This week, Primark and Stonewall announced their collaboration on a ‘Pride’ range of clothing and accessories, being sold across the UK, Europe and in two American stores. 20% of the sales from the range will be donated directly to Stonewall, which sounds like a generous deal… but what exactly does it mean for Pride and LGBTQ+ communities in the UK, Europe, and further afield?
Primark’s Pride 2018 collection, now available in selected UK stores, was conceived and developed with Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity in the UK famously named after the Stonewall riots of 1969. They will run the collection in “18 different Prides”, across the UK, Europe and in two American stores. In a video announcing the range, creators stated that they “wanted to create a meaningful and engaging collection”, that was “appropriate to the LGBT community, and really stood for something.”
“This isn’t just about developing clothes for fashion,” the creators say. “This is about supporting a real cause”.
It is therefore worrying, given the strong message of charity and collaboration with Pride in the press release and accompanying video, that no Pride organisations have been contacted for input or comment on the range – and more so, that Primark has connections with several countries where being LGBTQ+ is extremely dangerous, even illegal.
Primark uses a number of factories in Bangladesh, where homosexuality has been illegal since 1861. In 2009, as well as in 2013, the Bangladeshi Parliament refused to overturn Section 377 – and yet there may be LGBTQ+ factory workers in the country producing garments emblazoned with ‘#PROUD’ and ‘LOVE IS LOVE’ in bright rainbow colours. On Primark’s webpage for the range, they state that “Stonewall is the UK’S leading LGBT charity, working to create a world where EVERYONE is accepted without exception.” But apparently, this doesn’t extend to the employees potentially having to produce the Pride merchandise.
“If you’re a gay or a bisexual man in Bangladesh, and you are found guilty of a homosexual act, which is illegal because it’s ‘against nature’, you can be sentenced to up to life in prison,” Steve Taylor, board member of EuroPride and co-founder of the UK Pride Network, explains. “There have been arrests and cases in the last three years where men have be en prosecuted and charged with for committing homosexual acts.
“Now, imagine that you’re working in a factory and producing stuff with Pride slogans on it – that’s really a smack in the face. You’re producing it because it’s cheaper for you to do it than someone in the UK or Europe, and it’s celebrating what you’re not allowed to celebrate.”
“We don’t know that these products are coming from the places where it’s illegal to be LGBT,” Steve continues, “but Primark also have a lot of factories where it’s very difficult to be an out LGBT person.” (Update 23/05/18: We now understand that some of the items in the Primark Pride range are being manufactured in Turkey, where Istanbul Pride was significantly suppressed last year, including the continuation of a three year ban by authorities and the use of rubber bullets by riot police.)
There is also uncertainty around how the funds from the range will actually support local Pride movements – as none of them have been informed about the range, or been asked for their input.
“20% of the sales will be going to Stonewall,” says Steve, “so the question is what Stonewall are going to do with the money, and will it be used to support the Pride movement. Four or five Prides in the UK had to cancel events last year due to lack of funds, but Stonewall last year posted a reserve of £5 million, and executive salaries are at around £300,000. For Stonewall to be topping up their reserve when Pride movements are underfunded is a smack in the face.”
The fact that local Pride organisations have not been consulted on this range is significant, because the general public (including LGBTQ+ allies) will likely assume that by supporting this range, they are supporting Pride.
“I think by definition that because the products are supporting Stonewall, your average shopper will think they’re supporting Pride, and naturally marry those two together,” says Steve. “They will think that by buying it, they’re supporting Stonewall and therefore Pride, whereas you’re actually just indulging Primark and Stonewall.”
A purchase from Primark’s range is one less from local groups’, who may be charging more for their products as they don’t have the manufacturing power that Primark has. If people believe that they’ve done their ‘good deed’ by purchasing form the Primark/Stonewall Pride range, they’re then less likely to buy similar products direct from local Pride groups or give directly to LGBTQ+ charities. 20% is a generous cut – but 100% of your money could be going direct to these causes if you looked elsewhere.
“Merchandise from local Prides would definitely be at a higher cost, but the difference is that every penny from a t shirt you buy from your local Pride goes directly towards supporting that Pride, rather than Stonewall. In the last 24 hours I’ve had contact with more than a dozen Prides that are really angry about this, and want people to know that this doesn’t support them at all.”
The language and design of the pieces are exactly the kind of pretty, palatable expression of LGBTQ+ culture that is often produced to appeal to a mass allocishet audience. There’s no mention of specific LGBTQ+ identities, or any other pride colours (bisexual, transgender, pansexual etc.) besides the rainbow (it’s worth noting that the creators in Primark’s announcement video appear to all be cis, predominantly white men). There’s plenty of ‘love is love’, and ‘#PROUD’, but nothing even slightly more radical than that. Let’s not forget – Pride is a protest, not just a party.
“We just want answers to these questions from Stonewall, and to know how they will support the Pride movement through this range,” finishes Steve. “Twice in the last year Stonewall have come out and criticised two Pride movements, when they should have been supporting them. This is an opportunity to regain the trust that they should have from Pride communities.”
The Nopebook reached out to Stonewall, who were unable to comment.
Update 23/05/28: Primark responded to our request for comment with the below statement, which sadly does not address any of the points we raised regarding the input of local Pride organisations, the distribution of funds to said organisations, and Primark’s ties with countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal.
“We take LGBT rights very seriously which is why we have created a range of Pride products with Stonewall, one of Europe’s leading LGBT rights charities.
“We will donate 20% of the sales of these products to support Stonewall’s important work across the UK and internationally, which includes campaigning to eliminate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in communities, lobbying governments to change laws to ensure everyone, everywhere, is free to be themselves; and working with a network of more than 700 organisations globally to help create change.
“As a large retailer we have an extensive charity programme, both at a national and local level, donating to a variety of charities throughout the year, across all the markets in which we operate.
“We constantly review our charity partnerships and are always open to suggestions”