This summer, Marks & Spencer released a new sandwich. But this was not just any sandwich… this was a shirt-lifting, Birkenstock-wearing and maybe-just-confused-and-it’s-probably-just-a-phase sandwich that’s watched all episodes of the new series of Orange is the New Black.
The LGBT sandwich was the M&S way of celebrating Pride month. They took their classic BLT and gave it the Queer Eye treatment, making it over by adding guacamole to give it a new lease of life and help it rediscover its inner diva. And, yes, Pride is a whole month now. It’s getting bigger every year, like how advent calendars hit the shelves in October. Once the Easter eggs are cleared, shops deck the aisles with rainbow flags and sassy T shirts.
We’re almost at the end of the Fringe now and I’m excited at the thought that this could be the queerest festival yet. It feels like performers from across the acronym are being sought out by broader audiences who no longer see us as a ‘sub-genre’. But if you dared take a look at the news this year, among the clusterf**k and ego-stroking of whatever the Tories are up to in London, you may have seen stories of protests calling for the banning of inclusive education and increased numbers of violent attacks on trans people and same sex couples out in public. So, you’ll forgive me if I’m finding it hard to swallow my pre-packaged lunch.
The LGBT sandwich was intended as a nice gesture of allyship, but a grab-and-go snack hasn’t caused this much controversy since Robert Kilroy Silk blamed Brussels for renaming ‘Marathon’ bars as ‘Snickers’ and, well, look where we are now.
Many people voiced their outrage online at Marks & Spencer’s pushing of the gay agenda. ‘WHY ISN’T THERE A STRAIGHT PRIDE SANDWICH?’ cried the Basics of 4chan. I’m done with calling these people homophobes, because it clearly doesn’t affect them, so I’m going for the jugular and rebranding them Basics. Take that, bigots!
Personally, I’d love to see another supermarket compete by releasing a straight sarnie, but you have to admit, it would be pretty dry. No mayonnaise.
Now, I’m an archetypal stereotype of a relatively privileged millennial, queer-identifying, flexi-vegan, Lambrini socialist (can’t afford champagne, spent all my money on guacamole). So imagine my horror when I found myself agreeing with the enchanted jowl that is Piers Morgan.
“Gay sandwiches?” he tweeted, “Is there no cynical virtue-signaling depth struggling companies won’t now plunge to make a profit?”
Whether he’d have voiced his opinions on a Top Gear-themed gammon roll is unclear. But I found myself in agreement because, as Pride grows each year, my heart breaks to see such blatant pinkwashing; companies cashing in on the increasing popularity of Pride events as they become a common addition to any partygoer’s festival calendar.
Many people from the Lettuce, Guac, Bacon, Tomato community saw this as yet another example of the ‘death of the spirit of Pride’. Originally a protest, Pride rallies and marches emerged in the wake of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969, as its patrons revolted, led by trans women of colour, against the frequent and often violent police raids they were subjected to. Since then, Pride marches have called for the age of consent to be equalised, the abolishment of Section 28, which prohibited the ‘promotion’ of same-sex relationships (i.e. just saying that they exist and that people who are into them maybe shouldn’t get battered in the street, I know, controversial stuff), marriage equality and the desperate need for the recognition of the rights of trans people to live their lives safely and with dignity.
I can picture it now. Crowds of hundreds of people risking arrest by blocking roads and chanting in call-and-response: ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?’ begins the chant, and the crowd replies... ‘LUNCH’. The over-enthusiastic one with the megaphone would continue ‘WHERE DO WE WANT IT?’ and the crowd would think for a second, weighing up their calendar and the number of meetings they have that day, until eventually they’d shout out… ‘ON THE GO!’
You may think I sound ungrateful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to finally feel represented... by a sandwich, because I definitely see myself as a bit of a snack. I just can’t help but feel that the only people really benefiting are M&S in their timely and trendy PR coup.
M&S may argue that they were simply trying to do a nice thing. The sandwich came wrapped in rainbow packaging and was marketed as a charitable gesture (the supermarket pledged £10,000 to the LGBT homeless charity Albert Kennedy Trust and €1,000 to BeLongG, an Irish youth service). But that is a drop in the ocean for a company operating in 57 countries, some of which outlaw homosexuality and any expression of gender dysphoria.
You might think I’m splitting hairs and whining like the little snowflake I am (are people still saying ‘snowflake’? How fetch). But, when I go to a Pride parade, it turns my stomach to see airlines flying the rainbow flag, when they’re covertly hosting deportations in the middle of the night, returning LGBTQ people to homelands where they face prosecution and violence.
Then there’s a major bank who changed their logo across all mobile apps to a multi-coloured mess. Uproar ensued as torrents of complaints came in from the Basics screaming ‘HOW DARE YOU INVADE MY HOME SCREEN, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I CAME INTO YOUR HOUSE AND PAINTED ONE OF YOUR TEASPOONS?’
Major bank then assured outraged Basics that they would be restoring their Basic Blue logo in due course.
And that says it all. Being an LGBTQ ally is so ‘in’ right now, am I right? Like, it was kind of cool and underground for ages but then Taylor Swift gets on board and BANG, it’s the new polka-dot dress from Zara. Absolutely bloody everywhere.
Taytay released a song called You Need to Calm Down at the height of this year’s Pride season. In the accompanying music video she bravely comes out as Someone Who Has Gay Friends. Don’t get me wrong, the song is an absolute pop banger and the video is a Technicolor riot full of all your gorgeous faves: Ellen! Billy Porter! Laverne Cox! There’s just something a little sniffy about the timing, given that she waited until she was on top of the pop mountain before electing herself as the supreme leader of the gays, our very own Kim Jong-hun.
Being an ally is a year-round activity. It’s more than just a rainbow hoody from ASOS and screaming ‘Yass’ at a drag queen in July. For instance, I’m an ally to the heterosexual community, so I make sure to visit a Homebase at least twice a year.
The best way you can be an LGBTQ+ ally in August? Just get to some incredible shows and enjoy yourself. You won’t regret it. A small selection, of a much longer list, that I’d recommend are: Pink Lemonade, Class by Scottee, Sex Education by Harry Clayton-Wright, Sophie Duker’s first comedy hour Venus, Burgerz by the inimitable Travis Alabanza, and finally, an up-and-coming comic called Joe Sutherland, I hear he’s alright, a bit ranty at times but a good laugh.
Joe Sutherland: Sour is at The Banshee Labyrinth’s Cinema Room in Edinburgh at 10:10pm until 25 August. For tickets go to www.edfringe.com/whats-on/joe-sutherland-sour