Diversifying the diversity: How brands can achieve true LGBTQIA+ representation
It’s here! For a limited amount of time, all your favourite brands now are gay friendly! Look, they even have rainbow backdrops in their logos! Yeah! Slay away! The arrival of Pride season has once again raised the ongoing issue of corporate pink-washing and tokenism in how brands engage with the LGBTQIA+ community. While huge progress has been made in recent years, there is still more work to do before most brands can say they are truly inclusive of the queer community.
27 July, 2022
In particular, while most brands have now clearly received the ‘diversity memo’, and have adjusted their messaging and comms to reflect it, all too often I still see a very narrow representation of who LGBTQIA+ people actually are. It's often stereotypically 'good-looking', white gay men in stable relationships with kids.
There is nothing wrong with this demographic, of course, and I know I'm generalising a bit here. After all, there are some very progressive brands out there. But, when taking a broad cross-section of advertising and branding, this rather limited, heteronormative view of what it means to be LGBTQIA+ is still common place. The big problem here is that it excludes so much richness of the queer identity and risks alienating many within the community.
What about the closeted intersex person at work? The intersex person who feels invisible to brands? The trans person who doesn’t conform to how we think a trans person who’s had a ‘successful’ transition should look? What about queer people living sexually free lives that don't correlate to monogamous ideals? I could go on.
I’m not saying brands should represent every single person and identity. That would be impossible! I’m saying that brands need to work much harder at showing far more of the wonderfully wide spectrum of identities within the LGBTQIA+ community.
And there is no better time to do this than right now.
The pressures many people and communities experienced during Covid brought mental health, wellbeing, and identity to the forefront in an unprecedented way. There is now much greater appreciation and openness about the fact that we are all human, we are all flawed, and that we all have vulnerabilities. We have finally started to embrace the idea that it’s OK not to be OK. We need to take this moment, this opportunity, that Covid gave us to be more open and accepting and apply it to everything - including how we represent minorities and diverse communities.
It’s OK, and indeed 100% necessary, to show the less conventionally conforming and the less conventionally ‘attractive’ members of society. It’s OK to show the diversity of people, lifestyles, behaviours and identities that make up the LGBTQIA+ community - not just the ones that are most comfortable for a majority.
When it comes to branding, marketing and design, it should be OK for members of the community, and their allies, working in these fields to feel empowered to raise this as an issue and to help create the changes that are needed. A big part of this is, where possible, supporting the idea that inclusion is not just a list of boxes to be ticked. While we all know this to be the case, how many brands and design teams can honestly say that truly follow inclusive processes? This means involving a diverse group of people - both team-members and customers/end-users in the decision-making process, from the beginning. A wider set of voices will always enrich any kind of conversation and provides valuable insights that might escape a homogenous table. At UXUS, for example, having a totally heterogenous and diverse group of people as your team helps enormously in every step of the creation process, from research to designing to meetings with clients.
A good comparison is how brands address sustainability.
As part of the pitching process, brands will often include a bullet point asking us to show how the approach we are suggesting is sustainable. It’s really great that this is happening. But it’s still a box-ticking exercise rather than a truly holistic approach where sustainability is fully embedded in every part of the thinking, strategy, design and project as a whole. The same approach needs to be taken with diversity: to completely embed a wider representation of LGBTQIA+ identities into the project from the beginning.
I remember a beautiful ad from Fanta Brazil that showed different queer people getting ready to attend Pride celebrations and, crucially, close family members supporting them by helping them to get ready or dropping them off at the parade. That incredibly insightful angle showing the importance of family acceptance and love is something that is almost impossible to experience if you’re an outsider of the LGBTQIA+ community. It was so moving and felt so authentic to the real-life issues that the community face when it comes to being accepted for who they are. I feel like it's the kind of ad that could not have been made without the kind of approach where the input and insight from the community it absolutely embedded into the whole creative process.
As another Pride season comes and goes, I hope brands keep in mind that diversity is more than a ticked set of boxes or a rainbow backdrop. I hope we will see more and more creative executions from brands that celebrate and represent a truly authentic view of what it means to belong to this infinitely diverse community. I hope we can be seen and represented with all our flaws and our beauty and our scars and our strength, because the rainbow is a spectrum and it’s only beautiful when you see all the colors.
By Edwin Perez, Senior Graphic Designer at UXUS
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