Why British Airways’ sponsorship of Brighton Pride is an affront to migrant and LGBTQ+ rights

By supporting unjust deportations, BA contributes to the inequalities that Pride has long protested against – and the community won’t stand for it any longer

Molly Fleming
Tuesday 14 August 2018 15:41
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The airline can't claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community while it upholds the government’s hostile environment policy
The airline can't claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community while it upholds the government’s hostile environment policy

On Saturday, three LGBTQ+ activists chained themselves to the British Airways i360, a huge observation tower and tourist attraction on Brighton seafront, halting its use. Below them, LGBTQ+ people and their allies were drinking in the sun, dancing to Britney Spears and revelling in the street parties that make Pride such a glorious celebration.

Both of these scenes encompass what Pride is about. Pride began as a riot in 1969, prompted in part by resistance from activists like Marsha P Johnson, a black trans woman who is said to have thrown one of the first bricks at police after a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a landmark LGBTQ+ venue in New York City.

It sparked a LGBTQ+ movement across the United States and now queer people across the world take this time of year to celebrate their identity and honour this historic moment.

Pride is still powerful in that respect. It is about the queer community coming together to challenge injustices – both the ones we face ourselves as LGBTQ+ people, but also by standing in solidarity with other people facing oppression. As well as serving as a chance to celebrate who we are, Pride is a protest which has the power to create lasting change beyond a hangover.

Last month, campaign group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, of which I'm a member, proved the power Pride still holds by holding a protest. They pushed Virgin Atlantic – one of the sponsors of London Pride – to stop deporting people on their flights (although it's unclear whether that promise has been properly fulfilled). Now we, and others, are demanding that British Airways, a sponsor of Brighton and Hove Pride, does the same, and goes beyond the glitter and rainbows and commits to true solidarity, through both an open letter and the action at the i360 on Saturday.

I love Pride, I love the glitter, the shitty pop music and the gathering of my community. But all of that is being tainted by the sponsorship of British Airways – a company that is profiting from tearing apart communities to deport people to places where their lives might be in danger, or where they might have very few connections.

Protestors demonstrate outside Yarl's Wood opposing deportations

Brighton and Hove Pride is a celebration of the advancement of equality in which the whole queer community, including LGBTQ+ migrants, should feel welcome. The presence of companies that profit from deportations is an affront to the vision of freedom Pride represents; it seems odd to be marching for our freedom when queer migrants are waiting just a train ride away to be deported back to countries where they face poverty, persecution and in some cases death.

It is an added insult that many of those deported on British Airways are LGBTQ+ people who could be marching with us at the parade, but are instead brutally rounded up and ejected from the UK. That is why we as LGBTQ+ people must show that the community won’t stand for the exploitation of our name.

The all too common mistreatment of so-called “illegal migrants” feels uncomfortably close to the discrimination our resident LGBTQ+ community has faced. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK as recently as the 1960s, and same-sex marriages in England, Wales and Scotland were only legalised four years ago. The truth is, no person should be illegal – queer, migrant or both – and to argue that a person’s mere existence is a crime is fundamentally wrong.

Times may have moved on for LGBTQ+ people, but just as they did during the Stonewall riots, now police are raiding the homes, workplaces and community centres of migrants, searching for those they deem unfit to live here.

Many of the people who are detained and deported from the UK are both migrants and LGBTQ+ such as the lesbian asylum seeker who was driven to attempted suicide, rather than be deported to Nigeria.

According to 2010 figures from the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, 98-99 per cent of gay and lesbian asylum seekers were refused asylum and told to go back to violently homophobic countries like Iran and Uganda. In detention too, where bullying and harassment are rife, they face persecution. We need to stand up for those in our community who are most endangered and least visible.

What we’re celebrating at Pride is our ability to be free and happy, to overcome the oppression that we have faced, and are still facing. And we owe our support to those who are still fighting that battle too.

But beyond that, queer people have power. Dream Nails, a feminist punk rock band, put the spirit of Pride best in a recent interview: ”We have earned the right to party our arses off, but let that party be inclusive, be intersectional and ooze politics from every pore”.

We took action to keep politics at the forefront of Pride. And we’re sending a message to British Airways that it cannot claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community while it upholds the government’s hostile environment policy – a policy that is destroying the lives of racial and ethnic minorities across Britain.

There is no pride in police raids, there is no pride in locking up people in detention centres and there there is no pride in deportations.

Molly Fleming is a journalist and member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, a group of queer activists, that through fundraising, solidarity and direct action, stand in solidarity with all migrants​

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