In 1972 a band of 1,000 LGBT+ people marched in the streets of London, the first time pride was brought to the UK. Fast forward nearly half a century later, and pride is a huge event that attracts hundreds of thousands every year and huge commercial sponsors. LGBT advertising is so present in current society we see it in the food we eat, cafes we sit in, the technology we use, and it had raised a lot of debate within the LGBT+ community over whether this increased commercial involvement in the movement is a good thing or not. One of the key advocates of de-commercialising pride is close to home in Free Pride Glasgow, an organisation demanding the removal of corporate sponsors and a return the campaign’s roots.
One of the main arguments used by campaigns like Free Pride Glasgow, is that the pride movement should be first and foremost about people, not profit. The commercialisation is seen as exploitative because companies are taking a movement designed specifically by a minority, to advocate for themselves, and using it for their own purposes, and there is no overlap between these purposes because all companies purely operate on profit motive, not philanthropic incentives, or to progress the cause of social justice. When companies use gay symbols or advertise using LGBT people or events, they are exploiting a marginalised group for their own gain, because they think it will be good for their brand image to be associated with the ‘progressive’ values that LGBT+ rights groups have. This advantage comes twofold: first from the ‘pink pound’ which is the spending power of LGBT people themselves, and secondly from winning the loyalty of liberal allies who want to support socially conscious companies.
Another argument against this process is one of inclusivity. Movements like Pride should include and prioritise the voices of its most marginalised members, but when huge companies are involved in funding Pride marches like Barclays and Starbucks, and companies’ LGBT adverts are the main representation of LGBT people to most of the population, the most marginalised are more likely to be pushed to the edges because they are the ‘least media-friendly’. When pride and the LGBT community is commercialised, companies then get ability to shape how LGBT people as a movement and as a community are presented to society. This happens because society is inundated with adverts and unlike newspapers or social media, you don’t have to seek them out or consciously access them in anyway, so they have become the most pervasive and effective form of mass messaging in society. This means that it becomes a representative record of society at that time, and also effective in shaping societal norms. Therefore it is significantly worse when advertisers misrepresent LGBT people. This would happen because advertisers would want to use the most socially accepted and media friendly LGBT people to use in their campaigns which means white gay men get over-represented, over people of colour, trans people, and other people within the LGBT community who are less visible or less easy to empathise with. However ultimately the most marginalised people should be at the forefront and given voices, particularly in the case of pride when it is explicitly a fight for the rights of marginalised sexualities and gender identities.
But most of all, pride is first and foremost a protest movement, that is its birthplace, that is all of its achievements, and it is important that pride remain a platform to demand and create change. When it is commercialised it becomes harder to do that because although companies are quite happy to sit on the laurels of the movement’s success, they never want to rock the status quo or push the boat out to demand the radical change that is needed because that means going against the dominant norms in society currently, which is not an effective advertising strategy. Furthermore, Pride’s history is another thing that will be lost if the commercialisation of Pride goes too far. Pride marches have always been on some level a place to remember the history of LGBT struggles such as the Stonewall riots, this history will be sanitised and ignored if it doesn’t suit the narratives that companies want to advance, which could be a huge loss for the community’s collective memory.
However, the commercialisation of the movement can also be seen as a huge success. Advertisers wanting to be publicly associated with the pride movement shows how far the movement has come, it is a sign of unprecedented success of a social movement, that it can go from complete oblivion to mainstream adverts from huge brands publicly backing it, in half a century. Adverts are also a key way of normalisation, gradually changing social norms to make LGBT people more accepted and ‘normal’ within the mainstream, which should be an important goal of the movement, particularly in the West where most legal rights have now been achieved. The influence of capitalism over the movement can have unfortunate side effects, but it is a sign of success and it also enables the pride movement to receive huge amounts of funding they would not otherwise receive, which can be used for independent campaigns as well as sponsored events. It is also important to recognise the alternative, that although white men may get prioritised, at least it does provide huge representation which would not be there otherwise.
-Daisy Thomson, Culture and Opinion Editor