‘Pump Ass Not Gas:’ Why the LGBT Awards must drop banks as well as big oil

‘Pump Ass Not Gas:’ Why the LGBT Awards must drop banks as well as big oil

Organisers Yara Rodrigues Fowler and Elle Glenny explain why hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the UK awards ceremony last week.

Last Friday evening, hundreds of people of all ages cheered and danced on the street outside the entrance to this year’s British LGBT Awards. We waved huge pink and rainbow-coloured banners, drag kings and queens performed on a make-shift stage and DJs from Queer House Party blasted banger after banger.

But we weren’t there to attend the British LGBT Awards. We were there to protest their sponsors: BP, Shell, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Santander, Amazon and Nestle.

Together, these companies bear a huge responsibility for the displacement and exploitation of millions of people, and for our dramatically changing climate. This is why we hung up a 6ft banner reading ‘Pump Ass Not Gas’.

Two days earlier, in a statement released on social media, the Awards announced they were "revising our supporters this year". Despite requests for clarification on what this specifically meant being ignored, both BP and Shell were quietly removed from the awards website. Fossil fuel financier BNP Paribas also disappeared.

The statement and subsequent ‘revision of supporters’ happened as a result of over a dozen nominees declining their nominations because of links to fossil fuels. They dropped out following a campaign of outreach organised by a coalition of LGBTQIA+ groups, led by Fossil Free Pride, a grassroots group that campaigns to get Pride celebrations around the UK to reject sponsorship from fossil fuel corporations and their funders.

The revision of two toxic sponsors was a huge achievement. But quietly dropping Shell and BP is not enough. If the British LGBT Awards – or any Pride celebration – want to take a meaningful stance against fossil fuel corporations, they must also reject sponsorship from the banks and hedge funds financing those corporations. It makes no sense for the LGBT Awards to drop BP and Shell but keep on HSBC, which has financed Shell to the tune of $5.6 billion since 2016. According to BankTrack, LGBT Award sponsors HSBC, Santander and BNP Paribas provided $315 billion of financing for fossil fuel projects across the world between 2016-2021. The Awards headline sponsor, Australian hedge fund Macquarie Capital, holds investments of $7.7 billion in fossil fuels. This is a queer issue: LGBTQ+ people are less likely to have access to the secure housing, stable income required to survive the extreme consequences of a changing climate.

On Friday, we invited representatives from the communities harmed by the Awards’ sponsors to give out their own ‘pinkwashing’ awards. Activists from Stop the West Cumbria Mine gave a pinkwashing award to HSBC as ‘the biggest funder of harm to the West Cumbrian Community’. Indigenous activists from Colombia co-awarded HSBC and BNP Paribas ‘Biggest funders of the destruction of indigenous land in Colombia”. HSBC and BNP Paribas have poured millions into Glencore, the firm responsible for the Cerrejon mine in La Guajira, Colombia. At 609 kilometres squared, it is six times the size of Paris and the largest mine in South America.

Activists from Stop the Silvertown Tunnel, named headline sponsor, Macquarie Capital, ‘Sneakiest financier of Air Pollution in East London’. Macquarie Capital are part of the consortium holding the contract for the Silvertown Tunnel, which will reportedly increase air pollution in Newham, one of London’s poorest, already most polluted boroughs. We also called on the Awards to drop Santander, Amazon and Nestle. Amazon spent millions on union busting consultants last year and have been accused of having extremely poor working conditions.

Targeting the money works. A generation ago, anti-apartheid activists in the UK spotted that Barclays, at the time the biggest high street bank in South Africa, was headquartered in the UK. They launched a 16 year campaign against Barclays, which eventually led to the bank pulling out of South Africa, building international pressure on the regime. The fact that a crucial source of financing for the apartheid regime was located in the UK meant activists here had a powerful tool at their disposal.

This principle remains the same today. Billions of pounds flow through the City of London to fossil fuel corporations each day, right on our doorsteps. Not only through banks and hedge funds, like HSBC and Macquarie, but through Lloyds of London, an insurance marketplace where most fossil fuel projects seek insurance. Lloyds of London was originally established to provide insurance to the transatlantic slave trade, now it insures 40% of the world’s fossil fuel projects. If we want to stop fossil fuel projects from going ahead, one of the most effective ways for those of us in the Global North to do this, is by targeting financial institutions based here. 

One way to do this is to fight their pinkwashing. The British LGBT Awards are not the only Pride celebration taking money from violent corporations. Last year Northern Pride and Liverpool Pride were both sponsored by Barclays, who provided US$ 166.74 billion in financing to the fossil fuel industry between 2016 and 2021. Neither has ruled out sponsorship by Barclays this year. Fossil Free Pride activists are asking their local pride celebrations to sign a ‘Fossil Free Pride pledge’, and are successfully negotiating for prides across the UK to drop their climate wrecking sponsors.

Together, we must continue the queer community’s long and proud history of solidarity, and stand with the communities harmed by fossil fuel corporations and their financiers. We must reject pinkwashing by fossil fuel banks and hedge funds and demand they pay climate reparations. Queer liberation will not come from rainbow logos or corporations. It’ll come from migrant justice, class justice, racial justice and climate justice. None of us are free until all of us are free.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler and Elle Glenny are both Fossil Finance Organisers at Tipping Point UK

Enjoyed this article? Follow Huck on Twitter and Instagram.