This week, I’ve seen two movements that I love become sullied by complicity with the arms trade. First, Church House (a leading Christian conference centre) hosted a gathering of arms dealers and generals. Now, London LGBT Pride are about to allow a section of this week’s march to be used to publicise a company that is complicit in homophobia– and other human rights abuses – around the world.
BAE Systems, a multinational arms company that sells weapons to dictatorships, has been allocated its own section at the Pride march in London on Saturday. This is a march to promote and celebrate the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Yet BAE’s biggest customers include Saudi Arabia, one of the most viciously homophobic regimes in the world.
Thus the Pride march will include the symbols and branding of a company that actively works against the very things that the march is calling for.
BAE is not one of the “official sponsors” – though these include some very unethical multinationals, such as the tax dodgers at Starbuck’s and Barclay’s. BAE is one of the companies that have been allocated a section on the march for their workers. BAE have an LGBT employees’ group and it this group that will be on the march, in the same way as there will be other groups of workers from John Lewis and the Direct Line Group. There are also religious and cultural groups (most of them placed near the back, as usual). I will be marching with Christians Together at Pride.
I don’t want to stop BAE’s workers marching at Pride. If BAE employees support LGBT rights, I’m pleased to hear it (especially as their bosses clearly don’t). But they will undoubtedly be wearing, carrying or otherwise displaying logos and publicity from BAE. This will help the company’s bosses in their relentless drive to present themselves as being ethical and pro-human rights.
I tweeted the organisers of the march (@LondonLGBTPride). I’m grateful to them for replying very quickly. However, their reply made a very unclear argument. It said:
“Organisations apply and BAE have an LGBT group. Change can come from within. We will not abandon and disengage with LGBT groups who strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves”.
I’m pleased if the LGBT workers at BAE strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves. I’m glad they’re coming on the march. But it’s either naïve or misleading of the organisers to overlook the fact that by listing BAE Systems as one of the groups on the march, and allowing BAE branding to appear, they are actively helping the company to promote itself.
Of course, I accept that this issue is part of a wider problem with the commercialisation of Pride. There are various other unethical companies involved. I wouldn’t rate Barclay’s or BP as much better than BAE. You could make an argument that this is just as bad. However, I suggest the nature of an arms company is different.
An arms company cannot become ethical, because of the very nature of the arms trade, which involves selling weapons to virtually anyone who will buy them (if they can get away with it, which they usually can). Further, BAE actively promotes homophobia by arming homophobic governments that oppress their own people. I don’t know what “change” the Pride organisers imagine will “come from within”, unless it’s by the active rebellion of the workers against the BAE bosses (which would be great, but seems unlikely).
Despite the commercialisation of Pride, despite the excessive alcohol, the high prices and the vacuuous celebrities, despite all the things I don’t like about it, I must admit that the Pride march in London has played an significant part in my life. Going toPride was an important moment for me as I decided to be public about abandoning my former homophobia. London Pride was one of the first places in which I told a stranger I was bisexual. In 2011, when I walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my formoer homophobia, the Pride march was the last leg of my pilgrimage. The significance of the Pride march for me makes me feel even sadder and angrier about its misuse by arms dealers.
Please tweet @LondonLGBTPride, or otherwise contact them, about this issue. And remember, you can always wear a Campaign Against Arms Trade badge on Saturday.