Misplaced pride: open letter to the River of Pride group about ExxonMobil sponsorship

Written by Simon Dubé on June 23, 2019

Simon Dubé. Photo submitted.

Moncton’s Pride Parade, an annual public event that offers visibility to the LGBTQ+ community, takes place every summer on Main Street. Unfortunately, during the last few years the oil and gas company ExxonMobil has been featured among the parade’s many participants. Knowing what we know about what this company represents and causes, it is now time to rethink its place and involvement in our Moncton Pride festivities. This letter is addressed to the organizing committee of the parade, River of Pride, to push for a rejection of ExxonMobil’s sponsorship and, at the same time, open a larger discussion on the often taboo topic of Pinkwashing, or the sponsorship of Pride activities by for-profit companies with little to no ties to the LGBTQ+ community.

Like every summer, we’ll get to see the parade as the opening act of Greater Moncton Pride Week. The concept of holding a Pride Parade is simply to celebrate the diversity of sexual orientations and identities in a public setting. Forty years ago, this was an important tool to advocate and show the rest of society that we were fed-up with living in a constant climate of violence and humiliation. Today in Moncton, the last few Pride Parades have illustrated well how society evolved– they gather organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ citizens’ interest groups, City councillors, a few politicians, and plenty of drag shows and rainbow-colored floats blasting electronic music. Cheering in the crowd you’ll see a real mix of families, couples and allies (non-LGTBQ+ people). And then, at the very end of the parade, ExxonMobil’s float rolls along. The horror!

Let’s remember that ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, is at the core of the climate denial orchestration. It relentlessly profits from the oil and gas production despite world-wide efforts to lower global GHG emissions. In 2015, an investigative report revealed that high-ranking staff at ExxonMobil knew about climate change as early as 1977 – that’s 11 years before the actual term even became popular! The company then prepared and staged an important disinformation campaign for decades to spread denial about the climate crisis and its implications.

One can only imagine the shame and disdain the coming generations will feel toward this company. Meanwhile here during the Pride Parade, we’ll need to party along with them? Why? In exchange for funding to hold a festival still bigger and more glamourous than the one last year? This type of branded insertion from the private sector in Pride events is called Pinkwashing and its place is still very controversial among larger Pride festivals and LGBTQ+ communities in many other communities. Seemingly, the marketing team at ExxonMobil wish to work on the company’s public image by placing themselves in the middle of a popular event. Has this company been a leader in the fight for our collective rights, or is it otherwise simply trying to profit from the fact that today in Canada, supporting the LGBTQ+ movement is seen as progressive and offers an automatic favorable image? So here we have it, a perfect example of Pinkwashing.

As a homosexual man who has lived through a very rough coming-out at 19 years old, I think my involvement in this matter is justifiable; I admire where our LGBTQ+ movement has led us and I’m so thankful for all the support and impact organizations like River of Pride have had on my life. That being said, I do need to ask how is the River of Pride representing me and my rights by taking this dirty money during our festivities? How can the Pride Parade be truly inclusive when it’s also celebrating one of the industries that cause the most harm to Indigenous communities and our two-spirited allies? How is a Pride organization still defending social justice when it’s participating in covering-up the image of one of the most controversial companies? I say it’s time to look at each other in the eye with the truth and take action where and when we can, so let’s refuse ExxonMobil’s sponsorship! On my part, I absolutely do not want to see this company at the parade. If ExxonMobil is accepted for sponsorship again, I’ll have the moral obligation to boycott the very event that should represent and welcome me. I’d also like to invite others who share my opinion to follow my lead.

Lastly, I’d like to clarify that rather than attacking or belittling the Pride Parade’s organizing committee, I am shining a light on a difficult discussion that should have taken place a few years ago. I’d also like to specify that I’d personally rather attend a modest festival with a little less funding than a festival that resorts to taking money from extractivist industries in order to keep “growing” year-per-year.

River of Pride, please take the time to consider all this.

Simon Dubé

Simon Dubé lives in Moncton.

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