One of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, BAE Systems, has been announced as the primary sponsor of Pride in Surrey.
Pride in Surrey announced on Friday (February 1) that the controversial defence, aerospace and electronics company—which is often criticised for its role in the global arms trade—be the lead sponsor of the inaugural 2019 Pride event.
A spokesperson for Pride in Surrey acknowledged the decision would be “controversial,” but added: “We’d say it’s fab to see them wanting to make a difference, break down industry stereotypes and build for a more diverse and inclusive community.”
BAE Systems ‘proud’ to sponsor Pride in Surrey
The Pride parade will take place on August 10 in Woking.
In a statement, Pride in Surrey organiser Stephen Ireland praised the company for “engaging very early on and demonstrating they wish to make a step change in diversity and inclusion.”
Theresa Palmer of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence added: “BAE Systems is extremely proud to be headline sponsor for the first ever Pride in Surrey.
“We feel strongly that visible support of such openly inclusive events is key to driving the type of diverse workplace we are striving for.
“We acknowledge that we are a large, global presence but what many people may not know is that the Applied Intelligence division is headquartered right here in Surrey.
“That makes this particular event even more personal for us as it represents our neighbours and as a local employer we want to make clear to our community that they have a welcoming, supportive business on their doorstep. “
Queer activists slam ‘toxic display of weapons over people’
However, the move is bound to provoke anger from queer activists.
Activists from campaign group No Pride in War told PinkNews: “It is very disappointing, but similarly unsurprising, to hear that BAE systems will be the lead sponsor of yet another formal Pride event in the United Kingdom.
“It is necessary to continually resist against this reality, as it perpetuates an unending and problematic conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity to the militaristic campaigns employed by the UK forces in the actualisation of their colonial ambitions overseas.”
The group, which was formed in 2016 to protest the inclusion of the Red Arrows in the Pride in London parade, added: “We now have a decisive motive to organise as queers and rally against this toxic display of prioritising weapons over people.”
In 2018, BAE Systems chair Sir Roger Carr said the it was not the company’s job to advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in countries like Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal.
Speaking at The Economist‘s Pride and Prejudice event, Carr said: “This is a personal view, but I don’t think we should stand up as advocates against political regimes.”
He continued: “What we should do is run our businesses in the most appropriate, fair and positive way to demonstrate the behaviours we are doing is the best way of doing business, and therefore influence views and feelings in the countries.
“I don’t think it’s our job to stand up as pressure groups against countries and their laws. We are there to influence but not to campaign.”
Carr added that BAE has worked to improve gender and LGBT diversity in employment in recent years.
He said: “It is not about PR, if it’s about PR people quickly see the lack of authenticity.
“I think you lead believing the case you’re making, using the platform you have, still needing to persuade, still making the arguments, and still doing the analytical work before you start the message as to the nature of the audience.
“Most importantly, it is to be a consistent advocate of something that is good for business, appropriate for human beings, and recognises that diversity is a healthy thing to have in a business, not a strange thing to have.”