Why has Tesco thrown its enormous weight behind a gay pride event?

Tesco has ended its 10-year partnership with Cancer Research and is now sponsoring London's gay pride parade (Photo: PA)

David Skinner of Anglican Mainstream, a group of Christian denominations dedicated to supporting traditional marriage and family life, has forwarded to me the following information from Marketing Week:

Tesco has signed a deal to become a major sponsor of London Pride, the UK’s largest gay festival, as it outlines plans to host its biggest ever event in the capital.

Tesco will also host a family area designed to provide families attending the event with a ‘safe, relaxed and chilled out’ place with family-friendly entertainment and activities aimed at younger children.

The supermarket will also contribute to funding the free-to-attend event, which is organised by volunteers.

Tesco joins Smirnoff as headline sponsor for the annual event and builds on Tesco’s presence at the 2011 festival.

The news comes shortly after Tesco ended its 10-year partnership with Cancer Research’s Race for Life fundraising event.

Pride London is already the largest Gay Pride event in the UK and it is extending its carnival route and adding a second day to the festival for 2012, when it will host the global festival WorldPride 2012.

Andrew Higginson, CEO of retailing services at Tesco, says, “Tesco is the UK’s largest private employer, and a very diverse international organisation where everybody is welcome. Our Out at Tesco team will be working closely with Pride London to ensure next year’s event is even more fun.”

Why on earth is Tesco promoting an event like this? Tesco is a supermarket; its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful. Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London? Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research? Or at least, if it has given up this sponsorship, why hasn’t it taken up with another mainstream charity such as the British Legion or Age UK? There are thousands of ex-servicemen and wounded soldiers needing help in this country, and millions of elderly people in danger of neglect. They are a fundamental part of the fabric of our society – the kind of fabric that Tesco should be reflecting.
Why, why, why?

I understand that one in four of the British public shops at Tesco. It is certainly “diverse and international” and a place where “everyone is welcome” – whatever their orientation. Who cares about other people’s orientation when they are shopping? It’s about making ends meet, balancing the family’s food budget, getting value for money and picking up bargains (including Bogofs). I shop there and have done so for years. At its doors there are often charity workers asking for money – notably Children in Need and other worthwhile causes.

Inside the store you can see why it is so successful: organic food, Fairtrade, low-fat, corn-fed chickens, free-range eggs, a range of healthy options, vegetarian foods – any possible new demand has Tesco instantly on its heels with a shelf load of new items. For my taste there is too much Halloween junk, too much piped muzak, too much “Christmas cheer” too soon and too many Easter eggs on display by New Year’s Day – but these are small quibbles; that’s how a retail business works.

But to throw its enormous weight behind a marginal group (but which also has a determined and sinister political agenda) that does not in the least reflect the huge majority of its customers – why?

David Skinner also sent me the letter he had sent to Andrew Higginson and Philip Clarke, the CEO, in protest. I reproduce some of it here in order to encourage as many readers as possible to do likewise.

“I understand… that Tesco is sponsoring London Pride and setting aside ‘family areas as safe places where children can go’. For Tesco to sponsor a tiny homosexual minority (according to the Office for National Statistics) that amounts to little more than one per cent of the population…[it] will be showing the utmost contempt for a large proportion of British society that still adheres, more or less, to the morality and values of the Ten Commandments.”

Apparently he received a stock response to this, merely saying that Tesco’s is “inclusive” and that “everyone is welcome”. He now urges as many people as possible to write direct to:

Sir Richard Broadbent, Chairman, Tesco PLC,
New Tesco House,
Delamere Road,
Cheshunt, Herts EN8 9SL

Skinner has told Tesco that he will not be shopping at their shops any more. I am going to send a similar letter with the same message. If only a few people do this, it will appear pathetic. Tesco thinks in terms of balance sheets and profit margins like any capitalist organisation. If thousands of Christians and others were to join a campaign of protest it is likely Tesco would think again. It has happened before: some years ago Tesco announced it would sell the “morning-after” pill at the chemist outlets in its shops. There was a huge outcry and a storm of letters from Christian denominations. The result? Sir Terry Leahy, the then chief executive (and a Catholic, as it happens), sent out a mollifying letter saying he had listened to the protest and that the company had re-thought its decision.

Let’s send Tesco a similar message: stick to groceries and stop dabbling in dubious fringe political movements.