This year, we can have some Pride in Primark

Primark’s Pride range in their Belfast store in 2018. Image: Twitter

The surest sign yet that Pride season is upon us is the sudden proliferation of rainbow flags, not just on municipal buildings and the doors of pubs and clubs, but in high street shops. Marks & Spencer have launched their ‘LGBT sandwich’, Converse have rolled out their sneakers with the rainbow and trans flags, and today Primark revealed their range for Pride 2019.

Primark got into hot water last year when it transpired that their Pride range was made in countries where being LGBTI is far from easy; people were being asked to manufacture t-shirts with pro-LGBTI messages in countries where just being LGBTI could result in their deaths. The clothing range included t-shirts produced in Turkey, where even this week Pride activists are being told that their event is illegal, and ‘will be met with police violence’.

Graphic highlighting Primark’s lack of support for Prides in 2018. Image: Steve Taylor

Unsurprisingly, there was significant media interest and coverage ranged from BBC Newsnight to global outlets, trade press and the LGBTI media.

After many Prides voiced their concerns over the deal, Stonewall — who received a share of the profits from the range — eventually admitted the deal with Primark was a bad one.

Thankfully it seems Primark have learnt their lesson. I’m told that this year’s Pride range is produced in Portugal, India and China and, whilst the last two of these have poor records on LGBTI equality, advances in recent months — including decriminalisation of homosexuality in India — are firm steps in the right direction.

So much so, in fact, that ILGA World — the oldest and most influential global LGBTI advocacy organisation — are partnering with Primark this year, and they will receive around £150,000 from the deal towards their work.

Last year’s Primark ‘Pride’ range was also criticised for the way in which it was profiting from the Pride movement, without supporting the movement financially. After all, Stonewall don’t run Prides. Almost every one of the 1,200 Pride organisations worldwide have to raise every cent of their budget from scratch, and to see someone selling a ‘Pride’ product on your own high street is a bit of a punch in the face.

Primark appear to have learnt that lesson too. ILGA World’s work with grassroots activist organisations on every continent includes many Pride organisations, and international networks including the European Pride Organisers Association and InterPride. At the core of ILGA World’s work is support for LGBTI activists in capacity building, so that they can achieve more, sooner, and this often includes nascent Pride events.

Primark have also announced that they’ll be supporting Reading Pride in England, and Dublin Pride in Ireland, both cities where Primark has a large office presence.

I took quite some flak last summer when I challenged Primark on their deal. Some said I was ‘jealous’, others reckoned it wasn’t important. Well, I have to say that I’m delighted to see that Primark have taken the criticism on board, and have clearly spent some time and effort thinking about how they can be authentic in supporting the Pride and LGBTI movement. I think the partnership with ILGA World — which will benefit Primark employees as well as the wider LGBTI population in India and China — is a great move.

We now need other retailers need to take note. It would be poor business practice to sell a t-shirt with one football team’s name on it, and then give the profits to another team. The same ethic applies to ‘Pride’ merch. If you want to support Pride, then do so genuinely and authentically. Get in touch with your local Pride organisation, or one of the national or international Pride networks, and give actual support. Even better, buy your local Pride’s own Pride merch.

Whatever you do, don’t just slap a rainbow on your windows or disposable coffee cups or employee name badges and claim to be supporting the thousands of Pride volunteers who give up their summer to put on these incredible events, when you’re doing no such thing.