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Case Study: Britain, 2015 - 2016

Students force Student Pride to drop BP

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Photo: John Hill [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

GOALS: ‘No Pride in BP’ demanded that National Student Pride l immediately drop BP as a sponsor of National Student Pride 2015 events, l commit to not enter into future sponsorship or partnership agreements with fossil fuel companies, and l develop a set of ethical sponsorship guidelines that take into account the environmental and human rights record of companies.

SUCCESS IN ACHIEVING SPECIFIC GOALS: 5 points / 6
SURVIVAL: 1 / 1
GROWTH: 0 / 3
TOTAL: 6 / 10

‘Pinkwashing’ refers to a practice used by entities or corporations to market themselves as simultaneously LGBTQ-friendly and -supportive, while committing other ethical violations.

BP is a British oil and gas company that has come under fire in recent years for various environmental violations, in particular an oil spill considered one of the most damaging in history. BP spilled approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The spill had extreme environmental and health concerns. Courts ruled that BP was responsible for the massive spill, resulting in fines of $18.7bn for the company.

In early 2015, National Student Pride (NSP), an LGBT organisation for students in the United Kingdom, listed BP as a sponsor for their 2015 Pride events. However, other activists accused BP of pinkwashing by sponsoring these events.

Activists, mostly students from the UK, immediately decided to take action. They formed a broad coalition, called ‘No Pride in BP’, to press National Student Pride to drop BP as a sponsor and raise awareness about pinkwashing.

No Pride in BP wrote an open letter to NSP demanding that the organisation ‘immediately drop BP as a sponsor of National Student Pride 2015 events, commit to not enter into future sponsorship or partnership agreements with fossil fuel companies, and develop a set of ethical sponsorship guidelines that take into account the environmental and human rights record of companies.’

The letter also said that BP’s sponsorship of National Student Pride gave the company a ‘social legitimacy’ it did not deserve based on its record. The letter garnered almost 150 signatures in two years.

Queer activists also created a spoof website called ‘LGBP’ that called on the LGBT community and its creativity to help BP recover from its bad reputation with regard to climate change.

The site aimed to educate the general population about pinkwashing and especially to emphasise why National Student Pride should drop BP as a sponsor. The website mocked the way BP used support for LGBT issues to cover up their unethical environmental practices.

LGBP also included a link to the No Pride in BP open letter and urged website visitors to sign the letter. The website encouraged universities to prevent BP from coming to career fairs as another way to protest against the company.

Heavenly action

On 27 February 2015, activists staged a protest at the launch of Pride Month in London. At Heaven, a gay nightclub in London, protesters dressed up as BP representatives and circulated throughout the bar with a survey to inform pride-goers about pinkwashing as well as BP’s unethical practices.

Questions on the survey included ‘what does pinkwashing mean to you?’ and ‘what is fracking?’

After distributing the survey, protesters stripped down and pretended to wash each other with pink soap in order to symbolise the way companies such as BP use their support of the LGBTQ community to cover up other unethical practices. They chanted ‘No Pride in BP’ before the bar’s management forced the protesters to leave, ending the biggest action in this campaign.

Action from the campaign slowed after this event, but picked up again in 2016, when National Student Pride once again listed BP as a sponsor for their Pride events.

On 20 January 2016, the organisation People & Planet, a coalition of UK student activists fighting climate change, held an organising meeting in Oxford. There do not appear to have been any further actions after this organising meeting, however.

While the demands called on National Student Pride to drop BP as a sponsor for the 2015 Pride events, NSP did not drop the sponsorship until 2017. In fact, in 2016, BP was a Titanium sponsor for Pride events.

No further actions are documented after 2015 until No Pride in BP released a statement commending National Student Pride for dropping BP as a sponsor in 2017.

Researcher: Ploy Promrat, (5 October 2017). This case is drawn from the Global Nonviolent Action Database, a project of Swarthmore College in the US:
www.nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu