As event planners, it’s vitally important to create inclusive experiences that make everyone feel warm and welcome, including members of the growing LGBTQIA community. Although plenty of T-shirts vigilantly remind us that “the future is female,'' it would be more accurate to say that “the future is fluid”. Empowering women personally and professionally is as important as ever to the event industry. But we must also continue to recognize and celebrate gender fluidity and non-binary individuals, as well as all other identities.
LGTBQIA communities represent a strong market in the U.S. Research has shown that 80% or more of gay households have incomes above the national average. There is also evidence that lesbians earn more than straight women. And the LGTBQIA community has a whole tends to spend more money on household and electronic products. The travel industry and tourism benefit greatly from this community, as LGTBQ consumers spend almost $65 million on travel per year. Knowing how to market and sell to this population is key to most nationally successful businesses.
And they don’t just have buying power- research shows that 30% of LGTBQ employees and executives have control over corporate budgets.
As society evolves to embrace inclusivity, more and more people are openly identifying as LGTBQIA. Marketing to LGBTQIA people without displaying bias or misgendering is one of the industry’s main missions in 2020. Here are some insightful ways to serve your LGTBQIA attendees and make your brand more gender-inclusive.
1. Give Your Attendees the Opportunity to Self-Identify
Generally speaking, giving people the opportunity to self-identify is an inherently inclusive practice that will become second nature as we evolve into the next decade. Just as those who identify as “he/him” or “she/her” have always been able to take for granted that their identity would be universally recognized and understood, society is starting to recognize that all gender identities should have the same right.
Start at the registration process and continue throughout the event with badges and person-to-person communication. Of course your attendees would never be required to share their gender pronoun, but they can if they wish. Providing this option sends the message that you are a gender-inclusive company from the get-go, which is important. (You can provide the same options for virtual events as well).
Don’t overlook gender neutrality in the registration process. If registering requires attendees to fill out forms that ask attendees to choose male or female, offer a third title labeled “other”. We recommend doing this over including an option not to answer, which can make gender-queer individuals feel as if they are not represented- and therefore uncomfortable. Offering the “other” option is much more inclusive.
Titles should not be limited to Mr., Ms., or Mrs, all of which imply binary gender identities. The most common option for non-binary individuals is probably Mx. Misc is also sometimes used. Derived from the Latin word miscellus, it means mixed. This can be said to indicate that many non-binary individuals have aspects of more than one gender at various times. This is not necessarily inaccurate, but it’s not inherently accurate, either. Some non-binary individuals don’t necessarily identify with any specific gender and consider themselves gender neutral.
Both Mx or Misc are considered inappropriate terms, but generally speaking, we recommend going with Mx because it describes both non-binary and gender-neutral individuals. There can be nuanced but very important differences between the two. But whichever you choose, there’s an additional option that you might want to offer as well.
The newest title used by non-binary people is “Ind”, which stands for individual. Offering this option expands your recognition to accept people who do not feel that Mx or Misc represents their own
2. Use Gender-Neutral Restrooms
We’ve all heard the biased opinion that making restrooms universally inclusive is making some sort of “special concession” to the LGBTQIA community. It’s also been regarded by some as an excessive attention to detail that isn’t organically necessary, but that couldn’t be a less accurate statement. The inherit bias is glaringly apparent: Why is something some populations take for granted be a special privilege for others? The event industry is broadcasting the message loud and clear: All gender identities deserve representation in restrooms as well as consumer culture.
Allowing attendees to choose the restroom their represents their gender identity makes them feel comfortable at the most basic level. It’s a level on which everyone has the human right to feel comfortable. The current trend is to offer one gender-neutral restroom per business, but gender inclusion is catching on and companies are starting to offer gender-neutral multi-stall restrooms as well.
3. Proudly Promote Your Brand as Inclusive
Although an LGBTQIA-welcoming event design is essential, branding yourself as inclusive is one of the most important things you can do to cultivate inclusivity. By using inclusive language and creating events that welcome and cater to everyone, you’re almost halfway there. But tapping into the LGBTQIA market means not limiting yourself to traditional male-targeted research. When campaigning across marketing channels, include and represent LGBTQIA perspectives as frequently as you do others.
