Pride in London: Why businesses are backing Pride

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Top Shop for Pride in LondonImage copyright Getty Images

The streets of the capital will be turned into a big party this weekend when Pride in London ends with its annual march.

But it is not just members of the LGBT community flying the rainbow flag, as more businesses than ever are supporting the fight for equality.

With almost 50 official partners, ranging from airlines to mobile networks, and a list of over 60 supporters, companies are signing up to try to stamp out prejudice.

But why are firms joining the fight for inclusion? And does the event risk becoming too commercial?

Supporting the cause

Polly Shute, director of development and partnerships for Pride in London, said it will be a record-breaking year for the event, with more than 26,500 people expected to take part.

And the number of corporate backers has mirrored the marchers’ rise.

But what does Polly think is the attraction for companies to get involved?

“From their point of view, it is a message both internally and externally,” she said.

“[Some] don’t have a product to sell, but they support us because they want to promote inclusion in the workplace.

“Of course, it also shows external customers that a business supports the cause, but a number of these companies are already involved in charities promoting inclusion and equality, so it is a natural step.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Business across the capital have rebranded for Pride in London

Polly believes it also reflects a wider push for diversity in the workplace.

“It is part of a growing movement about people being able to be who they are at work, which improves things for the business and for the communities,” she said.

“A lot of people who are members of the LGBT community have also risen up the ranks and they have gone through periods where they have not felt able to come out – so they want to fight this cause for their workforce.”

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Barclays is the headline sponsor of Pride in London for the fourth year running and believes the event is an important part of connecting with staff and customers.

Michael Roemer, Barclays’ global LGBT lead and group chief compliance officer, said: “We want our colleagues, customers and clients to feel free to express who they are at all times.

“We’ve made great strides internally in creating an inclusive global workplace, but we want to go further.

“By supporting Pride in London, we’re saying ‘this is who we are’ and we want to encourage everyone else to be able to say who they are, without fear.”

‘The Pride spirit’

Tesco is another sponsor keen to support the people that work there.

John Dickinson, Out at Tesco chairman, said: “Pride in London is such a fun and vibrant event and that’s why we’re proud to be an official sponsor again this year.

“Over 300 of our colleagues are expected to take part in the parade and 13 stores along the route will enter into the Pride spirit with special Pride-themed signs, bunting and carrier bags.”

And Transport for London (TfL) is getting in the mood by decorating its Tube stations, bus stops and bikes for the event.

However, it is also a chance to promote diversity for the city it represents.

Ben Lyon, chairman of OUTbound – TfL’s LGBT staff network – said: “The capital is one of the most diverse cities in the world and we are extremely proud to be part of the message to the world that, whatever your sexual orientation, London is open and welcomes you.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tube stations are adopting the rainbow flag colours

But what about the LGBT community? Does it welcome this corporate edge?

Jade Knight, from Nottingham, believes “commercial and mainstream is where Pride needs to be”.

The 44-year-old, who has attended Pride events around the country for the past five years, said: “We want to get to the point where LGBT identities are no longer a subculture, but as acceptable on the mainstream as being cisgender and heterosexual.

“The first Prides were riots, then political protests, then a celebration of mainly gay male subculture. Pride has evolved. It’s not enough for it just to be LGBT people by themselves.”

But she believes the companies need to put money where their mouths are.

“Pride is just the promise,” added Jade.

“They need to show up for their LGBT staff and customers all the other days of the year as well, or it means nothing.”

‘Good and bad’

Scott Williams, 40, from Bromley, London, has been going to the Pride event in London since 1997 and is more concerned about the direction.

“It is a good thing and a bad thing,” he said.

“It allows Pride to happen as these companies contribute to the cost of running the parade and the event. Also, it’s good to see companies supporting their LGBT staff.

“But the last two marches I have been to, instead of it being what the original spirit of Pride was – a protest for equal rights and standing up to show visibility – it feels like a big advertisement targeting the LGBT community.”

Image copyright Scott Williams
Image caption Scott Williams (right) and his boyfriend JJ enjoying the event last year

Tilly Williams has been going to Pride in London for eight years and thinks a balance is needed.

The 26-year-old from Camberwell, London, said: “I believe lots of brands are just using it for good publicity, rather than out of any sense of social justice, which isn’t ideal.

“But I think anything that increases wider society’s acceptance of LGBT issues is inherently good.

“I would like to make sure those brands are supportive of LGBT rights outside of just the Pride festival though, making sure they are tough on discrimination within their company and visibly opposing anti-gay policies.”

Pride in London’s Polly Shute said: “I understand the concerns, but we are one of the few free Pride events.

“We want to stay that way to be as inclusive as possible, but somebody has to pay for it.

“These companies represent so many people – it is important that they support those communities at work.

Image copyright Tilly Williams
Image caption Tilly Williams (right) and her girlfriend Lauren are heading to Pride in London on Saturday

“And whilst the corporate sponsors may be more visible, over 60% of those marching are not-for-profit charities or community groups.

“By bringing corporates in, we keep a free Pride and it means those groups can campaign or celebrate.”

Natasha Scott, who will be marching with the gay and lesbian association of doctors and dentists on Saturday, agrees.

The 36-year-old from, Finsbury Park, London, said: “Pride, for me, is about acceptance and inclusivity – one day in the year where you genuinely don’t have to worry about being yourself.

“Unfortunately to organise such a huge event in London these days costs money, and corporate sponsorship becomes necessary.

“Is it ideal? No. But if it allows Pride to continue reaching out and celebrating then I think it’s worth it.”

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