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Is It Okay For Queer Pride Events To Take Corporate Money?

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On November 18, Cake conducted a rather interesting Twitter chat on queer pride, public spaces and being inclusive. An exchange I had with Gaylaxy on the 2015 Bengaluru Queer Pride March took an intriguing turn:

Resistance To Corporate Involvement

Nakul, the treasurer for the 2016 Namma Pride which was held in Bengaluru on November 21, has been with the organising committee since its inception back in 2008. He confirmed Gaylaxy’s assertion that they don’t accept corporate donations and sponsorships anymore.

But this policy is not without precedent. Back in 2013, IBM, one of the many corporate outfits, were allowed to bring their banner to the march. But according to Nakul, it ended up looking like “IBM sponsored Pride” – which he says was a matter of offense for the team behind Pride that year.

We work on the grassroots-level for two to three months leading up to the march,” says Nakul. “We can’t allow someone to come in the forefront just because of money.

This type of resistance to what otherwise seems like easy funding is not new. Across the world, there has been a counter-movement to the rise in corporate involvement that makes the Pride march seem to many, more of a ‘festival of brands’ and less of a political statement – the latter being its original intent. For many brands, it is a matter of brand awareness, CSR and reaching LGBTQ customers especially in the West.

It’s wrong,” says prominent queer activist Harish Iyer, on the commercialised nature of Pride marches in the West. “And it hurts when you see something like that. But it also shows how their society has changed. Now they have become victims of their own success. So there is a need to moderate every now and then.”

Concerns about corporate practices are not unfounded. Many corporate giants that do sponsor and/or take part in Pride events also have a history of exploitative practices in addition to poor treatment and a lack of anti-discrimination practices specifically for their LGBTQ employees.

Dhrubo Jyoti, member of the Delhi Queer Pride (DQP) committee, personally endorses the policy to not accept corporate donations and sponsorships. He explained how in Hyderabad, the Pride march previously used to cater to a particular class sensibility. When the Telangana Hijra Transgender Samiti, a local unfunded collective, took over the organising of the city’s Pride march from corporate outfits, there was far more representation of trans people, sex workers and Dalit communities.

Having turned down corporate giants like Barclays, IBM, Google, Uber and Coca-Cola in Delhi, Jyoti cited the requirements of deliverables and corporate intentions that stem from reasons that are “antithetical to the aspiration of people participating in Pride.” He asks, “If DQP wanted the participation of tribal queer people, why would we accept a sponsorship from Vedanta?

Scope For Middle Ground?

For some, it isn’t so clear cut. Orinam, a member organisation of the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition that organises Chennai Pride, echoed a similar tempered tone towards corporate participation and referred me to a guideline “based on experiences of fellow organisers in other cities such as Hyderabad and Bangalore.

While corporations are welcome to send a contingents with t-shirts and placards, organizers “respectfully ask that for-profit businesses (i) not use the forum to advertise your products whether through ads or handing out freebies, AND (ii) allow the community groups to march ahead of you.”

Divyaroop Ananda, a volunteer for Mumbai Pride, said that while corporate sponsors are “turned down”, they can be “voluntary contributors,” and can come as an “individual group.”

Iyer could not stress enough how he does not want to ever hear “Barclays presents Mumbai Pride Parade.” “I personally feel that while we should not allow our causes to be hijacked by some corporate or the other just because they offer funding, we could work together with corporates that support us genuinely to create win-win situations. I also find the idea of banning corporate banners in prides very discriminatory,” he added. “We want to march to their offices with the message of equality, but we shut our doors of equality and empathy for the company – which I don’t think is right.

Pride Must Go On

The inevitable result of mainstream acceptance is the depoliticisation of Pride – something that’s happening in the West. Burgeoning sponsorships have also led to fatter budgets and vice-versa. With a lot more ‘production value’, Pride has become a source for entertainment, attracting a significant number of cisgender heterosexual people – making it less march, more spectacle. Something even felt here in Delhi.

We have seen how making Pride more ‘snazzy’ makes it easy for the vulnerable bits of the community to be excluded,” said Jyoti. “This is primarily because they don’t ‘look good’ and don’t add to the spectacle.

A cosmopolitan city like Mumbai can take corporate donations and sponsorships from corporates,” said Nakul, but in his sharpest assertion yet, added, “as Bengaluru, we don’t want to tie-up with anyone. It’s our Pride.”

However, it isn’t a complete shut-out. “We are ready to involve corporates. We never ruled that out. But not as corporates but as individual donors,” says Nakul.

Even with the upcoming Delhi Queer Pride, Jyoti listed out alternate ways through which companies can participate – displaying them on a ‘wall of support’ or endorsing the Pride’s demands for that year.

For one day, come as individuals. If you want to be LGBT-friendly, you have 364 other days in a year to show that. Why choose this one day?” asked Jyoti.

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