June 1, 2023
In 1999, former President Bill Clinton declared June “Pride Month” to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which are widely considered to be the catalyst of the modern-day LGBTQ+ rights movement. As the LGBTQ+ rights movement has grown, so too has the incentive for brands to engage this community. This has often come in the form of LGBTQ+ friendly advertisements, Pride Month campaigns, Pride-themed products, and more — all of which have led to the coining of the term rainbow washing, in which companies use or add rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, logos, products, websites and more to signal support for the LGBTQ+ community, while otherwise remaining politically or socially neutral.
As of 2022, 7.2% of the U.S. population self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. The majority of non-LGBTQ+ people personally know at least one queer person in their own lives. As a result, most Americans are comfortable with queer representation in the media and, often, favor companies that include LGBTQ+ people in their ads. This creates a significant market of queer individuals and allies for brands to connect with. It is critical, however, to connect in an authentic and meaningful way as brands regularly “miss the mark”.
To authentically engage with queer consumers and allies, consider taking the following steps:
Support the LGBTQ+ Community Year-Round, Not Only in June.
The best way to avoid rainbow washing is to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion all year. If you are going to feature queer individuals in your content, do so regularly. In addition to representing the LGBTQ+ community, support it through advocacy, a zero-tolerance discrimination policy and an inclusive work environment. For a guide on ensuring workplace inclusion, review the Society for Human Resource Management’s toolkit or the Institute for Management Development’s article.
Diversify Your Content. The LGBTQ+ community is incredibly diverse, yet the majority of queer media features white, gay men. To authentically engage queer consumers, accurately represent the diversity of the community. LGBTQ+ encompasses many identities, races, ages, cultures, nationalities and professions and your content should reflect that.
Normalize Representation. Inclusion can (and should!) be casual. Any content that features queer individuals should feel natural. Use queer imagery in place of heterosexual imagery or highlight LGBTQ+ individuals doing everyday tasks.
Educate Yourself. It is critical to have an in-depth understanding of your target audience in any scenario. While you may need to do additional research to connect with LGBTQ+ individuals, it is important that you grasp the diversity of the community. Consider visiting one of these sites to learn more: