Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and all non-straight, non-cisgender people across the globe have a long history of resistance against dehumanization, disenfranchisement, and injustice. In fact, it was the Stonewall Uprisings in New York City in 1969 that birthed Pride Month, the annual celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and rights.
Despite the progress LGBTQ+ communities have fought for and won, their human rights and safety are continuously at great risk. In the United States, for example, many state legislatures are rolling back sexual orientation and gender identity protections as hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are on the rise. As of June 9, 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union was tracking the progress of 491 anti-LGBTQ bills across the country.
Marketing and advertising are not immune, as shown by recent conservative backlash against major brands that market Pride collections or partner with LGBTQ+ content creators and organizations. We asked two Meltwater customers what companies and brands need to do better.
What are some of the mistakes brands make when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation?
Michael Kaye, Director of Brand Marketing and Communications at Archer, Match Group’s social-first dating app for gay men: Cisgender, gay men cannot be the default. The LGBTQ+ community includes all body types, ethnicities, identities, and races. When brands only show one silo of the community, it comes off as clearly performative and shows they were just trying to check off a box. There especially needs to be more transgender inclusion in advertising and marketing to ensure that all members of the LGBTQ+ community are represented in these conversations.
What responsibilities do companies that feature LGBTQ communities in their marketing and advertising have?
Bobby MacPherson, Director of Operations at Pride Toronto, the not-for-profit organization behind the largest Pride festival in Canada: To not make superficial, one-off campaigns. Pinkwashing happens every year. To me, it's about creating more than just that one-time campaign that is aired just in June. How do you build that campaign that's reoccurring, year-long, meaningful, and always growing? How do you continue that campaign year after year, and adapt it to whatever that community needs are?
It's just not a checkbox, you're doing it because you're trying to push a boundary a bit. For example, I understand there's always a fine line with businesses and what they can dabble in relation to politics and political things, but what frustrates me a lot of the time is, sure, 2SLGBTQ+ rights may be political, but this is also, for some, the fight to live. Why are we politicizing that?
Just recently, we tried to feature art that was highlighting 2SLGBTQ+ folks in Ukraine and sharing their story, but we were rejected by so many places because it was too political and people want to just focus on the fun of Pride. I have goosebumps sharing that with you.
So to me, I understand we have business agendas. Sure, I would love to focus on the positive all the time too. Who wouldn't? But that's not the reality. So tying that back to the original question, it's really about authenticity. If people aren't willing to be there in the good and the bad, then don't bother doing a campaign.
What questions should companies and brands ask themselves as they work to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ communities in their marketing?
MK: Before acting, focus on education and representation. Educate yourself on the queer community by bringing in partner organizations — GLAAD, Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project. Ensure LGBTQ+ people are represented in your leadership teams, throughout your company, and in the room when decisions are being made. By choosing not to include the LGBTQ+ community in your marketing campaigns, brands give in to anti-LGBTQ+ activists who taint the progress of the movement thus far.
BM: A big one is, Are we avoiding stereotypes and cliches? As campaigns are being developed, the question is, How are we approaching 2SLGBTQ+ representation with authenticity and respect? That's one of the first questions I ask sponsors as they tried to get involved with Pride Toronto. The other one is, How are they consulting with the 2SLGBTQ+ community? Often, what I find is people just hire a marketing firm to work with Pride Toronto, and it doesn't really represent the community or the brand they're representing. But, we want to be working with a campaign with their senior leadership to make sure that these are the values of the organization, not just some kind of checkbox.
And, How are they supporting 2SLGBTQ+ causes and initiatives year long? Not only in a campaign, but also in how that going back to the community. Most importantly, one of the questions I would suggest is, Are we being open to learning, evolving, and growing whatever that campaign is to something larger?
Why is LGBTQ+ representation in marketing and advertising important?
MK: At a time when homophobia is on the rise and anti-transgender legislation is sweeping the nation, the LGBTQ+ community needs support. And there are benefits to rallying behind the community, too.
It’s better for business. Companies that commit to LGBTQ+ inclusion attract and retain top talent, and have stronger relationships with customers and key stakeholders. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey conducted by public relations firm Edelman, more than 51% of Americans said they were more likely to work for a pro-LGBTQ company and 34% of consumers said they were more likely to buy from a brand that expressed support for LGBTQ rights, per CNBC.
The community is growing more proud and less avoidable as this demographic grows. In 2023, the percentage of adults in the United States that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual doubled from a decade ago according to Gallup. Businesses who do not clearly support the LGBTQ+ community will lose out on them as consumers as well as see decreased sales from their allies.
This #Pride season, hundreds of brands are continuing to authentically support our community. The facts are clear on every front: LGBTQ people are worth it. Your support of us should always be something to be proud about. (1/5) https://t.co/hsXXoIfYcU— Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) June 2, 2023
BM: 2SLGBTQ+ representation in marketing and advertising is crucial for promoting diversity, fostering inclusivity, advocating for equal rights, and creating positive social change. It benefits society at large and embraces the richness of human diversity, promoting acceptance and understanding. Even that question, when I think about it, really helps us reflect on what diversity and inclusivity means.
Marketing and advertising has really a significant impact on shaping societal norms and attitudes. By including 2SLGBTQ+ individuals in themes, in campaigns, highlighting them, companies can promote a more inclusive and diverse representation of society. It feeds into helping to combat stereotypes, break down different barriers, foster that acceptance, and really embrace the difference of sexual orientations and gender identities.
Learn more about best practices for LGBTQ+ representation in marketing and advertising in GLAAD’s LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media study and Inclusive Marketing resource page developed with Google.