Pride Beyond Pride Month: Being a Business Ally to LGBTQ Communities

June is internationally recognized as a time to celebrate LGBTQ people and communities while advocating for the progress that still must be made to overcome inequality and inequity.

Businesses that value inclusivity have long recognized the importance of meaningfully and visibly supporting LGBTQ people. But as community discourse evolves year after year, it’s important for brands and companies to continually revisit their approaches to engaging with LGBTQ consumers. 

The .gay domain extension, launched in 2020, is an online namespace dedicated to LGBTQ visibility, positivity, and resources. Like a digital pride flag, .gay domains are an expression of solidarity and 20% of new domain registrations are donated to LGBTQ nonprofits.  The following are .gay’s recommendations for meaningfully supporting LGBTQ communities in a holistic and enduring way — not just during pride month. 

Authenticity is More than Marketing

The participation of brands and businesses in June’s annual LGBTQ pride celebrations has become increasingly common and even expected. While this is undoubtedly a sign of social progress and increasing acceptance, it’s important for companies to engage thoughtfully and meaningfully. 

LGBTQ inclusivity needs to be genuine. A rainbow logo is just the beginning. Indeed, LGBTQ consumers are looking to see whether your brand’s business practices meaningfully and holistically support the communities you are marketing to.

Due to the history of decades of discrimination against them, LGBTQ audiences are especially sensitive to tokenization and superficial virtue-signalling. For example, many social media observers in LGBTQ communities are quick to point out how so many of the rainbow logos on brands’ social media accounts immediately revert to “normal” on July 1. Companies that only feature symbolic or perfunctory LGBTQ inclusivity in their marketing risk accusations of pinkwashing or rainbow capitalism, especially if those same companies engage in practices that actually contribute to the marginalization of LGBTQ people.  

Fortunately, the bar for brands wishing to support LGBTQ communities is very easy to meet! 

  • Hire LGBTQ people at all levels. Also, hire BIPOC people and women at all levels. Pay all your employees a living wage and benefits.
  • Respect the gender and sexual orientation of your LGBTQ customers and employees, and protect them from abuse and discrimination.
  • Do no harm to LGBTQ communities. Do no harm to anyone, for that matter.
  • Cut ties with entities that do harm to people in general, and LGBTQ communities in particular.
  • Include visibly LGBTQ people in your marketing campaigns year-round, not just during pride celebrations.

Basically, “don’t be evil” — but for real. Pretty simple! If your business practices cause any harm, intentionally or unintentionally, then make real amends for that harm before attempting to appeal to LGBTQ communities. 

Meaningful LGBTQ Marketing Practices

Once you’ve ensured the inclusivity of LGBTQ people and customers within your own business, here are some suggestions for ways to holistically integrate support for LGBTQ communities into your marketing practices: 

  • Empower your LGBTQ employees to develop your brand’s LGBTQ marketing strategies (during normal working hours, not an extracurricular activity).
  • Sponsor LGBTQ events, venues, festivals, newspapers, magazines, and artists in your local area.
  • Partner with other local LGBTQ businesses and entrepreneurs to create special offers for your shared customers.
  • Hire LGBTQ freelancers to do creative work like design and illustration, and pay them competitively.
  • Donate directly to LGBTQ nonprofits in your area. Check out .gay’s beneficiary partners CenterLink to find an LGBTQ community center near you. Consider offering an in-kind donation if your services could be useful to local organizations.

Digital LGBTQ Marketing

While authentic LGBTQ engagement in the physical world is paramount, online LGBTQ resources are just as important and should be pursued in parallel. 

Your brand can use the internet to share content like pride activations, LGBTQ-specific offerings, and information about inclusive employee recruiting. Here are some great examples: 

  • Global brands signalling support for LGBTQ communities by activating a .gay domain include CalvinKlein.gay, Absolut.gay, BathAndBodyworks.gay, and Grindr.gay.
  • Local businesses that cater to LGBTQ customers are building their primary websites on .gay domain names to show their support. Examples include business directory WeddingVendors.gay, Canadian boutique TheQUILTBAG.gay, LGBTQ-owned therapy practice FullSpectrum.gay, and LGBTQ health advocate ReachEducation.gay.
  • Composely.gay created a new splash site for year-round LGBTQ marketing.
  • Entertainment companies are creating online portals to access relevant LGBTQ content. Scribd.gay points to the service’s collection of e-books and audiobooks that feature LGBTQ stories, and Canal.gay points to the French television network’s hub for LGBTQ movies and shows.

Social media advertising tools on Instagram and Facebook can then help you launch campaigns that will reach LGBTQ people in your area. 

Language, Imagery, and Inclusivity Guidelines

When you prepare your LGBTQ-centric marketing, it’s critical to pay attention to the words you use. 

Language is continuously being re-evaluated, and it is especially complex when describing marginalized groups. What seemed acceptable a few years ago may no longer be appropriate or inclusive today. Conversely, communities (or subsections of a community) sometimes reclaim pejorative terms. These terms remain off-limits to those outside the community, and even some within the community may still consider the terms offensive.  

To help media and professionals choose appropriate language, .gay’s beneficiary partner, GLAAD has developed an extensive reference guide. The guide helps those outside LGBTQ communities learn how to respectfully use the most common LGBTQ terms, as well as which terms are offensive and should be avoided.

In addition to using inclusive and respectful language, it’s extremely important to show diverse representation in your marketing imagery and photography. LGBTQ communities will appreciate companies that break social and advertising norms by highlighting LGBTQ people of all races, genders, ages, and physical abilities, especially communities typically underrepresented in media. 

Finally, consider the impact of the content you create, and not just the intention behind it. While drag queens and rainbows are a recognizable and celebratory element of LGBTQ cultures, you should avoid relying exclusively on these stereotypes in your brand imagery. Instead, show a wide range of visibly LGBTQ people doing common, relatable things. (For example, pet ownership, kissing and affection, hiking, parenting, working, exercising.)

Pride 365

Like rainbow stickers adorning local shop windows as a beacon of acceptance, brands can use digital LGBTQ marketing as a virtual equivalent, welcoming all customers and communities. By making LGBTQ inclusivity and engagement a core principle of your business practices, you will not just be winning loyal customers, you’ll be helping to make the world a better place. 

About the author:

David Gold

David Gold is a Marketing Content Specialist at Top Level Design, the registry for .design, .gay, .wiki, and .ink. David is passionate about developing creative strategies for making the internet a more expressive and inclusive space.

More articles like this