As social animals, we seek community and belonging. We need it. Research shows that a low sense of belonging is an even greater predictor of depression than loneliness or conflict. Visibility and representation of underrepresented communities help provide this belonging and aid community-building—which also expose us to the diversity of humanity and foster a more accepting society. Seeing marginalized communities such as the LGBTQIA+ community reflected on our screens makes a difference. LGBTQIA+ people have long experienced erasure—everything from exclusion from society, lack of representation in the media, and discrimination in law. 

Homosexuality has only been decriminalized in some countries in recent years. Activists, teachers, and human rights organizations have worked tirelessly toward increased acceptance and safety for the LGBTQIA+ community. But the work isn’t over. LGBTQIA+ rights are being rolled back, trans people are being murdered, and harmful rhetoric is present in the media. As queer issues gain traction, and as the community continues to experience opposition, it’s more important than ever that visibility is extended to positive representation.

Businesses can play a huge role in providing this sense of belonging to marginalized individuals through public-facing marketing campaigns – but doing this in a supportive and truly authentic way requires careful consideration. For LGBTQIA+ people, Pride Month is a time to celebrate their community, as well as to acknowledge the progress still needed. In the US, it’s celebrated annually in June to mark the 1969 Stonewall Riots that kicked off the country’s LGBTQIA+ rights movement. This can be a wonderful time for businesses to join the community in celebrating their beauty, diversity, and resilience. However, it shouldn’t be the only time that queer faces and voices are uplifted.

“If brands and organizations want to be sincere and authentic, then highlighting LGBTQIA+ people, topics, and issues needs to happen outside of Pride season,” shares genderqueer lesbian artist Ashton Attzs (they/them), who has collaborated with countless brands, from Adidas and Moleskine to Universal Music, creating magical queer utopias through their artwork. “Businesses need to show up for everyone in our community all year round—not just use Pride month as a tick-box activity.”

We’ve made significant progress in the past 50 years, but there’s still a long way to go. By taking a few simple steps, businesses can help ensure that they’re truly standing in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, rather than falling into the trap of tokenization and pinkwashing. 

Read on for 7 ways businesses can celebrate and support the queer community authentically while helping to increase brand output, loyalty, and value.

1. Seek out what matters

1. Seek out what really matters to the LGBTQIA+ community

Rainbows! Glitter! Drag Race! Yes, some LGBTQIA+ people do enjoy these things—but not all. Like any other community with shared experiences, queer individuals aren’t a homogenous group. They have a diverse range of interests, needs, and priorities. With cis white gay men occupying a visible space in the mainstream, LGBTQIA+ content can often be dictated by their tastes—and even these tastes are often assumptions. “Without any presumptions, seek to understand the issues that are top of mind and the outcomes that [queer people] are looking for personally and in the world,” advises author and DEI consultant Lily Zheng (they/them).

To avoid stereotypes rooted in homophobic tropes, conduct research into the real desires of the community through focus groups, surveys, and qualitative consumer research. You could contact members of the community through social media or reputable agencies—but it’s good practice to pay participants for their time and contributions. And remember that there are many sub-communities under the umbrella of LGBTQIA+! 

Cultivating a sense of belonging is all about connecting with audiences on a community level, rather than merely an individual level. This can drive long-term impact and, ultimately, could change lives. Consider making feedback forms easily accessible so that information can flow in both directions—that way, your business is constantly learning about the changing priorities of the LGBTQIA+ community. Another option could be hosting regular events, bringing in notable figures and discussing topics that impact the community. This can help engage your queer audiences all year round and build research that can be applied across a range of projects.

2. Include LGBTQIA+ people

2. Include LGBTQIA+ people in front of the camera and behind the scenes

Visibility is crucial, but lasting change often needs to be driven by individuals behind the scenes. “We need people who have the ambition to create a better place for everyone at every level of every establishment,” says Cora Hamilton (they/them), co-founder and creative director of LGBTQIA+ talent agency Uns*. “In fashion, that means we need LGBTQIA+ people in every corner—in stores, on billboards, in board rooms, in leadership positions, everywhere.”

For example, your commitment to representing queer individuals in your marketing should extend beyond the camera lens and into every element of your business—from the creative talent involved in executing photoshoots, written articles, and videos to the decision-making and strategy behind the campaigns.

Allies should use their voice to stand in solidarity with marginalized communities, but it’s important to know when not to take up space. Listen to LGBTQIA+ people and platform others when appropriate.

3. Champion Pride networks

3. Champion Pride community networks

It’s key that social learning takes place in your workplace. Through peer-to-peer conversations in safe spaces, queer individuals and allies can connect, learn from one another, and help build community.

