Richard Branson wore a rainbow flag pin in honor of the Pulse Nightclub victims on his self-indulgent, multi-million dollar trip to space*.
“Somebody who lost a loved one at the Orlando massacre asked if I would do that,” said Branson (often described as a “maverick billionaire”). “We also have many, many friends who are gay and I know people who lost friends there.”
This may be the highest example of well-intentioned virtue signaling one can think of. Congratulations, Maverick—you’ve represented your gay friends well on your trip into the atmosphere. Never mind the environmental cost of that brief trip to allow for the sensation of anti gravity. Never mind that it was inaugurating a possible new form of travel that will only be affordable for those willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a ticket. The better question is: Are all the charities funded up? Student loan debts are excused? Affordable housing has been accomplished across the country?
But hey, Richard Branson offered a kind gesture to the LGBTQ+ community!
Coming on the heels of COVID-19, this is not the inspiring, patriotic story that the initial space race was. Rooting for billionaires to fulfill their wildest dreams does not come easily to most of us; watching them shell out hundreds of million dollars in an effort to help somewhat lesser wealthy people fulfill their dreams while we watch temperatures soar and people struggle to pay their rent comes even less easily.
But look at the good press Branson engendered from his low-stakes accessory! The creator of the Pulse pin, Ben Johansen, wanted to see all 49 Pulse victims honored in space; Branson wore the pin and earned attention for that in lieu of every online publication asking, “Wait, why are we spending money to create more exclusive experiences for rich people who want to spend upwards of $450,000 a ticket?”
Because American billionaires are gonna billionaire. And apparently we’re willing to be distracted by a rainbow pin into letting them.
*About that—yeah, there’s some controversy about whether he made it into official space or not. Branson traveled 53 miles. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gives astronaut wings to anyone who travels 50 miles. But the Kármán line, internationally recognized as where space begins, is 62 miles. As usual, the threshold is lower for Americans than for the rest of the world.
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