Pride month: From Section 28 to ‘pinkwashing’

By Perry Miller

Week two of Pride month and I’m already exhausted.

For me, the month’s (more like a week then) halcyon days were the 90s, when, after a sizeable march through the centre of London, there would be a huge party in a far-flung park where a lot of people would get very drunk, dance to Kylie (who else?) and then make a bolt for a nightclub that cashed in on the occasion by doubling its admission fee for that one special day. It was also the time of Section 28 and there was a sense that, the louder and prouder people were, it would drown out the impact of a law that described homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’ that should not be promoted as acceptable.

I also think it felt so special because there was an otherwise stinging sense of inequality in everyday life: there was no equal age of consent, no recognition of same-sex relationships, no same-sex marriage or adoption and serving openly in the military was forbidden. We had to wait for the 1997 Labour government to put all that in motion. On reflection, it is quite amusing that Margaret Thatcher was worried about homosexuality being seen as an attractive ‘lifestyle’ when there wasn’t much going for it at the time.

It is with those memories that I find today’s marking of Pride so tiring. I think it’s the argument over logos mainly: that switch that is flicked on 1st June when rainbows are suddenly everywhere and the backlash begins. I’m tragically drawn to social media just to see quite how bad it can get. In the one corner: ‘You’ve just lost yourself a customer’, ‘stop meddling in politics’, ‘when’s your Straight Pride?’ and in the other ‘what’s your donation to LGBT charities?’, ‘your shareholders are homophobic – take your logo down’ and the perennial ‘virtue-signalling again’. Special mention goes to Morrison’s, whose chicken-rearing practices apparently are a very good reason to criticise its adoption of the Pride flag this month.

I shouldn’t read these comments but they’re like cat nip. I think it’s because, for my formative Pride years (the early 1990s), there was no visible corporate or institutional support. The community was on its own. So when I see companies’ rainbow logos now, I’m immediately heartened by the fact that people within that organisation concluded that it was something they wanted to do, or indeed that it was ‘the right thing to do’.  Is all of it genuine? Probably not, but it still delivers a message of support. Certainly, at SEC Newgate, where visibility is one of our LGBTQ network’s core drivers, we see it as critical to show support for those within our company and to signal our values to those yet to join us, either as colleagues or clients.

Yes, pinkwashing is egregious and people are right to question the motives of some organisations. But trust me, in 90s London, the Pride flag was flown in one street in Soho and almost nowhere else. I worry that the naysayers among the wider LGBTQ community run the risk of dissuading organisations from recognising Pride in future years: is the hassle worth it? And that would give the haters exactly what they want.

How big a deal is this? After all, I’m debating the response to the use of a rainbow flag and we’re moving forwards not backwards, right? I don’t know: just last week the Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, urged all government departments to quit the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, which followed the disbanding of the government’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Panel in the wake of resignations.

I’ll leave the last word to the producers of Love Island who, when challenged recently on the lack of LGBTQ+ representation on their shows, described it as ‘logistically difficult’. More work to do!