If you’re reading this, it probably means that you, or your brand, are interested in becoming a stronger ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Welcome! We’re happy you’re here. To our LGBTQIA+ readers, we hope this blog post will be a helpful resource for specific strategies and information that you can share with your brand, colleagues, employees, partners, or clients.
At AMP Agency, we believe that people of all genders, sexual orientations, and romantic orientations deserve to feel safe, respected, loved, validated, and represented. Through this lens, we’ve curated a list of actionable ideas that your brand can incorporate into your workplace and year-round marketing efforts.
1. Establish an Atmosphere of Respect within Your Workplace
Before your brand can be an LGBTQIA+ ally to the general public, it must be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ people behind the scenes. No matter how inclusive a campaign appears on the surface, it will feel inauthentic (and perhaps even disrespectful) if the brand that created it doesn’t treat its own employees equally and with respect.
In addition to the following sections of this blog post, which include tips for brands to use internally and externally, here are a few more tactics you can use to make inclusivity a key component of your company culture:
- Hire LGBTQIA+ employees and work with LGBTQIA+ influencers, partners and clients year round. Did you know there are professional recruiting events specific to this community? There are also employment programs for community subgroups, like the SF LGBT Center’s Transgender Employment Program.
- Create employee resource groups to foster a sense of community among workers. For example, our parent company Advantage Solutions created the group PRISM to nurture personal and professional growth among our LGBTQIA+ employees and their allies.
2. Learn the Language and Use It Thoughtfully
Like other cultural groups, the LGBTQIA+ community has its own language, which includes slang, acronyms, personal identifiers, and more. Learning appropriate terms and using them considerately in your workplace and marketing efforts can build authenticity, loyalty and respect. However, please keep in mind that your brand’s historic and internal use of the language will impact how the public receives your current, public usage of it.
For example, if you use the term “yasss” on a branded Pride shirt — a phrase that originated in 1980s ball culture among LGBTQIA+ people of color — and your brand has never previously spoken or acted in support of LGBTQIA+ individuals and/or people of color, that would not be a respectful or authentic use of the language. And more importantly, this surface-level celebration could come across as exploitative. When it comes to branded support, walking the walk must come before talking the talk.
So, what does it look like when a brand thoughtfully uses language to support the community? Check out the inclusive work that Sephora has created in recent years, like their “Identify as We” campaign. Not only does it spotlight LGBTQIA+ people, their lives, and their pronouns, but it was also created by and for the community. Allure reported in 2019:
"Both in front of and behind the camera, the campaign is populated with exclusively members of the LGBTQA+, transgender and gender-fluid community. Activists and influencers like Fatima Jamal and Hunter Schafer appear, putting on makeup, showing off beautiful hairstyles, or just plain old making out."
It’s a great campaign on its own, but it’s even more powerful if you take into account Sephora’s continual allyship efforts. For example, they have beauty classes designed specifically for the transgender comunity. Authentically using language is important, but it’s most effective as part of a larger allyship initiative.
With that in mind, here are some great resources for learning basic LGBTQIA+ terminology:
- The Trevor Project’s glossary of key terms
- The Safe Zone Project’s glossary of LGBTQ+ vocabulary
- “LGBTQ definitions every good ally should know” from USA Today
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender
Before we dive into the next section, we want to call out a few additional tips for thoughtfully using LGBTQIA+ language. First, language is fluid. The words we use are constantly changing in connotation, usage, and relevancy. For example, the term “queer” has historically been used as a slur, but many in the community have since reclaimed it. Still, others find the word offensive. Check out this article from them, a next-generation community platform, for a nuanced look at the term.
Second, every member of the LGBTQIA+ community is an individual, and thus has their own unique cultural identifiers, preferences, and opinions. Think about which other cultural groups someone might identify with. This intersectionality may impact the language they use, like how the term “Two-Spirit” is used as a gender/sexuality/role identifier among some Indigenous North American communities.
3. Make Sharing Pronouns as Easy and Comfortable as Possible Across Your Brand Experience
Pronouns can dramatically impact how an LGBTQIA+ person feels about themselves and others. Schuyler Bailar, the first trans D1 NCAA men’s athlete and owner of the popular Instagram account @pinkmantaray, explains the feeling of being misgendered in a 2020 blog post:
When [you] call me the pronouns & name I no longer identify with, it says: You don’t exist. It says: I don’t see you and I value my view of you more than I value your comfort and safety. Misgendering me hurts my feelings a great deal. I know I might look a different way now than I did but I am still me. And I have always been me. And [you] using the name and pronouns that I use now – always, even with old pictures – is a way to validate that. To validate me. To say you see me.
Click the links below for resources you can use to better understand pronouns and how to apply them in daily life:
- LGBT Life Center’s “Understanding pronouns” guide
- “Pronouns 101: Why They Matter and What To Do (and Not Do) If You Misgender Someone” from Medium
- “Why You Should Put Your Pronouns in Your Bio” by Schuyler Bailar
Once you’re more familiar with pronouns, start incorporating them into your company culture and brand strategy. How?
- Share your pronouns when introducing yourself to new clients, partners, or members of your workplace. Whether or not you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, this can create a safe space for people to share their pronouns, if desired.
- Add your pronouns to your social media bios, email signature, Zoom title — or anywhere else that might be relevant — as a sign to others that you support the LGBTQIA+ community.
