far society had come, but also "reminds us how much still remains to be done". "Around the world, cruel and discriminatory laws still exist – some of them directly based on the very laws which were repealed in this country fifty years ago," May said. "The UK has a responsibility to stand up for our values and to promote the rights of LGBT+ people internationally."

Staff from the Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade took part in the parade. They joined flag bearers representing countries around the world, including those where it is still illegal to be LGBT. During the event, one police officer even received a marriage proposal from her partner – to the cheers of the crowds.

Commoditizing unity

Since 1972, London’s Pride parade has been a chance for the LGBT+ community and general supporters to celebrate liberty. In previous years, anybody could join the official parade. However, like so many things, much of the event has been commoditised and hijacked by brands using the opportunity to at best to bang their Corporate Social Responsibility propaganda drums, or at least pick up some sales from passing crowds.

Speaking ahead of the event, veteran human rights activist, Peter Tatchell complained that in recent years Pride had “morphed into a commercialised, bureaucratic and rule-bound event with commercialisation stealing the event’s soul”.

“Peter Tatchell’s always been controversial but he’s old news,” said supporter Viv Sherran, who had travelled to London from Bedford with her wife, Sarah, and daughter. “If companies are involved in the way that they are and it raises awareness of people’s rights, then that can only be a good thing.”

Jess and Roz, two Southend school friends wearing rainbow flags showed more empathy for Tatchell.

“The first year I attended I could join in”, said Jess, “but last year I had to march at the back because I wasn’t part of a big group that was taking part.” (When the first official Pride march took place in 1972 2,000 men and women from the general community were part of the main parade).

During this year’s parade, brand imagery was everywhere. Shopfronts were decked out with rainbow flags of support throughout the length and breadth of the parade’s 1.4-mile (2km) route starting at Portland Place and taking in Oxford Circus, Regent Street before ending at Whitehall. One coffee chain, Costa, recoloured its corporate identity at all retail outlets along the route to match Pride’s rainbow theme. Many of the parade’s largest floats were heavily brand sponsored.

For example, HSBC bank decorated a London-double decker to promote the introduction of gender-neutral titles at their workplaces. A Tesco-sponsored float roared out music by Katy Perry – encouraging the crowds to sing-a-long to lyrics:

“You held me down, but I got up (hey!) Already brushing off the dust, You hear my voice, you hear that sound, Like thunder, gonna shake your ground, You held me down, but I got up, Get ready 'cause I've had enough, I see it all, I see it now…”

Brands putting in the effort to support community events are commendable. However, in a world where companies have becoming obsessive with telling ‘authentic brand stories’ the real demonstration of how brands treat people, irrespective of age, sex, culture or creed is what happens once the PR showboat has gone and the bunting comes down.

Jonathan Gabay

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