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BAE Systems try to pinkwash their image by sponsoring LGBT Pride in Leeds

People carrying placards reading 'No Pride in War'

BAE Systems try to pinkwash their image by sponsoring LGBT Pride in Leeds

A company that supplies weapons to some of the world's most homophobic regimes is sponsoring the LGBT Pride parade in Leeds this weekend.

Pride celebrations will take place in Leeds tomorrow (Sunday 7 August) for the first time since before the Covid pandemic began.

But LGBT+ members of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain's leading pacifist network, said that Pride organisers are insulting queer people in countries such as Saudi Arabia, armed by BAE Systems, where LGBT+ people are routinely imprisoned, tortured and killed.

Many LGBT+ people in the Leeds area, along with other human rights campaigners and peace groups, have expressed dismay that a celebration of human rights is sponsored by an arms company.

The PPU described BAE's sponsorship of Pride as an example of everyday militarism, with military attitudes and organisations creeping into more areas of civilian life - including human rights marches.

BAE were sponsoring an increasing number of LGBT+ events prior to the pandemic. In 2019, they sponsored Pride parades in Woking, Portsmouth and Blackpool. In Woking, four people were told by security guards to leave Pride in Surrey because they were handing out leaflets criticising BAE.

With Pride events taking place regularly for the first time since 2019, the Peace Pledge Union warned that BAE are once again misusing the LGBT+ rights movement to try to pinkwash their image.

The PPU emphasised that they have no problem with employees of BAE attending Pride as individuals. Instead, they object to an arms company being allowed to use Pride to pose as supporters of equality.

Ellie Terry, an LGBT+ rights activist in Leeds, said:
"It is absolutely not OK for companies to celebrate Pride with one hand and sell weapons to countries who oppress LGBTQ+ people with the other. We demand liberation for ALL LGBTQ+ people everywhere and will not have our struggle used for corporate PR and rainbow-washing. You simply cannot claim to support our liberation whilst simultaneously profiting from our subjugation."
Ironically, Leeds will next weekend host BiCon, the UK's national Bisexual Convention, which in 2019 became the first national LGBT+ organisation to vote against making any deals with arms companies or armed forces.
The PPU has long spoken out against uniformed military blocs at Pride, pointing to the role of the UK armed forces in training the forces of homophobic regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

The PPU is a founding member of the No Pride in War campaign, an informal alliance of LGBT+ activists, peace campaigners and human rights groups, founded in 2016 to challenge attempts by armed forces and arms companies to pinkwash their image and misrepresent themselves as supporters of LGBT+ rights.

They have successfully resisted a number of attempts to militarise LGBT+ movements. A protest by PPU members and allies against an army recruitment stall at York Pride in 2018 led to the armed forces not being invited back there in subsequent years.

BAE Systems is a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, with BAE's sales to the Saudi regime totalling £2.6bn in 2019 alone. BAE is one of the major contributors to the war in Yemen, providing arms to several members of the Saudi-led coalition widely accused of targeting civilians in Yemen.

Through the No Pride in War campaign, we challenge attempts by arms companies and armed forces to pinkwash their image and misrepresent themselves as supporters of human rights. Join us!