Many LGBTQIA+ people may have grown up feeling that they’re alone in their experiences because they never saw anyone who looked like them. Once in the workplace, they can feel that they can’t be out for fear of discrimination. These networks may help allow everyone to feel welcome and supported in their work environment.

Workplaces are most successful at helping everyone thrive when the culture of inclusion trickles down from the top. If senior leaders and directors give vocal support for diversity, equity, and inclusion networks, LGBTQIA+ employees are more likely to feel as if the entire organization truly supports them as their authentic selves.

4. Hire LGBTQIA+ consultants

4. Hire LGBTQIA+ consultants and creatives to advise on and review policies, strategies, and content

We can’t know everything, and everyone needs a guiding hand sometimes. Even with LGBTQIA+ people offering support from within your organization, it’s important to remember that a few individuals can’t fully represent an entire community. Hiring trained professionals can offer guidance and help make sure that you’re providing beneficial representation. For example, your business could work with a DEI firm like The Rainbow Disruption, which offers support with strategy development, coaching for executives, and inclusive recruitment.

“Specialist consultants, while not able to fully represent any community on their own, can help ensure that a brand’s strategy and approach avoids the most obvious and damaging pitfalls,” says Zheng. “More importantly, if these consultants are given resources and [are] empowered to use them, it can help brands more quickly build trust between themselves and the communities they seek to benefit.”

It can be tempting to take shortcuts, especially when under pressure. However, keep in mind the time and emotional energy that can be demanded from you when putting out fires. It’s far better to be prepared and take proactive precautions than to be caught in a cloud of reaction.

5. Support LGBTQIA+ collaborators

5. Support LGBTQIA+ collaborators throughout the journey

To stand in true solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, be prepared to support people from the initial commission of the campaign until after the work has been released. You could host a safeguarding meeting with all participants beforehand to discuss how you’ll consider everyone’s wellbeing and address any areas of concern, as well as arrange regular check-ins and feedback sessions. 

“It’s about making sure that everyone’s wellbeing is being prioritized through good communication about anything that the people in the video are not comfortable with, on the day of shooting and then afterward as well,” says Maxine Heron (she/her), marketing manager at gender-free makeup brand Jecca Blac.

Following activation of any public-facing campaigns or content, it’s important to continue to consider the needs of the individuals and the community. Negative reactions from the wider public are possible—but how your business reacts is important. Speak with the queer talent involved and consult your LGBTQIA+ audience network to provide an appropriate and authentic response. This could include publishing a statement of support, hosting a relevant discussion, or donating to a related cause.

6. Transparency and accountability

6. Approach growth with transparency and accountability

It’s admirable to have positive intentions to grow your brand as a more inclusive business that champions marginalized communities. However, in the face of historical injustice or past mistakes, this can be a fool’s errand without adequate accountability that acknowledges harm and rebuilds trust. It’s crucial to communicate to your community and co-workers that you’re aware of the business’s past failures and endeavor to make amends in order to move forward in good faith. This could involve rebuilding relationships with certain communities through outreach or releasing a public statement that outlines specific shortfalls and the steps that your business will now take to improve going forward.

Zheng states: “Communities’ relationship to a brand that has harmed them in the past will never improve if that brand maintains that no harm ever occurred or acts like past harm is by default water under the bridge.”

Following this acknowledgment, you could create and implement a plan that directly benefits the communities harmed by past errors, with clearly defined and measurable success outcomes that can be communicated to your audiences. While this process will be beneficial for your business, it’s crucial that any strategies to make amends place the needs and wellbeing of marginalized communities front and center.

“Let the community decide what that looks like and how they’ll determine success,” adds Zheng. “Doing so builds trust and serves as a powerful first step in rebuilding the relationship between the brand and the community. Continuing to take action in this way, while slowly building in value to the brand with each initiative, will strike a sustainable balance between accountability and shared value.”

7. Give back

7. Give back to the LGBTQIA+ community all year round

It feels good to give and, with most businesses functioning within a capitalist framework that inherently oppresses LGBTQIA+ people, it can make a real difference for your business to give back to the queer community.

“A positive experience I’ve had working with a brand was when they donated 100% of the proceeds from our collaboration to an LGBTQIA+ charity,” says Attzs. “Obviously, not every brand can do that. If it’s a smaller brand, then it might be a percentage of the profits.”

As a result of an ongoing wage gap and higher levels of poverty among LGBTQIA+ people, queer people will disproportionately experience the current cost-of-living crisis, not to mention the effects of housing instability, mental health issues, and unemployment. With governments often failing to provide sufficient support to queer individuals, non-profit organizations and grassroots community groups are filling in the gaps. 

Here’s a list of some organizations and groups that advocate for the needs of LGBTQIA+ people that you can support.