It's perfectly nice of Barclays and Coutts to celebrate 'diversity'. But are they prepared to fight for it?

While banks want to support diversity, they're not keen to tackle homophobia head-on

Archie Bland
Wednesday 31 October 2012 09:04 GMT
Cardinal Keith O'Brien is nominated for the Stonewall 'Bigot of the Year' award.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien is nominated for the Stonewall 'Bigot of the Year' award.

You can see why Barclays and Coutts would want to be associated with Stonewall's annual awards. Backing a gay charity's efforts to promote diversity is a PR no-brainer for a group with such disastrously regressive associations as the banks. In the past, it was entirely possible to believe that they had a real moral purpose, too.

It's sadly no longer possible to take that commitment seriously. Barclays and Coutts are, it appears, only interested in objecting to homophobia when it's not going to make anyone uncomfortable. It's hard to draw any other conclusion from their recent threats to withdraw sponsorship from the awards unless Stonewall pull its "bigot of the year" category, which exists to highlight a few of the more appalling expressions of prejudice faced by gay people in the previous 12 months.

Having somehow previously missed the existence of this prize – despite, extraordinarily, sponsoring the ceremony for the last three years, in each of which it's been given out – Barclays' suddenly-aware head of global diversity, Mark McLane, now explains that it "detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event". It is worth noting that the two banks made their statements after a campaign by the vile fundamentalist group Christian Voice. (Let's pause for a second to acknowledge the fortitude of another sponsor, PwC, subjected to the same campaign but loyal.) Whether Christian Voice had any influence here or not, I know whose side I'd rather be on.

Whether Christian Voice had any influence here or not, I know whose side I'd rather be on.

The thing is, in a way, Mark McLane's quite right. Stonewall's awards should be a wholly positively focused event, like the Baftas, say, or the Pride of Britain ceremony. Like those noble institutions, they should be all about celebrating the brilliance of their constituency, wearing spangly outfits, and getting drunk. But the difference is not, as Mr McLane and his colleagues seem to imply, a predisposition to grouchiness on behalf of the Stonewall lot: the difference is, actors and generic do-gooders are not, in general, routinely subjected to bilious hate.

Actors and generic do-gooders do not have to put up, as gay people do, with being told that acknowledging their right to marry would be like legalising slavery, or being compared to Nazis, or being described as deviants. But these are all views expressed by nominees for the Stonewall gong. These people still exist; their venom is still inescapable. It's nice, I guess, that Coutts and Barclays are so keen to "celebrate" diversity, and get their name mentioned when the people who do the real work are having their moment in the sun. But if you want to celebrate something, you also have to be prepared to fight for it.

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