When marketing to LGBTQUIA consumers, it’s also important to avoid the stereotypes and clichés that are so deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s possible and necessary to create realistic depictions of LGBTQIA people without resorting to stereotypes. New norms are being created and enforced, and you should be doing this as well. Positively, the perpetual stereotyping as lesbian women as masculine-identifying or gay men as feminine-identifying is starting to die out. However, this stereotype still occurs often in the media, and many marketers fall prey to it, thinking that that they’re doing is giving gays and lesbians representation.
The best way to give inclusive representation to all LGTBQIA people is to include depictions of all variations of them in your media content. This is not an overwhelming task if you are not giving male, female, and heterosexual populations more representation than LBTBQIA people.
How can you represent everyone? Here are some creative ideas:
● Represent same-sex pairings in everyday situations (this also helps avoid common stereotypes).
● Include real gay, lesbian, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual people in promotional materials; these don’t have to be celebrities to be impactful, as real people naturally depict the most authentic representations.
● Don’t shy away from physical or sexual pairings; giving same sex couples more physical or sexual representation than LGTBQIA pairings can be seen as implying that LGTBQIA relationships are unacceptable in some way.
4. Break Down the Bias for Bisexuals
Bisexual people face unique challenges and discrimination on a daily basis. While gay and lesbian couples are starting to become a norm in mainstream media, we rarely see bisexuals falling in love on TV (or even in literature, for that matter). Unfortunately, bisexuals frequently report feeling unrepresented and overlooked in the inclusivity movement that is becoming so mainstreamed. They are often stereotyped as confused, floundering adulterers who “can’t choose” or are incapable of monogamy. Just as harmful, the porn and traditional male-targeted media has depicted bisexuals as sexual “freaks” who are universally polyamorous or unconventional at best.
To avoid these harmful stereotypes and make bisexuals feel warmly welcomed by your brand, just represent them in everyday situations. Make the romantic protagonist bisexual, and don’t include a struggle to choose between a man and a woman. Bisexuality does not denote confusion, so don’t misrepresent bisexuals as questioning. They are only as likely to be questioning as any other person. Bisexuality simply describes people who are romantically and/or sexually attracted to members of
5. Don’t Exclude Asexuals and Pansexuals
This mistake is all too commonly made. Even in this increasingly inclusive era, asexual and pansexual individuals get very little representation by brands in the media. So be a catalyst to change. When you use storytelling to brand yourself, tell their stories, too. Depict pansexual and asexual people in daily life and universally relatable situations, such as relationships.
Asexuality is widely misunderstood, but it is recognized by inclusive cultures and the LGTBQIA community as its own sexual orientation. It’s important to remember that asexuality has nothing to do with being anti-social or a “loner”; it also doesn’t preclude the need for romantic relationships. What it simply means is that people who do not necessarily experience sexual feelings or associations.
Yes, sex sells. But so does inclusivity, so don’t assume that all of your customers are or want to be sexual. Although we would never discourage leaving sex out of marketing- it’s a natural part of human life that is appealing to many- sexual objectification feeds off bias. And more to the point in this section, it excludes the asexual reality, which has only recently been recognized. Now an increasing number of people are coming out as asexual to loved ones just as people do gay, lesbian, pansexual, etc.
A society that is obsessed with sex can easily make asexual people feel isolated. So by not oversexualizing ad and marketing campaigns, you’re shedding light on the other important things in life that asexual people do relate to- such as love, family, and intimacy in the romantic and non-romantic sense.
But don’t stop there. Target specific campaigns toward asexuals by making awareness part of your agenda. Spotlight asexuality by telling personal stories of real people who want to share, and create media representations of everyday people who are asexual. This may sound complicated, as sex is easy to show in straightforward manner; the absence of it can be a more abstract matter, so spotlighting it in creative ways falls on you. For example, if you sell products that are traditionally associated with sex in the media, such as clothing, beauty products, or intimate wear, your content can show how these products can be enjoyed without sexual associations. In many ways, just avoiding oversexualizing your brand sends an inclusive message: Not everything is about sex.
