Representing Realities: Could we be doing more to represent LGBTQ+ POC?
This year marks 50 years since the first UK Pride Rally.
In that time, LGBTQ+ culture has become far more accepted, and the community much more visible, within wider society.
However, before we claim this as an outright victory for representation, it is worth questioning whether we have gone far enough. Has a key area of representation been missed?
Currently left out of wider consideration is intersectionality: the crossover of two or more areas of diversity, such as race and sexuality.
Since consumers are increasingly looking to brands for authentic representation, and as a sector that can speak to, and of, diverse audiences, the UK communications industry has an opportunity and responsibility to better represent the LGBTQ+ POC British population.
More stories = better representation.
Over the last couple of decades, LGBTQ+ representation has improved as more members of the community tell their stories. Television series', such as Channel 4’s It’s a Sin and Feel Good, and HBO Max’s Pose, have achieved huge success. Across social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, community hashtags have amassed millions of views and likes. Add to this the strong presence of LGBTQ+ POC talent across US brand campaigns, with Tan France, Lil Nas X and Indya Moore landing huge partnerships with the likes of Toyota, Gucci, and Tommy Hilfiger.
We want to see ourselves reflected across the media landscape and there is a clearly an audience and appeal for our stories.
Despite this, mainstream LGBTQ+ representation in UK brand communications remains homogenous.
A recent study* on people living at the intersection of minority identities, led by researchers at King’s College London and University College London, called out the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ ethnic minorities in British media specifically. Many feel that LGBTQ+ targeted media is dominated by representation of white gay men, leading to feelings of isolation and further marginalisation for those that do not fit this image.
This insight is invaluable for brands and agencies hoping to tap into diverse markets authentically through their creative campaigns. It is clear when a campaign has been made without someone like me in mind, despite on the surface seeking to engage the queer community.
I hear this experience echoed by many others who feel they are missing from brand and media-led depictions of the LGBTQ+ community.
Making the invisible, visible.
The reliance by campaigns on tokenistic representation is often easily spotted and dismissed as a superficial ‘tick box exercise’. The reality is that to be authentic, brands must seek to be truly inclusive.
Consistent visibility of LGBTQ+ POC talent in campaigns from brands seeking to embrace diversity would create scope to tell more stories and explore parts of the LGBTQ+ POC experience. It is this experience that would otherwise remain invisible to much of the UK population, including not just the heterosexual world, but also the wider LGBTQ+ community.
It is not unusual for LGBTQ+ representation to dismantle lingering stereotypes.
A notable effort to include diverse drag talent was made by ‘eco-conscious’ cleaning company, Method, in a campaign in 2019 (and also a winner of a coveted Creative Moment Award). The campaign effectively sought to break down gender roles in a colourful set of imagery produced with 7 ‘Drag Cleans’. The success of this campaign suggests there could be capacity for brands to display a wider spectrum of LGBTQ+ talent, including POC. Often representation can seem like a heavy topic for brands to broach, but the campaign by Method shows it can be done in a playful, celebratory way.
When seeking fresh talent for our client campaigns, we need to go the extra mile to produce authentic content. This begins with building diversity inside our own office walls but doesn’t end there.
In addition to actively recruiting from communities we hope to represent, we should remain humble about what we don’t understand.
Building long-term relationships with talent from the LGBTQ+ POC community would allow for their knowledge to feed into our work. It would also begin to ease some of the anxieties of a community that’s historically had to battle misrepresentation and prejudice on multiple fronts.
Especially where campaigns speak directly to marginalised communities, it is important to create opportunities for the right people. Even where we include LGBTQ+ talent we should be questioning whether they have been able to represent their full selves in the work; reflecting on where their experience deviates from what has been presented to us by mainstream LGBTQ+ culture and how that can be celebrated and discussed as part of the campaign.
For example, the Starbucks #WhatsYourName campaign, that addressed a lack of trans representation in the media, highlighted the experience of having a name which the lead character, James, no longer identified with.
When explored, there are millions of stories unique to the LGBTQ+ POC community that could be similarly showcased to enlighten and unite the nation.
Being authentic and taking pride in all the parts that make our community has been central to queer acceptance over the last few decades, so those of us in the communications industry can champion this in our creative work.
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