#RidewithPride – community engagement or clever marketing?

Accused of being a gimmick, working with homophobes and caught up in probably the UK’s most heavily scrutinised company – why would you bother even to embark on something like this?

I’d started to write this blog yesterday (11 August 2015) I wrote, and rewrote the ‘bounce’ but just couldn’t feel the blog working and so I gave up hoping today might bear some fruit. Then madly, after what I thought was a totally benign Twitter retweet by TfL I found myself once again in the midst of controversy. How outrageous that TfL was spending money on rainbows rather than a transport service!

I’ll make it clear now; not one penny, one cent or one whatever of fare payers or tax payers cash was spent on this campaign. I worked incredibly hard to bring three very different companies together with TfL to share my vision that LGBT diversity matters, and wouldn’t it be great just to demonstrate that on some of the world’s most iconic assets?

Casting my mind back to September 2014; a story broke in the gay press about a gay couple who were unceremoniously kicked off a TfL bus operated by one of our operators for kissing by its driver. The complaint had (rightly) been lodged by the couple in August and the bus company were investigating – all part of a normal procedure. I don’t know what had happened in between reporting it and then it reaching the gay press, but the story grew legs. Before I knew it Stonewall were on the phone and TfL and I were defending our position.

Now this story isn’t nice, and on the face of it completely outrageous. But the very fact that TfL were making the wrong headlines for one of our suppliers got me thinking; TfL needed to do more to demonstrate our support to the LGBT community, and we needed to influence our supply chain to show their LGBT credentials.

It took just one email, and the passing of a few months before Stagecoach London, one of our bus contractors stepped up and said ‘yes’ to my dream of a rainbow bus. Once on board Stagecoach bit my arm off to take part in the project; London’s (and the world’s) first ever rainbow bus in service. This wasn’t going to be for an event, it was a ‘permanent’ bus in service on my favourit10953153_861998687190275_3465710039514844015_oe number, route 8, taking it through some London’s best vistas, and a smattering of gay locations.

On 2 March 2015 we launched the rainbow bus. I knew it would create headlines, we’d crafted a carefully considered press release but I had never thought the immediate negative response we got. The mainstream press even reported that we had no idea that Stagecoach’s owner had anti-gay views. Really? It was the first thing I thought of, but I thought it was an amazing demonstration of support for the LGBT community by the company. Suddenly I was forced into defending our position in the gay press. Thankfully, these very early salvos grew no traction and the bus has gone on to be one of the most recognised and celebrated LGBT symbols of diversity in the Capital.

11194542_899929216730555_5728665041058517927_oWe had the start of a campaign. A taxi was soon developed through our contacts and an approach by the wonderfully quirky and articulate Ian Beetlestone. He contacted me via Twitter wanting to take part in Pride in London 2015 and I was happy to do that, we’d never had a taxi before, and cheekily he wanted me to pimp it up. A rainbow taxi was launched for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 15 May through our fabulous sponsors at Ubiquious, a company that wraps London’s taxis with some of the most creative wraps. Ubiquitous were amazing, from design to wrap they worked pretty much day and night to meet the deadline I set them for an IDAHOBIT launch.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle was a train. I’d been talking with Barclaycard for a number of months about working together, and being major sponsors of Pride they were the key to making my biggest project a reality. I’ll be honest I thought it would be incredibly difficult for two organisational titans to work together and produce not only a design, but achieve it in a matter of months – but we did it. The most amazing collaboration I have ever seen, a real example of two brilliant brands focused on making something work for the benefit of LGBT diversity.

So on 22 June we launched the ‘Trainbow’ an incredible tribute to diversity, and just in time for Pride in London 2015. Never 11703489_10153520426776796_8838889072739225488_owas my heart filled with Pride when I rode the train for the first time as it headed towards Canary Wharf to an adoring crowd.

What’s more is that all these vehicles are out every day, demonstrating TfL’s support and that of their sponsors for LGBT people everywhere, and not just in London. No other city in world has done this, and I’m proud no matter what anyone else thinks that I helped make this happen.

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