Tesco has denied it is dropping support for LGBT pride events in London, despite Christians claiming they have forced the retailer into a u-turn on the issue.
The retailer – which is the UK’s largest supermarket chain – remains booked up as the £30,000 ($47,000 €36,000) sponsor of the family area at this year’s London event which is also the official World Pride for 2012.
However, after what the homophobic Christian Institute described as a ‘storm of complaints’, Tesco has said it will not be sponsoring pride in 2013 or beyond.
At the time Tesco announced it was dropping sponsorship for the LGBT festival, just before Christmas, it was at pains to say it was not doing so under pressure from Christians – a line repeated by the Guardian.
The Tesco statement read: ‘Tesco supports a wide range of good causes and charities and is committed to tolerance and diversity. We strongly support our colleagues in Out at Tesco [the LGBT staff organization] and will go on doing so beyond Pride 2012. We want this support to focus on practical benefits and will discuss with colleagues in Out At Tesco how we best do this.’
However now Francis Phillips, a writer for the Catholic Herald has published quotes from a letter from Danielle Thomas, a Tesco customer service executive, which implies that the anti-gay Christians were the ones to force Tesco to change after all.
The Catholic Herald quotes Thomas as saying: ‘I accept that you do not agree with our decision to sponsor Pride London. Tesco is the largest private-sector employer in the UK and our workforce comes from very diverse backgrounds… We encourage those colleagues who wish to set up their own social groupings within the company, one of the most recent of which is Out at Tesco, for gay and lesbian staff. This group asked for some support for Pride London, and we agreed to do that as part of our policy to treat all who work for us fairly.’
But it goes on to add: ‘Our support implies no moral, philosophical or political stance. It is not an expression of Tesco’s views; it simply reflects the diversity of the people who work for us.’
And the concluding paragraphs are marked up by Phillips as ‘the most significant’.
Thomas’ letter finishes: ‘We know that being the UK’s leading retailer carries unique responsibilities… We have a responsibility to listen carefully to our many and diverse customers and stakeholders, respect their views and seek to balance their opinions in the decisions we make… Whatever the issue, it is never our intention deliberately to inflame or polarise public opinion or to make an already contentious debate more contentious.
‘We are very aware that a well-intended action designed simply to support some of our colleagues in Tesco has unintentionally created some misunderstanding and mistrust. We would never set out to do this and we are sorry for it. We will continue to support our colleagues in the Out at Tesco network… Most of our charitable and community awareness support is, however, focused on delivering practical benefits rather than funding awareness-raising events.
‘We will, therefore, discuss with Out at Tesco how we can support them in future years in ways that will not include sponsoring events… I hope that [this] begins to restore your confidence that Tesco does try to do the right thing and does indeed listen to your feedback.’
Offering clarification a Tesco spokesperson told Gay Star News the retailer remains ‘proud’ to be sponsoring World Pride this year and may still support London Pride in the future – just not financially.
In comments which suggest the Christian right has not won a victory after all, the spokesperson told GSN: ‘It is quite unusual for us to offer financial support. We may look at other types of support in the future. We just don’t know yet, it’s over a year away.’
When GSN asked what form this in-kind support might take, we were given the example of staff giving up their time, with the backing of head office, to volunteer at pride.
And Mark Greaves, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald, has distanced the publication from Phillips' views in her comment article for them.
In her piece, Phillips suggests that Tesco's backing for pride is an attack on 'western Christian civilization'.
But Greaves told GSN: 'We don't believe that Tesco giving to pride undermines western Christian civilization. In accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church, we believe that gay people should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.'