Exploitation of the ‘Pink Pound’ for Profit

Nowadays, in a society which has grown increasingly accepting of different sexualities, Pride events are held across the country and attended by hundreds of thousands. In recent years, savvy businesses have devised ways to commodify and cash in on the ‘pink pound’ – the term used to describe the £6 billion or so that the LGBT+ community spends each year – whether that be by sponsoring a Pride event, or by producing wares to market to this niche audience. However, some have criticised big businesses for exploiting and cheapening a once-political protest and have raised questions about whether any of the profits actually go back into the LGBT+ community that they claim to support. Do businesses have anything to be proud of?

After years of tireless activism by visionaries such as Marsha P Johnson and Peter Tatchell, leaps and bounds have been made in trying to make society safer for queer bodies, which is why Pride has – for some – become a chance to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to enjoy a day where LGBT+ people shouldn’t feel afraid for who they are. As such, companies have realised that by supporting Pride they can promote the idea of being a welcoming, modern and ethical business, while also profiting from the millions who want to buy a rainbow flag, drink a rainbow drink and see the latest headlining pop act. Pride is profitable – more than 400,000 people descended on Brighton in 2018, and hundreds of thousands more attended similar events across the UK.  One example of a company cashing in on the event is the streetwear giant, Topshop, who in 2018 ran a Love Pride campaign, which – kudos to them – included LGBT+ models and boasted more rainbow-printed t-shirts than Judy Garland could be proud of. Teaming up with out and proud designer Jeffrey Charles, they collaborated on the LGBT+ collection Loverboy, in which 30% of profits were donated to the LGBT+ charity, Stonewall. Superficially, this seems to be an ethical and effective campaign to raise money, but upon closer inspection, cracks show. Clothing that still boasted Pride emblems without being part of the collection only lined Philip Green’s controversial pockets, which already boast billions. Furthermore, being queer isn’t something that only affects your life for 1 month of the year; being in the minority is something that lasts for life. Ironically, that same year trans artist Travis Alabanza was denied access to the female changing rooms in a Manchester branch and was instructed to use the male changing rooms instead. As Alabanza pointed out, this wouldn’t be a safe solution. Profiting from queer culture only to shove it back into the closet for the other 11 months of the year is no progress.

Another company eager to take a bite of the pink pound was Coca-Cola, who created custom-made London Pride 2018 advertisements that aired at the Piccadilly Circus. However, the company featured among the largest sponsors of the FIFA World Cup held in Russia, one of the most homophobic countries in the world where over 100 gay men have been tortured and imprisoned in gay concentration camps in Chechnya. It’s no surprise that the gears of capitalism allow no room for ethical consideration, which is why companies need to support, rather than simply exploit the LGBT+ community through a get-rich quick rainbow hashtag on a t-shirt or on the side of a coke can.

People are quick to label this new trend of ‘ethical consumerism’ as simple slacktivism, as though painting a rainbow on your logo makes you a good ally, but there are ways to combat the growing encroachment of multi-billionaire corporations in what was originally a political protest. Support local, grassroots-run LGBT+ stalls and events, such as the anti-corporation Queer Picnic in London or Leeds’ Alternative Pride which features workshops, spoken word nights and drag balls – without the backing of corrupt billionaires.

George Dunleavy