Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Why unions can fly the rainbow flag but Pride House can’t

It might be somewhat geeky but in the course of organising the STUC’s campaign around flying the rainbow flag, (for more info on this read my last blog) I discovered a quirk in the law.

In the run up to the Commonwealth Games the Scottish Government passed some legislation restricting advertising in and around Games venues while the Games are being held. This legislation is for the most part reasonable and designed to prevent advertisers taking advantage of the Games and, in particular, aims to prevent ambush marketing, where companies try to associate themselves with an event and profit from it without going to the expense of actually sponsoring it.

This legislation therefore restricts displays (including flags) in specifically determined Games zones, in an effort to keep any unauthorised profiteering to a minimum.  

Within the legislation, quite rightly, there is a specific exemption for protest which means that the STUC, Trade Unions and others can fly the rainbow flag, even within restricted Games zones, without falling foul of the legislation. We are after all not aiming to profit from the Games, we are simply raising awareness of the fact that a group of people are routinely and systematically denied their Human Rights all across the Commonwealth – with 42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalising homosexuality.  The legislation recognises our right to have a demonstration and to promote a campaign and therefore we can fly the rainbow flag as a symbol of protest and solidarity.  

So far so reasonable but then we get to Pride House.

When organising a rainbow flag flying campaign you very quickly run up against the question: ‘where do I get a six foot rainbow flag from anyway?’  To answer this, I turned to Leap Sport Scotland, the organisers of Pride House, naturally expecting Pride House to be adorned with giant rainbows advertising its existence to all the world. I was surprised to learn, however, that they had received instruction that no rainbow flags were to be flown on the building as it is within a restricted Games area.


Well you see it all comes down to the wording of the exemption around demonstrations. While protest is allowed to publicise a campaign, the exemption does not apply to activity that promotes a good or service.

Pride House is a venue that welcomes LGBT athletes, fans, and their supporters during international sporting events. Akin to the various national houses, it is a welcoming place to enjoy the event, to learn about LGBT sport and homophobia in sport, and to build relations. In this respect Pride House could be described as offering a ‘service’ to LGBT people during the games, and advertising a ‘service’ is not allowed.

So here we are in the strange situation where Trade Unions and others will be flying the flag for LGBT rights during the games but Pride House is prevented from doing the same.

This to me seems odd and out of step with the ultimate desire of the legislation – to restrict companies from profiteering and prevent ambush marketing. Given that Pride House is designed to support LGBT athletes and visitors during the Games, it seems a shame that it cannot identify itself with the internally recognised symbol of LGBT equality (after all I am sure Scotland House will fly the saltire).

The STUC, for one, hopes that this decision will be reconsidered before the start of the Games as making LGBT people visible within sport and within the Commonwealth more generally is a key aim of our campaign and also seems to be a key part of running a Pride House in the first place.

Helen Martin


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