6. Choose Inclusive Venues
When selecting a venue for your event, it’s important to choose a venue that is compatible with inclusive values. To be inclusive, venues should offer at least one gender-neutral restroom or allow you to create one. Their staff should be comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns and titles when applicable. If the venue is in a location that is particularly welcoming to LGTBQIA events, all the better. The more LGTBQIA-friendly the city or neighborhood, the more comfortable and at home people will feel attending an event there.
7. Leverage LGTBQIA-Specific Media
There are many media channels and platforms specifically designed for the LGTBQIA community. These include TV channels, bars and venues, magazines and websites, advocacy groups, and many more. Being active in these media channels demonstrates that your brand is aligned with them.
When advertising in LGTBQIA-specific media, use targeted messaging. Basically, this means speaking directly to your LGTBQIA audience, but doing so in a thoughtful, authentic way that doesn’t rely on bias or stereotyping. Yes, the rainbow is a gay pride staple. People associate it with the LGTBQIA community as well as the pride that comes with freely being who they are in society- and overcoming prejudice to publicly live lives that are true to themselves.
8. Stand with and Support the LGTBQIA Community
Besides representing them in the media, the best way to show solidarity with the LGTBQIA community is to support them. If you actively engage in advocacy groups and events, this community will see that you stand with them; they’ll perceive you as genuinely caring about their lives and equal rights.
The moral imperative is important, but it should be authentic and not just pandering. It goes without saying that by standing firmly by the LGTBQIA community, you may alienate far-right companies and media platforms. But retracting business or advertising decisions that support this population will just make your brand look spineless and lacking in character. Like any other population, LGTBQIA consumers don’t want to give their money to brands with one foot in their corner, and the other still out the door. They want to know that you truly care about their lives and are fully aligned with inclusive values. For example, if you’ve boycotted a company that doesn’t treat the LGTBQIA community with respect or regard for their human rights, stick with that decision. Otherwise, you’ll successfully alienate a majority of your LGTBQIA audience.
Most importantly, walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. If your company claims to represent the LGTBQIA community but doesn’t extend employee benefits to same sex partners, you’re not really inclusive. And people will know it. They will talk about it, and word will spread that your company doesn’t welcome one of the most thriving consumer communities in society. Of course, refusing to work with non-inclusive companies who don’t treat their LGTBQ employees fairly is another way to show support and alignment.
9. Don’t Treat the LGTBQIA Community Like they’re Monolithic
They’re not. Gender and sexual identity is only one part of who people are; only one part of their lives. There are big differences between gay men and lesbians, non-binary and transgender people, bisexuals and pansexuals, etc. Being gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. is not related to one’s social or economic status, religion, or other demographics. Just as one wouldn’t link being male or female to any specific demographics, nor should LGTBQIA people be automatically associated with any group in society.
10. Commit to Inclusivity
Many times, gay men become the target of LGTBQIA marketing imperatives. That’s probably because they tend to have more money and representation in the media. But following this trend makes it look as if you are selling out. The majority of the LGTBQUIA community will likely view it that way. Our best advice? If you’re going to embrace inclusivity as a brand, do so fully.
Hopefully, we’ve given you some valuable insights on how to connect with LGTBQIA consumers. Note we say “connect with” rather than “market to”; although you are indeed marketing toward this community as you would any other demographic, creating trust and relationships is more important than selling products or tickets. Making genuine connections fosters brand loyalty, and loyalty is what builds a brand.
If we could have you take away just one main point from this article, it would be that inclusivity is so much more than a trend. Embodying gender and sex inclusive values means genuinely interacting with, supporting, and serving the LGTBQIA community. Focus on forming long-term relationships with this community over time, and they will continue to make valuable contributions to your brand.