Skittles and retrospection
Louis Allsop retrospectively ruminates on his personal Pride Month experience
The oversaturation of corporate entities that enveloped the London Pride march this year was, at times, somewhat overbearing. I had arrived in Trafalgar Square relatively early in order to ensure a front row seat for the upcoming parade; it was somewhat of a shock then, when out of the corner of my eye, I witnessed giant blue helium balloons with the distinct markings of Tesco approaching me. Needless to say, it was striking that the opening act to the annual protest and celebration of LGBTQ+ lifestyles was front-lined by a corporation whose float was aggressively marketing their own fruit and vegetable department. I doubt any of the hundreds of thousands of supporters were there because of their investment in Tesco’s fresh vegetable policies. This set the precedent for the remainder of the parade; for every university, public sector agency or LGBTQ+ association, a Morrisons, Amazon or technological agency would be sure to follow.
The dichotomy between these two entities; the corporate and the activist, pose the difficult question of how to balance the sanctity of Pride events whilst ensuring that the message reaches the widest audience possible. However, the recent “over commercialisation” of Pride Month has been a cause of concern and scrutiny amongst some supporters of the event. An event like Pride particularly in more liberal political climates is clearly seen by companies as a fruitful commercial opportunity, as seen by the myriad of corporate flags raised alongside those of the LGBTQ+ community.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this was the mass updating of companies’ social media logos to feature prominently the colours of the rainbow which is an iconic LGBTQ+ symbol. This publicity stunt had two clear effects; firstly, it ensured an overwhelmingly positive reception for the company involved as currently in our more accepting social climate LGBTQ+ support is an inherently positive message for companies to exert. And secondly, the positive impact that this publicity garners most likely has a long-term effect on the economic prosperity of each company.
The issue of LGBTQ+ rights and representation requires a sustained social and political approach in order to instigate long term change
It is my view however, that most companies value this second impact above the first as it was painfully obvious that from the moment Pride Month subsided, most companies reverted back to their original logos. Pride Month in the commercial eye is seemingly just that, a month to promote equality in their company and raise their own public profile. The issue with this is that the fight and struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and the ending of discrimination based on sexual identity is a continuous fight, one which larger corporations only outwardly support for one twelfth of the annual calendar.
Of course, this is not the case for all companies, but it is an overwhelming trend. The issue of LGBTQ+ rights and representation requires a sustained social and political approach in order to instigate long term change. If the problem is only vastly addressed for one twelfth of the year, long term political and social change can take far longer, and the suffering of marginalised groups can continue for an extended period of time. The issue therefore lies in the rhetoric of corporations who do not address issues of LGBTQ+ representation throughout the year. By adopting an all-or-nothing approach, Pride and its message is consistently overshadowed for the majority of the year by a more commercial and high-profit business rhetoric.
A more positive reception of the parade was saved for the public service sector, the energy of the crowd was noticeably raised when the Metropolitan police force as well as the ambulance, fire and NHS services paraded past. This raised a clear message that when financial incentive was not a motive of the protest, there was a feeling shared by the crowd that the support came from a more genuine and caring place. Of course, these services parading undoubtedly raises their public profile in a positive light; however, due to the service’s consistent public acknowledgement for all-inclusive care, their position in the parade felt justified and in line with the rhetoric they spread throughout the twelve-month period.
There is, however, an undeniable positive impact that commercialisation brings Pride Month. This being the vast outward reaching equality campaigns present over the month, which are advertised on radio, TV, as well as on every local high street and bus stop. This massive outreach campaign allows for the message of Pride to reach those who may not actively have an interest in following the event as an active supporter, or even change the minds of those who may be anti-LGBTQ+ or skeptical of the movement’s intentions. These campaigns are also longer lasting than companies immediate social media presence, as the physical nature allows remnants of the campaign to last long after Pride Month has faded. For example, in Tesco’s, a Skittles Pride collaboration is still present in shops at the start of August. As well as the occasional bus stop advertisement and London tube poster, still campaigning for LGBTQ+ celebration.
The message of Pride can reach those who may not actively have an interest in following the event as an active supporter
Whilst commercialisation can exploit and occasionally undermine the importance of events such as Pride, the overwhelmingly positive message that big business spreads by incorporating LGBTQ+ rights into their social presence, in my opinion vastly outweighs the negative effects and is helping fast-track LGBTQ+ acceptance and equality to the forefront of political discussion. In addition to this the very fact that social media in countries like the UK can be overtaken by a message of equality and freedom of opportunity highlights how important commercialisation is as a marker for the success of LGBTQ+ rights; especially in comparison to similar Pride events hosted in less liberal climates such as Russia, where the military presence there forcibly halted proceedings. The commercialisation of Pride is, in light of this a reminder of the progress already made in the movement as a whole, but also a forewarning to continually push for equality regardless of identity.
Header Image: Louis Allsop