For More Rainbow Colors in a White Space: Can Brands Play a Role in Pushing for a More LGBT-Inclusive Society?

There’s never been a better time to be part of the LGBT+ community. With societal norms becoming more and more inclusive of different lifestyles, there is a positive trend towards tolerance and understanding in many countries. Media and businesses are increasingly celebrating diversity, yet many challenges remain for the LGBT community: Discrimination and LGBT-related violence are key concerns in many parts of the world and the community strives for more recognition, support and representation in various areas of their lives. A recent multi-market research conducted by Google with with more than 3k people around the world who identified themselves as LGBT+, suggests that brands could play a larger role in helping to push society forward.

 

I’s time for a picture at the 2017 NATO summit and Gauthier Destenay, the First Gentleman of Luxembourg proudly poses alongside the wives of world leaders. As the husband of Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, currently the only national leader in a same-sex marriage, he stands out the crowd and has the internet buzzing for days. Could images like this help raise awareness and acceptance of pride? What if brands took a stand to showcase more same-sex couples, same-sex parents and transgender individuals in their ads? In order to answer this question, we conducted a multi-market survey with more than 3k people around the world who identified themselves as LGBT+ and explored Google Search trends.

The first thing we learned is that society is perceived as becoming more accepting of LGBT+ over the past few years by the majority of survey respondents in all countries1. Overall, awareness and acceptance of pride has risen dramatically and we see some potential evidence of this in the type of questions people asked Google ten years ago and what they ask now: If in the past it was all about “who is gay in Hollywood” and “who are the gay footballers”, now people want to know the percentage of people who are gay, where gay marriage is legal and who are the celebrities and companies that support gay rights2. Similarly, queries containing “is it gay” are decreasing over time - almost 40% since 2012 in the US and over 50% in the UK3.

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There are positive changes happening across the board. The entertainment industry has Oscar-winning movies showcasing LGBT struggles as well as TV shows portraying same-sex couples and parents. Many celebrities have become advocates for the community, and one of them, Ellen DeGeneres, was even awarded the US Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama last year. Additionally, businesses are also increasingly advocating for the importance of diverse & inclusive work environments and politics have been shaken up by events like the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States and Destenay’s presence.

Nevertheless, this group continues to face many challenges. General discrimination remains a key issue across all surveyed countries. LGBT-related violence was a source of concern in four of the six countries we surveyed. In Brazil, it was the most common concern, with the country continuing to report high numbers of violence against the LGBT community. Last year, a research study by Transgender Euro showed that the country has the highest absolute numbers of killings of trans and gender diverse people in the world4. In addition, employment discrimination worried about half of the surveyed populations in Japan, Brazil and the US as well as about 40% of the LGBT+ community in the UK and Australia. Same-sex marriage was also a key topic in Australia, Germany and Japan5.

Can brands play a role in pushing for a more LGBT-inclusive society?

While one could not expect brands to solve address all LGBT-related issues, the LGBT+ community believes brands have a right in helping them face the challenges, by showcasing greater diversity6. LGBT+ friendly ads are perceived in many countries by the community as a strong tool in improving general public’s attitude. Yet, most of our respondents across the world do not feel acknowledged by brands nor represented by their ads today7.

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Our results also suggest that there is a white brand space waiting to be colored by the pride rainbow: When asked in an open-ended question which brand they perceived as the most LGBT+ friendly today, most people across all countries responded “I don’t know” or “none”. Only the minority of respondents across all surveyed countries mentioned a brand: In Brazil the most commonly mentioned brand was “O Boticário” with 11%, in the US “Target” (9%), in Australia “Qantas” (6%), in UK “Google” (3%), “Gap” in Japan (3%) and “adidas” in Germany (2%)8.

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It is clear that the community strives for more recognition, support and representation in various areas. Diversity is important and it is also good for business - could brands use this opportunity to take the stand and push society forward?

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