LGBTQ+ people have been historically excluded from marketing creative, most notably in the media's portrayal of LGBTQ+ women, people of color (especially women of color), trans and gender expansive people, people with disabilities, and older people. Built with input from community partners, these U.S.-focused insights are a starting reference to help you create marketing that positively and authentically represents LGBTQ+ people – both inside and outside of Pride Month campaigns.
Ensure all work reflects the diversity of people who identify as LGBTQ+
LGBTQ+ is inclusive of those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and beyond. LGBTQ+ also includes individuals’ intersectional identities, such as age, skin tone, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
Showing up is a 12-month endeavor
While Pride Month (celebrated annually in June in many countries) is the most visible cultural moment for LGBTQ+ people, showing up only for Pride can come across as opportunistic and empty. Meaningful representation in creative and product outside of Pride Month demonstrates a deeper commitment to inclusion.
In addition, consider:
Honor the historical context
Much of the progress the LGBTQ+ rights movement has made in the U.S. is part of a history that spans decades. The Stonewall Uprising in New York City in 1969 was not the first act of LGBTQ+ people resisting police brutality and fighting for fair treatment, but is often credited with launching the modern fight for LGBTQ+ equality.
After the Stonewall Uprising, leaders such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera started organizations that led to substantially more visibility for LGBTQ+ people. Over the years, the contributions of Black, Latino, and Trans individuals have not received the visibility they deserve within that history, so care must be taken to avoid minimizing their contributions and impact on the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.
The HIV and AIDS crisis that emerged in the 1980s had a devastating impact on LGBTQ+ people and changed the trajectory of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Over time, LGBTQ+ people experienced both key progress and setbacks that translated into legislative action at the federal, state, and local levels. This history must inform any campaign intended for the LGBTQ+ audiences.
Go beyond “pinkwashing” and “rainbow washing”
When building campaigns for LGBTQ+ people, avoid empty symbols of inclusion like simply changing colors in a logo or using LGBTQ+ symbols. Demonstrate a deeper awareness and allyship in your communication. Ensure there is an ongoing effort with a clear connection between your brand and philanthropic causes or tangible benefits to LGBTQ+ consumers.
Gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are different – avoid conflating them
Gender identity refers to one’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. It is known and understood only by the individual, and whomever the individual chooses to share it with.
Gender expression includes the external manifestations that communicate gender identity to the world, including one’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics.
Sexual orientation describes the enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to members of the same or different gender, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual (straight), and many other orientations.
(We’re in the process of developing a set of insights for transgender and gender non-conforming inclusion. More to come soon.)
Follow three steps for authentic LGBTQ+ portrayals
Celebrate the diversity of LGBTQ+ identities, especially acknowledging queer people who are disabled and those who are 65+
Don’t limit LGBTQ+ portrayals to physical signals
Because LGBTQ+ identity is not readily apparent, it can be hard to capture in creative. LGBTQ+ inclusion is often demonstrated purely through superficial signals (e.g., a same-gender couple with kids, a LGBTQ+ couple kissing, or the inclusion of a rainbow flag). This approach is acceptable, but keep in mind that there are many other ways to portray the diversity of LGBTQ+ experiences. LGBTQ+ people do not need to be in a relationship to be LGBTQ+, so it is important to depict individual LGBTQ+ people outside of the context of a relationship.
Here’s where to start
Avoid fictionalizing LGBTQ+ experiences. Feature the real stories of LGBTQ+ people, and meaningfully partner with credible LGBTQ+ advocates. The nuance of real life stories, settings, and partnerships will overcome the need to limit your campaign to physical signals that identify LGBTQ+ representation.
Partner with credible organizations and advocates
Brush up on the right terms to use
Defining and using “queer”
The word “queer” in the U.S. has long historical negative connotations used to describe LGBTQ+ people. Today, the word has mostly been reclaimed as a positive, inclusive word. It is generally okay to show individuals who use the term queer to identify themselves, though remember that queer ≠ LGBTQ+. Be aware that positive intention around the word queer is easily lost when used by non-LGBTQ+ individuals or corporate entities in general messaging. Only use it for people who use it for themselves.
LGBTQ+ is a broader term for many identities that are not directly referenced in the acronym, such as: asexual or non-binary. Meanwhile, Q includes both Queer and Questioning.
In order to be inclusive of everyone, the “+” denotes this acronym as a larger terminology that is open to all whose identities are not listed.
Common stereotypes to avoid
Terms referenced above
Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person was assigned as having at birth, whereas transgender or trans means that the sex assigned to a person at birth (male or female) does not match their actual gender (or the social/cultural ideas of masculine and feminine).
Non-binary means someone does not identify as only a man or a woman. For instance, some have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman. Some people don't identify with any gender. Some people's gender identity changes over time.
Sexual orientation refers to attraction: attraction to the same gender, to the opposite gender, to all genders, etc. Being an LGBTQ+ person does not necessarily mean that one is attracted to someone of the same sex.
Intersex refers to a person's physical anatomy and genitalia rather than a gender identity, though it can definitely influence and be a part of a person's understanding of their gender identity.