Today is Pride in London. Many tech firms have been festooned in rainbow bunting for the last week, and some app developers have even changed their apps’ icons to suggest solidarity with LGBTQ+ people.
It’s important to remember that Pride is, fundamentally, a protest. This year marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, when the queer community in New York City rose up against the police’s violent oppression—an uprising led by drag queens and queer people of colour.
Modern pride events in Western countries are a marshalled parade (kept in check by the police, which is massively problematic) and sponsored by large companies, whose floats will display rainbow variations of their logos and dispense multicoloured merchandise. One could be forgiven for thinking that gay liberation is a solved problem! If large banks are happy to display a rainbow version of their logo, surely everything’s fine?
Last year’s Pride in London parade was disrupted by a transphobic splinter group which claimed to represent lesbian feminists (but was in fact linked to various far-right, fundamentalist Christian, and misogynist groups.) A lesbian couple was beaten up on a bus a few weeks ago in north London (one of the survivors wrote an article about her experience, and the wider context of anti-queer hate crime, for the Guardian.) Trans women of colour in the US are at significantly higher risk of being murdered. And this is in the context of a media environment that allows people to publish blatantly transphobic articles in national newspapers in the name of ‘open debate’… exactly the same kind of ‘open debate’ that happened about gay people not so long ago.
Stella, whose talk at BeyondTech you should watch, tweeted:
I see logos like [the rainbow logo] for @Barclays and I feel frustrated that all we do is change logos and don’t help marginalised or at risk groups in meaningful ways. How many banks help customers rebuild lives, get funds for ideas/ care /protect identities? But sure, $$$ for scooters —@MlleLicious
Here’s the rub: it all feels like performance. On Monday, the rainbow logos will disappear—but queer people (of which I am one) continue being queer, and subject to danger and discrimination, all year round. And I have it easy—I’m cisgender, white, male, and masculine-presenting, which means my particular flavour of queerness is more acceptable to society than (for instance) a bisexual woman’s, or a non-binary person of colour’s.
Too much corporate Pride activity is about making cis and heterosexual people, and a certain subset of ‘acceptable’ gay people (i.e. cis white masc-presenting gay men) feel OK. There is very little to challenge the power structures that still oppress people to this day.
So before you put a six-stripe rainbow filter on your company’s Twitter profile, or come up with a slick hashtag and marketing campaign, ask yourself what you’re actually doing to uplift LGBTQ+ people, here and around the world. For instance:
- Do you do business in jurisdictions that criminalise and imprison queer people? Maybe you shouldn’t.
- If one of your members of staff came out as transgender tomorrow, how would you support them? Would they get time off to focus on their transition? Would it be easy to update their gender marker (including to something other than ‘male’ or ‘female’ if necessary?) How would you make sure everyone started using their new name and pronouns immediately?
- Does your Code of Conduct (which I hope you have) include gender, gender identity and expression, and sexual preference as protected characteristics? Do you have a clear path to resolution for bullying and harassment? Do you even know what bullying and harassment on these grounds looks like?
This is not an exhaustive list. But it’s a start. As a queer person, I’d rather not spend my entire life talking about queer politics. I have other stuff to do. But it’s on all of us to educate ourselves about our own privilege, and about the kinds of oppression people can face in the world—and help to dismantle it.