Last week, PinkNews hosted its annual awards ceremony, the PinkNews Awards 2023—celebrating the best of LGBTQIA+ entertainment and queer culture from the past year. The tenth iteration of the event included categories like ‘Entertainer of the Year’, ‘Sports Personality of the Year’, and ‘Ally of the Year’, won by Sophie Duker, Lauren Rowles, and Edward Enninful, respectively.
While the night was rightfully celebrated across the UK, it should be noted that, in previous years, the awards have come under fire for some pretty questionable nominations. In 2019, for example, Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt was awarded ‘Politician of the Year’ but has since been part of a number of Tory governments that have reneged on multiple promises, including banning conversion therapy and the GRA (Gender Reform Act) reform.
This year’s PinkNews ceremony saw coordinated protests by Fossil Free Pride, an independent lobbying group that is campaigning for all UK Pride celebrations to refuse sponsorships from fossil fuel companies and other companies who fund them. Their slogans include ‘No Pride on a dead planet’ and the more catchy, ‘Pump ass not gas’. In fact, several nominees refused to even attend the awards, instead choosing to support the protest.
The activists’ primary reasoning for attending the event? The PinkNews Awards 2023 were very publicly sponsored by Lloyds Bank, which has invested over $15 billion in fossil fuel projects since 2016. They were also sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), the largest funder of fossil fuels in the world, according to the Banking on Climate Chaos 2023 report.
The RBC has invested more than $250 million into fossil fuel projects between 2016 and 2022, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, a scheme which has devastated Indigenous communities in Canada. Fossil Free Pride also noted that both banks finance the military equipment of Israel, a highly controversial move considering the ongoing conflict taking place across Israel and Gaza.
Fossil Free Pride also alleges that bosses at PinkNews have been quashing their staff’s attempts at unionising. PinkNews does a lot of amazing work reporting on LGBTQIA+ issues around the world, with a lot of this being led by their junior reporters. “We stand in solidarity with workers there,” the climate change group wrote in the caption of an Instagram post that included alleged testimonies from anonymous PinkNews employees. “Demand a better, worker-led queer media,” the caption continued.
Earlier in the year, Fossil Free Pride organised a high-profile (but very camp) protest of the British LGBT Awards, which has since dropped BP and Shell as partners of the event. Focussed lobbying of individual nominees led to many rejecting their nominations and refusing to attend the awards, including RuPaul’s Drag Race UK stars Cheddar Gorgeous and Divina de Campo and comedian Joe Lycett.
In a statement, the organisers explained: “While the supporters of the event were chosen based on their proactive approach and firm commitment to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion among our LGBTQ+ community, we fully acknowledge the concerns that have been raised. The British LGBT Awards is dedicated to the long-term uplifting of the community and that means all of our community.”
This is part of a broader movement within certain industries known as pinkwashing or rainbow washing where companies publicly support queer causes in order to gloss over or distract from other forms of violence or lack of activism. In this case, we’re seeing a number of organisations giving financial support to LGBTQIA+ awards or pride organisations in order to distract from ecological destruction.
The term originated in 2010 as a twist on greenwashing—although, in this case, the two are of course interlinked. Novelist and historian Sarah Schulman popularised the phrase in an editorial for the New York Times in 2011, speaking specifically about Israeli public relations.
In its press pack, PinkNews offers a number of opportunities for sponsorship, boasting ‘Unrivalled Reach’, ‘Visibility & Brand Exposure’, and ‘Networking & Connections’. Surely, the main reason for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community is, well, to support the community? It makes it clear that sponsorship isn’t merely a charitable gesture but offers specific brand opportunities. Moreover, award categories include ‘Business Trailblazer’ and ‘Brandy Ally’ (with nominees open to all) giving further opportunities for brands to get themselves involved in the celebrations.
Also, side note, how many LGBTQIA+ awards do we need? Attitude, GAY TIMES, and PinkNews all host their own annual ceremonies, as well as the British LGBT Awards. Yes, it’s important to celebrate our community, but we should be doing so at a grassroots, community level. Endless self-congratulatory ceremonies with huge multinational sponsorships inevitably lead to exploitation and pinkwashing. Our community has the ability—and the responsibility—to lead the way when it comes to sustainability and solidarity.