In Saudi Arabia, LGBT+ people are routinely locked up, tortured and killed.
And what about the people who supply arms to their killers? Well, they're sponsoring LGBT+ Pride marches in the UK.
BAE Systems, one of the world's largest arms companies, are known particularly for their supply of weapons to the Saudi regime - although they happily sell arms to dozens of other governments and armed forces around the world.
BAE Systems sponsored Leeds Pride in August 2022 - but protests and criticism meant that they did not return as a sponsor in 2023. Nonethless, there was a bloc representing BAE at London Pride in 2022 and 2023. In 2019, BAE Systems sponsored at least three Pride marches in the UK.
BAE Systems are not committed to LGBT+ rights or any other human rights. But in recent years, arms companies and armed forces in the UK have tried to misuse the LGBT+ movement to pinkwash their image and present themselves as ethical:
- Arms dealers such as BAE Systems are sponsoring Pride marches. In 2022, they sponsored Leeds Pride. In 2019 - the last year before the pandemic - BAE sponsored Pride in Surrey, Blackpool and Portsmouth.
- Armed forces are staging military marches by parading at the front of Pride marches.
- Armed forces are running recruitment stalls at LGBT+ events, claiming to LGBT-friendly even as they provide military training to homophobic regimes around the world.
- LGBT+ organisations such as Stonewall are giving awards to arms companies and armed forces for their supposedly LGBT-friendly employment practices, even while armed forces are exempt from most legislation on workers' rights.
In response, LGBT+ members of the Peace Pledge Union have teamed up with other LGBT+ people, peace groups and human rights campaigners to form the No Pride in War campaign.
What's the problem?
Pinkwashing allows arms companies and armed forces to present themselves as ethical. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whatever the intentions of the forces personnel marching in Pride parades, militarism is fundamentally incompatible with queer liberation and human rights. Armed forces suppress personal identity and conscience and rely on obedience to authority.
Further, the UK's armed forces are directly complicit in homophobic repression, through their support for homophobic regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Saudi forces are trained by British forces: for example, Saudi pilots who are bombing Yemen are being trained by the Royal Air Force in North Wales.
Pinkwashing is an example of everyday militarism, whereby military ideas and institutions creep into more and more areas of life - even human rights marches.
Nobody objects to individuals who are in the armed forces, or who are employed by arms companies, attending Pride events as individuals. What we object to is the celebration of armed force and arms companies when LGBT+ events and organisations accept sponsorship, offer awards and welcome military marches.
This involves the acceptance of values utterly at odds with LGBT+ liberation and is an insult to LGBT+ people who are oppressed, tortured and killed by the regimes that are supplied and trained by multinational arms companies and UK armed forces.
The campaign so far
No Pride in War is an informal alliance bringing together LGBT+ activists, peace groups and human rights campaigns. Through the network, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) works with groups including Lesbians and Gay Support the Migrants (LGSM) and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), while many LGBT+ people are involved as individuals. All of these groups, including the Peace Pledge Union, also comment and campaign on these issues in their own right.
There were several campaign successes in 2019:
- In August 2019, BiCon, the UK's national Bisexual Convention, voted overwhelmingly to adopt a policy ruling out arms trade sponsorship and armed forces stands.
- In July 2019, Bristol Pride turned down a request for a stall from the Ministry of Defence, following protests the previous year over arms company sponsorship.
- In June 2019, Diva magazine dropped BAE Systems from its awards shortlist after criticism from No Pride in War and other human rights campaigners.
- There was no official military presence at York Pride in June 2019, following protests against a military march and army recruitment stand at York Pride in 2018, organised by York No Pride in War and local PPU members (pictured above).
- Over 5,000 people signed a petition, started by gay pacifist Tim Rosson, urging Pride in Surrey to ditch BAE Systems as the lead sponsor for their parade on 10 August 2019. There was outrage when people with anti-BAE banners were removed from the event. When Pride in Surrey took place again, in 2021 and 2022, there was no arms industry sponsorship.
What can I do?
- You can raise the issue with friends and allies in LGBT+ movements.
- As lockdown eases and plans are made for Pride events in 2022, you can check if your local Pride or similar event is accepting sponsoring or involvement from arms dealers or armed forces, and raise your concerns with organisers.
- You can ask for copies of the PPU's No Pride in War postcards, to give out at an LGBT+ event or display in an LGBT+ venue.
- You can take part in PPU events, including online events that aim to help you to tackle militarism in your own community and context.
- You can let us know what you're doing, or want to do, and what we can do to help! Please feel free to get in touch at email@example.com or on 020 7424 9444.