- When your brand partners with an openly LGBTQIA+ individual, make sure you know their pronouns and how they identify before you post anything that specifically references their pronouns, sexuality, or gender. Be especially cautious when working with transgender and non-binary partners to make sure you don’t misgender or deadname anyone. (Deadnaming is when you refer to a transgender or non-binary person by their birth name or other former name. It’s often harmful and can be traumatic.)
- If your brand is creating a contact form or hosting a survey, consider adding a section for people to provide their pronouns. If you ask for someone’s gender, provide a variety of options to choose from, as opposed to the historically binary choices of “male” and “female.” Many governmental and medical forms still use this binary structure, which excludes many members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
4. Be Mindful of News, Cultural Events, and Legislation That Might Impact Your LGBTQIA+ Audience
Since American marketing and advertising began, the LGBTQIA+ community has had to deal with exclusion, harassment and discrimination — both inside of and outside of the industry. That’s still true today.
When we create campaigns targeting or spotlighting this demographic, we should make sure we consider the personal, societal, cultural, and political issues our audience may be dealing with at the time they encounter our marketing. This is a tactful act of strategy as much as it is an act of allyship and empathy, because this insight makes your brand appear more in touch, aware, and authentic.
At AMP, we loved working with Eastern Bank to bring their “Join Us For Good Good Votes” campaign to life. When transgender rights were being debated on a Massachusetts ballot in 2016 and 2018, Eastern Bank provided support to the transgender community through lobbying and rallying support, employee engagement, philanthropic assistance, and community engagement. This wasn’t just a one-time act of allyship, it’s consistent work. And we’re so proud we get to be a part of it.
While Pride Month is an important time for the LGBTQIA+ community, allyship moments can arise at any time of year. Stay in the know, and act when something resonates strongly with your brand’s values and capabilities.
5. Resist “Rainbow Capitalism” and “Rainbow-Washing” When Designing Your Campaigns
Custom Pride collections can be fabulous. Who doesn’t love a rainbow hoodie or “Y’all means all” bumper sticker? But they don’t often help a brand stand out from its competitors, especially not in June. And more significantly, these merchandise-based initiatives can occasionally worsen a brand’s reputation among the LGBTQ+ community, if they’re seen as rainbow capitalism or rainbow-washing.
A recent CNN article defined rainbow capitalism as “the idea that some companies use LGBTQ allyship for their own gain.” In that same article, digital communication expert Chris Stedman is quoted as saying the following about Pride merch:
"It feels like a violation in some ways because these companies are taking our language, our memes and our norms and using them for their own gain without fully understanding them or investing in the community. This language and imagery emerged in spaces that have been a refuge for people who haven't been safe and welcome in other communities. And I think that's why people are so bothered by it."
Similarly, rainbow-washing “allows people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship,” according to Social Media Coordinator Justice Namaste in this 2018 WIRED article.
If your brand is exclusively supporting the LGBTQIA+ community through branded Pride merch, you might want to rethink your strategy. Here are some starter questions to get you headed in the right direction:
- What has my brand previously done to support the LGBTQIA+ community? How were those efforts received?
- Do I feel like my brand is genuinely helping with this campaign, or does it feel like we’re checking a box?
- How can my brand’s unique product or service improve the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community specifically?
- Is my company inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community in the work environment it creates, hiring tactics it uses, and resources it provides?
- Are there any openly LGBTQIA+ individuals on the client team, creative team, strategy team, etc. for this project? If not, might this be an issue?
- Does this campaign feel authentic?
Authenticity is especially important here — partly because consumers in 2021 crave authenticity, and partly because this value plays a huge role in the LGBTQIA+ community. Embracing one’s LGBTQIA+ identity means letting your real self show up in a world that doesn’t always get you or respect you. That’s incredibly authentic.
This year, Getty Images partnered with the non-profit GLAAD to improve LGBTQIA+ representation in advertising. We love this campaign because it tackles a relevant issue (increasing visibility of an underrepresented group), it’s authentic (campaign links directly to the Getty Images brand), and it’s creative. Another example of authentic marketing is Verizon’s moving “Love Calls Back” campaign. In both of these campaigns, the brands have innovatively used their products and services to make the world a better place for LGBTQIA+ individuals.
6. Keep Accessibility in Mind When Creating or Sharing Content
According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a disability. And PRNewswire reported in 2018 that “among lesbian, gay and, bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women also identify as having a disability.” Creating accessible content is essential to allyship because many members of the LGBTQIA+ community (and their allies) have a disability. And if you want to have the most inclusive, intersectional and visible content possible, you should consider accessibility.
A few starter ideas for making your brand content more accessible:
- Add alt text to your brand’s Instagram captions. You can either select automatically generated alt text, or customize it to add your brand’s personal flair.
- Use Instagram’s new automatic caption feature for Instagram Story.
- Learn how to improve your brand’s digital accessibility with the A11Y Project.
- Follow ADA-approved design guidelines.
Whether you’ve been an LGBTQIA+ ally for decades or are just getting started, we’re excited you’re putting the work in to become an ally year round. Remember that you and your brand aren’t always going to get it right, and that’s OK. All allies make mistakes, whether they’re individuals or Fortune 500 companies. It’s because we’re human. Making mistakes is a part of our growth process. What matters is that you hold your brand accountable in an authentic way and work to do better going forward. For example, if you accidentally misgender someone in a client meeting, apologize, correct yourself, then move on.
Allyship matters all 12 months of the year, not just during Pride. How your brand shows up will be unique and ever-evolving, but it matters that you are showing up. Thank you.