LGBTQ+ people

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.

Developed in partnership with GLAAD

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.

REMEMBER

People who identify as LGTBQ+ are incredibly diverse, with no two individuals having the same experiences, so avoid portraying stereotypes of individuals, activities, beliefs, or values as universal to LGBTQ+ people.

EXAMPLE

An overused trope in marketing is depicting LGBTQ+ people as cisgender*, young, gay, non-disabled, white men with high disposable income. Consider representing other intersectional identities too, including LGBTQ+ people with disabilities, people of color, transgender individuals, and non-binary people.

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:

  • Include LGBTQ+ people in general campaigns as well during months that celebrate a variety of identities, roles, and occasions like Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Back to School, etc.
  • Celebrate LGBTQ+ commemorations outside of Pride Month, including LGBTQ+ History Month (October in the U.S.), National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Visibility, Lesbian Visibility Day, Bisexuality Awareness Week, etc. Use this list as a starting point.
  • Recognize LGBTQ+ commemorative days centered around loss or grief (i.e. Transgender Day of Remembrance and World AIDS Day). Such commemorations should be approached with sensitivity and care.

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.

The newer LGBTQ+ flag design that includes black, brown, pink, white and blue stripes in a right angle pointing to the center of the rainbow flag.

If you must use a rainbow flag, be sure to include black and brown stripes, acknowledging racial intersectionality. As of this writing, a newer, emerging flag includes these stripes, as well as the transgender colors of pink, white, and blue.

Trans rights flag with horizontal blue, pink, and white stripes.

If you are trying to reach a specific subset of the LGBTQ+ audience (bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, etc.), use the specific flags and color schemes associated with those groups.

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.

CONSIDER

In marketing, inclusion of different gender identities starts with fundamentals like offering multi-select options for gender on forms, enabling users to identify their pronouns, using individuals’ preferred pronouns in copy in a respectful way, and providing inclusive facilities at events (e.g., gender neutral bathrooms).

(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

  • Use real stories whenever possible. Real stories are nuanced and nuance creates authenticity.
  • Hire agencies, creatives, and production teams that have strong LGBTQ+ representation.
  • If you choose to fictionalize, build deep user and cultural insights before casting. Portray LGBTQ+ characters in substantial and complex roles. GLAAD also recommends ensuring that casting calls include LGBTQ+ people, recognizing that actors with a particular identity will best portray those identities. For example, when cisgender actors play trans characters, it perpetuates the belief that trans people aren’t real.

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

Marketing to LGBTQ+ audiences is more authentic when done in partnership with organizations that have credibility and reach. In addition to national organizations, like GLAAD, research state and local organizations that provide advocacy and direct service in your area. No organization is perfect, but many can provide a strong perspective to ensure your content and programs are culturally relevant and inclusive.

Brush up on the right terms to use

Gay, queer, or LGBTQ+?

There are many variations of how to refer to LGBTQ+. The term "gay community" should be avoided, as it does not accurately reflect the diversity of LGBTQ+ people. While there is no formal “correct” definition, LGBTQ+ is an often accepted format to refer to those whose gender identity and sexuality fall outside of cisgender / heterosexual models.

CONSIDER

Ask the people who you are working with how they identify, and then consistently use their name, pronouns, and terminology when referring to them. Remember that neither relationship status, nor gender of their partner determines sexual orientation. Just because someone is in a relationship with someone of the same gender does not mean that they identify as “gay.”

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.

Defining “+”

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 

Social context

DO

Highlight other elements of identity beyond sexuality. Sexuality and gender identity do not always have to be someone's defining characteristic.

Highlight LGBTQ+ stories beyond marriage and relationships. Ensure those relationships aren't confined to heteronormative roles (e.g., one person presents as more stereotypically feminine while the other presents as more stereotypically masculine).

Portray people who identify as LGBTQ+ in routine settings and scenarios, as well as community engagement (e.g., game night, volunteering, worship, etc.).

Show LGBTQ+ people living outside large cities like NY, SF, LA, etc.

Be mindful of portraying LGBTQ+ people in relationship to straight, cisgender people (e.g., “gay best friend” or sidekick).

Examine the reasons for showing someone’s coming out story, and ensure it’s not a self-serving tactic to garner sympathy with non-LGBTQ+ audiences.

Understand the difference between drag and trans identities and represent them appropriately as distinct from each other.

Behavior

DO

Show LGBTQ+ people doing daily activities (e.g., eating a meal, consuming entertainment like TV, reading, exercising, shopping, walking the dog, etc.), and not just within the context of Pride or in relation to a partner or spouse.

Be mindful about LGBTQ+ people who are not Black using language known to have been appropriated from Black culture (e.g., "yass queen" and "spill the tea”).

Appearance

DO

Portray a variety of body types and abilities.

Show a mix of ages when possible.

Show a mix of skin tones and champion them equally.

Show LGBTQ+ families of color. Portrayals of white couples with non-white children can perpetuate the “white savior” stereotype and limits portrayals of families of color.

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.