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LGBT History Month: why queer visibility matters

19th February 2020 by Josef Church-Woods | Content & Search

Still here, still queer

February is LGBT History Month, and as a gay man who grew up in a small, Swedish town in the 1980s and early 90s – back when cassette tapes were a thing, AIDS meant death, and same sex adoption seemed like an absurd fantasy – this is a significant time of year.

It’s a time to celebrate queer icons and activists, toasting the many LGBTQ+ trailblazers who paved the way for the rights and protections many of us now enjoy.

Brave people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé Delarverie, figureheads of the 1969 Stonewall uprising; the amazing and criminally mistreated Alan Turing who helped end World War II by cracking the Nazis’ Enigma code; and pop culture heroes like Keith Haring and Madonna, who used their art to stand up for LGBT rights and raise awareness of HIV long before it was trendy.

Shout it from the rooftops, baby…

More than anything, to me LGBT History Month is a time to be loud and proud – either as a member of the queer community or as an ally. After all, visibility and representation are cornerstones of equality, and making a point of being yourself in public is often a great reminder that there’s a lot of work left to be done before we’re all equal.

Being seen and heard is crucial (hello face glitter and peacock eyeshadow!), not just for our own wellbeing, but for those around us looking to make a connection.

Billy Porter stepping onto the Oscars red carpet in an extravagant gown might not seem hugely important. But to us freaks and uniques, knowing that there are other people like us out there – some of whom are successful and wear whatever they want, walk tall in broad daylight and speak openly about who they are – can make the difference between life and death.

Yes, life and death…

It’s no coincidence that queer kids and young LGBT+ people are much more likely to self-harm or experience depression than their straight peers, and six times more likely to die by suicide. That’s exactly why celebrations like LGBT History Month and Gay Pride are so important.

Thankfully, In 2020, openly LGTBQ+ role models, whose presence and characteristics extend beyond the scope of traditional stereotypes, are starting to get a foothold in our everyday lives. From openly gay politicians and pop stars, to drag competitions on mainstream TV and happy, proudly queer and trans film characters.

Queer representation and mainstream content…

Marketing, media, social and advertising all have leading parts to play here. As digital marketers, we understand the importance of visibility and representation at Yard. The ability to create eye-catching, imagination-sparking and emotive content is possibly the most powerful way to make a meaningful connection with an audience.

And to the queer community, seeing high street brands and big commercial companies taking proactive steps to make sure we’re represented among their customers is a big deal.

Not just catering to the pink pound (I’m looking at you, M&S Pride sandwich), but actually taking the time to listen and understand, then create thoughtful, representative content that gives LGBTQ+ people a voice.

So, who’s doing it right?

Starbucks: #whatsyourname

One great, recent example is the Starbucks #whatsyourname advert, which just won Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising award.

The advert gives us an insight into the daily life and heartbreak of a trans teenager enduring deadnaming, then trying out their new name in public for the first time. It shines a light on the lived experiences of one of the most vulnerable, abused groups in our society in a genuine and sensitive way.

Starbucks is a progressive brand in general, where trans support is concerned, offering comprehensive care for trans employees, including top surgery and other gender-confirming procedures that are often considered ‘cosmetic’ by insurers and difficult to get covered.

So well done, Starbucks…now if you just start paying your taxes, we can all go home.

Renault Clio’s same sex advert

Another good example of a big brand that has managed to portray LGBTQ people in advertising recently, without resorting to clichés, is Renault.

They released an advert at the end of last year that tells an epic, yet everyday lesbian love story unfolding over three decades.

Not a dungaree or buzz cut in sight; thank you, Renault.

Absolut Vodka

My favourite gay-friendly brand and fellow product of Sweden, Absolut Vodka, has been an LGBT ally for decades.

They started advertising in gay publications in the 1980s, when most brands wouldn’t touch the queer market with a barge pole or dream of spending their ad budget with the gay press.

They say they “celebrate the right of individuals to love whomever they choose, wherever they come from.” Awwww.

A few years ago, they teamed up with LGBT charity and advocacy group, Stonewall, to create the ‘Kiss With Pride’ campaign, raising awareness of the fact that same-sex relationships are still illegal in 72 countries.

As an established member of the rainbow family, Absolut Vodka has run numerous queer-friendly campaigns and Pride promotions, even sponsoring RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Can I get an amen up in here?

Evian: ‘Prestige’ range

Last year French bottled water company Evian released a ‘Prestige’ range, which included a bottle design featuring a queer, male couple by the Bastille, a famous landmark in Paris’ gay district, Le Marais.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

Not hugely groundbreaking, perhaps, but what caught my attention was the homophobic backlash that the design triggered. And I just love how Evian responded to it.

When one irate customer posted a video rant on Twitter that went viral, calling it “gay propaganda” before dumping the bottle in a bin, Evian smacked him down using the Dancing ASCII Man meme.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

You so SASSY, Evian. Live la France!

Johnnie Walker: ‘Marriage’

And finally, something from a while back that I think still stands up (and judging by hipster fashion, this era has made a comeback). Johnnie Walker might not spring to mind as the most obvious candidate when thinking of LGBT-friendly brands…I mean, it’s whisky; the straight man’s holy grail.

But they’ve actually produced more than one forward-thinking (for the time, at least) advertising campaign, including this 90s supermodel-tastic offering; a seemingly traditional marriage with a lesbian twist:

Ah, the 1990s.

Any others to add to the mix?

The above is just a small selection of LGBT-themed advertorial content and campaigns that I like. Perhaps you have your own favourites? We’d love to see what makes you tick, so feel free to give us a shout on social media.


What is LGBT History Month?

LGBT History Month is a national event that runs throughout February every year in the UK. It promotes equality and diversity by increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their history, lives and experiences.

It’s a chance to celebrate LGBT culture, history and activism. LGBT History Month is for everyone, including community groups, organisations, activists, service providers, LGBT people and non-LGBT people. It’s a great opportunity for local authorities, businesses and third sector organisations to show their support for the LGBT community.

You’ll find more information about LGBT History Month and how you can participate at:

lgbthistory.org.uk
lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk

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