This is a guest blog by Hannah Smith. A shorter version of this piece appeared in Diva Magazine’s blog.
A strange thing happened the very first time I went to a pride march; usually a chatterbox, I fell silent. Watching the procession I was overwhelmed by a connection to the queer community – my community – a lump had appeared in my throat. I suddenly I felt grateful to the queer activists of the past, to the radical roots of queer history and to the people right in front of me, taking to the streets to say, ‘this is who we are, this is our identity, isn’t a beautiful thing!’ Beside me my girlfriend squeezed my hand and when I turned to look at her, tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Last week I checked out the National Student Pride website to make a note of the weekend’s fantastic programme – Paris Lees was set to host the panel discussions so I was already hooked. But then a big logo caught my eye; BP were sponsoring our student pride! I felt outraged. As a queer person, it makes me feel shame, not pride that a company like BP that is so heavily involved in trashing the climate, and with such an appalling environmental and human rights record, could be associated with such a positive and important event like Student Pride. Queer rights and visibility should be promoted in a way that isn’t compromised through the involvement of one of the most despicable companies out there. After speaking with a few queer friends who felt just as angry as I, we decided to act.
Posing as BP representatives, we snuck into G-A-Y Late bar wearing suits and ties to ask the pride goers how best to exploit the queer student community by using a mock survey – questions included
Q: ‘What does the term Pink Wash mean to you? a) A laundry setting for you hot pink underwear b) When a corporation uses the queer community to clean their unethical reputation c) A lesbian hair do?
The student pride crowd were intrigued by what we were doing and one person even gave me some advise; ‘I think you should look for another job’ they implored, ‘you’re better than this, honestly, you don’t need BP!’.
In case you’re wondering, the correct answer to our survey question is B.
Later that evening, we stripped to the waist in Heaven nightclub and donned pink shower caps and pink rubber gloves as we rubbed pink shower gel over each other and scrubbed our bodies with pink sponges in a parody of ‘pinkwashing’. A crowd chanted ‘No Pride in BP’ and some of the students that we had spoken to that night grabbed sponges and joined the demonstration. Eventually we were gently escorted from the venue by security.
BP sponsorship has become an increasingly controversial issue in recent years. Tate and the British Museum have seen a series of protests over their sponsorship deals with BP. Critics argue that BP’s sponsorship programme enables it to gain a level of social credibility that it does not deserve given that it has been responsible for a series of catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The fossil fuel industry’s business model recklessly relies on burning more oil, coal and gas than is safe to burn if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently called for an ‘anti-apartheid style boycott’ of the institutions associated with fossil fuel companies. Just last month Oxford University’s LGBTQ society dropped BP sponsorship following concerns from members around the unethical and damaging elements of the corporation.
So we’re calling on LGBTQ Pride events to reject fossil fuel sponsorship. Please join us and call on National Student Pride organisers to drop BP as a sponsor.
Sign the petition here.