Corporations sponsoring the three biggest Pride festivals in the UK do not properly recognise non-binary people in their own data gathering, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Virgin Atlantic, Heart Radio, BT and TfL are advertised as sponsors to Pride festivals, but sign-up forms on their websites – the first places most people would be asked for information by the companies – fall short of including options that feel inclusive to the non-binary community.
HuffPost UK tried to sign up to each of the corporation’s websites at the first available opportunity when browsing, but found that sign-up forms either stated simply “male” and “female”, or offered an “other” or “unspecified” box that non-binary people told us felt dehumanising.
Virgin Atlantic, the headline sponsor to Manchester Pride 2020, only offers customers the chance to define as “male” or “female” if they are joining the airline’s Flying Club.
Yet in an article on the Manchester Pride website, the travel brand’s chief commercial officer said: “Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays have long been staunch supporters of LGBTQ+ rights and we strongly believe in making our business as inclusive and welcoming as possible.”
Their statement continued: “We are absolutely thrilled to be the headline sponsor of the Manchester Pride Festival, at our home in the north. I am really looking forward to working with Mark [Fletcher, Manchester Pride chief exec] and his team to use the influential power of our brand, our international footprint and our incredible people to fight for change across the world.”
In a statement to HuffPost UK, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson commented: “Inclusivity is a core value of Virgin Atlantic, and we are working on system changes to include non-binary prefixes on our website and in our corresponding systems. The project was unfortunately put on hold due to our teams being furloughed due to the impact of Covid-19.
“We remain committed to updating our website when the team involved returns to work, with the project restarting later this year.”
Heart Radio, a current sponsor for Brighton Pride, offer users the option to disclose their gender as “male”, “female” or “unspecified”.
“By forcing non-binary people to tick a ‘male’ or ‘female’ box they are simply asking an individual to input incorrect information,” says Lui Asquirth, who is non-binary and head of policy at Mermaids, the charity that supports trans and non-binary people. “‘Other’ is also incorrect and risks ostracising an individual.”
One article about Brighton Pride 2019 on the heart.co.uk website reads: “The incredible weekend will see thousands of people from all over the world march through the streets of Brighton with huge floats in tow asking for equality.”
Heart Radio did not return a request for comment after HuffPost UK approached them.
BT is a major sponsor of Pride in London but offers no way for non-binary people to state their preferred gender expression.
When HuffPost UK asked BT why their service wasn’t inclusive for non-binary people, a spokesperson said: “We take diversity very seriously and we know it’s crucial that all our customers feel included. We’re working on new, inclusive customer forms as a priority.”
TfL also sponsors the event, but has a similarly non-inclusive sign-up.
In past years, TfL has promoted its Pride partnerships with messages on public transport, using the hashtag #EveryLoveMatters. One slogan read: “Here in London, you’re free to love whoever you want to love and be whoever you want to be.”
Yet sign-up forms aren’t inclusive for non-binary people, as they only offer the opportunity for entrants to define as “other”.
Information on the TfL website reads: “To reflect the diversity of sexualities and gender identities, the ever-popular rainbow roundel returns with additional black and brown stripes to mark the representation of the BAME LGBT+ community.
“The new Bi Pride roundel uses the pink and purple colours of the Bisexual Pride flag, and the light blue and pink stripes of the Trans Pride flag represent the transgender community. All three roundels will carry the hashtag #EveryStoryMatters.”
When approached by HuffPost UK, Staynton Brown, director of diversity, inclusion and talent at TfL, said: “TfL is fundamentally committed to inclusivity, so we will be changing any forms that remain on our website without a non-binary option.”
Prominent figures support HuffPost UK’s investigation into corporate hypocrisy
Peter Tatchell, a prominent LGBT+ rights campaigner who has been on the front line of protests for equality since the 1970s, gave his support to HuffPost UK’s investigation.
In a statement, he said: “This ground-breaking research reveals that some Pride sponsors who claim to be inclusive are nothing of the sort.
“It’s really depressing to learn that they ignore non-binary people, who make up a small but growing proportion of the LGBT+ community. When the Pride organisers do due diligence on would-be sponsors they need to ensure that companies recognise non-binary people and offer preferred pronoun options for staff.
“There is a tendency for too many companies to jump on the Pride bandwagon without acknowledging and respecting the full diversity of LGBT+ lives in their workplaces. That has to change.”
On behalf of Mermaids, Lui Asquith said: “The longer companies don’t include non-binary people within data collection, the longer it risks undermining their credentials as LGBTQ+ allies.
“Now is the time to make those changes to be at the forefront of change, rather than having to catch up in due course, potentially having lost a lot of trust from LGBTQ+ folk. Some non-binary people also describe themselves as trans, so if a company is truly a trans ally, it’s a no-brainer.”
Teddy Lamb, a non-binary theatre maker who uses they/them pronouns and advised HuffPost UK on this article, added: “The corporatisation of Pride has long been a worry of mine, but the one silver lining was the potential that these big industries might be forced to become more inclusive due to their association with queer charities.
“Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case – and whilst they’re very happy to take up space and take our money, they’re less willing to be trans inclusive and are actively othering us.”
Read Teddy’s Personal story, written for HuffPost UK in conjunction with the publication of this article: “Non-Binary People Like Me Won’t Fit In Until We Change Our Exclusionary Language.”
Non-binary: the facts
Non-binary people do not experience themselves as either male or female, so therefore live outside of the gender binary.
Around one in 250 people self-define as non-binary, according to statistics gathered in 2014 by Nat Titman. A survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK taken in 2011 recorded 10,039 non-binary people in the UK.
Non-binary people are not legally recognised, which is why applications to join doctor’s surgeries, dentists and other public services don’t typically include the option of defining as non-binary.
A years-long campaign to modernise the government’s Gender Recognition Act so that it legally recognises trans and non-binary people, and allows them to change their gender by self-identification and without medical diagnosis, was recently rejected.
Some non-binary people may also include themselves within the transgender community, but not all non-binary people do, so it’s important not to merge these two communities.
What is the solution?
According to Teddy Lamb, one simple one-size-fits-all solution to put an end to the othering of non-binary people is to offer them the chance to fill out their own preferred title and gender by leaving sign-up boxes blank.
“I think a blank space is the perfect solution,” they told HuffPost UK, although it’s important to note that the conversation is evolving all the time. “Some non-binary people choose to use the pronouns ‘they/them’ when they define as non-binary, so may prefer this simple option added to sign up forms.”
For now, companies may wish to adopt one of these procedures, but making sure to engage properly with non-binary people within their organisations is integral, to check they are happy with the way they are being represented.