In a powerful letter sent to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Transport Secretary, the publisher of Attitude and the FCO’s own GREAT Campaign Ambassador - Darren Styles OBE - has called on the Government to support LGBTQ ally Virgin Atlantic in its hour of need.
There was, he said, a need to draw attention to “the secret life of Virgin Atlantic and Sir Richard Branson, and that to support them would save LGBTQ lives all over the world.”
In an impassioned plea, he acknowledged the scale of the necessary intervention, but highlighted an area for potential loss that might not at first be evident:
“While you and your colleagues wrestle with the figures in support of a Government loan to keep Virgin Atlantic alive during this period of coronavirus disruption – understanding the business case for the company’s 10,000 employees, its £450m annual wage bill and its £350m contribution to HMRC every year – there is something else I’d like to share. Because it’s a matter of life and death.
Attitude publisher Darren Styles OBE
“When I bought Attitude magazine, and in so doing became the first gay owner of the title in its nigh 30 years, it was going to close. As a career publisher and a gay man I had a plan, and great dreams, but support for the LGBTQ community among corporations and advertisers can be hard to find. Prejudice, or the fear of being seen to support a rainbow brand in case customers are lost, was and remains a genuine issue for some.
“We wrote to a thousand companies outlining my vision – and just one responded. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.”
The sponsorship money Virgin subsequently laid down helped create the Attitude Awards in 2012, an annual event that now generates press coverage worth £13m every year, much of it overseas. HRH Prince Harry spoke at the Attitude Awards two years ago, President Bill Clinton last year.
“I’m proud to say,” Styles continued, “that the world looks to us and, through our contributions to the ‘Love is GREAT’ strand of the GREAT Campaign, listens to what we say. About acceptance, love and understanding. And about the UK’s position as a safe haven, and as a civilised society where equality is enshrined.
Aids activist Ruth Coker Burks accepts her award at the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards 2019, powered by Jaguar
“Without Virgin Atlantic’s sponsorship, now in its eighth year, there would be no Attitude Awards, and without the Attitude Awards there would be no Attitude magazine.
“On a local level, that would mean my company’s failure, and the loss of 28 jobs directly, and dozens more indirectly.
“But worse, when a kid in the Welsh valleys calls us on a winter’s night because he’d rather contemplate suicide than tell his Dad he’s gay, we won’t be there to answer. Not to him, not to the girl that joined the army but felt she had to leave rather than destroy her career by coming out, and not to the Bangaldeshi boy hiding while a group of men macheted through a front door to kill his friend in front of his mother.
“It’s Virgin Atlantic that fund our being there for these and thousands like them, through the Attitude Magazine Foundation.”
Additional to which, Virgin Atlantic:
- was one of the first multinational corporations to sign up for the UN’s LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business;
- has created two initiatives in the Caribbean – one to make travel safer for LGBTQ travellers, another win hearts and minds for the cause of diversity and inclusion in countries that retain the draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation the UK left behind;
- was the first brand to use LGBT+ people in an advertising campaign in India, to mark and celebrate the country’s decriminalising homosexuality in 2018; and
- put on, in partnership with Attitude, the UK’s first ever Pride Flight, to New York City last summer to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising and the birthplace of the Gay Rights movement.
Styles emphasises – “all of this changes and saves lives,” in a way that the UK Government has done itself, as he acknowledges:
“I know, having been able to sustain my own business through the timely intervention of your Job Retention Scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – both of which have protected my staff and business in a way I couldn’t have previously conceived – that to achieve financial support there are protocols to follow and tests to pass, which are necessarily shorn of emotion.
“But keeping Attitude magazine alive, as the UK Government has by its own actions to support SMEs, is only of use if those who support, sustain and fund us are there when life returns to any semblance of normal.
“The economic case for assistance for Virgin Atlantic will be made better by others than I, but it’s a UK-based business generating $3bn annually carrying six million passengers – and it does so from five UK airports. Post-Flybe and without Virgin Atlantic, how could anyone from the regions go anywhere?”
He concludes: “In short, I just want you to know that – all other things being equal – Virgin Atlantic is a business worth saving from position that considers factors beyond just a balance sheet. It’s a force for good in its own right, but in terms of its support for the LGBTQ community as an ally, not only in thought but also in deed, it is simply without equal.
Virgin Atlantic staff at the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards 2019, powered by Jaguar
“And if it is allowed to fail for the want of support that has been afforded others, then the echoes of such a failure will be heard among the LGBTQ community in ways you might otherwise not have imagined.
“There are days, many of them, when our LGBTQ community is short on friends and allies who’ll stand with us. Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic have always been there to be counted, and their being absent would be to the detriment of thousands of the most ostracised, vulnerable and downright beautiful people we might protect. I ask you, sincerely, to do all that you can.”
There has been no official response at the time of writing, but talks between the Government and Virgin Atlantic are believed to be ongoing.