'Alexa, am I gay?': Stonewall seeks to empower LGBTQ+ allies with voice technology

Stonewall’s first foray into voice technology is prizing education above sonic branding in its quest to embolden allies to speak up for the LGBTQ+ community.

The voice tech was unveiled by the charity’s creative agency, Mr President, at Cannes Lions today (18 June). The skill is a sonic extension of the brand’s ‘Come Out for LGBT’ campaign, which launched in September 2017 and continues to rally passive allies of the LGBTQ+ community.

Unlike many branded skills, Stonewall’s has not purposefully been designed as a ‘sonic logo’ with a remit to embolden an existing awareness campaign. Instead, the charity worked directly with Amazon to create somewhat of an aural LGBTQ+ dictionary; when asked a question such as “what does transsexual mean?” Alexa now responds with a definition informed by Stonewall.

Similarly, if a user asks a more existential question such as “am I gay?”, the voice assistant will point them towards Stonewall’s support resources.

The project has been designed to empower those who champion the LGBTQ+ community but who may be apprehensive of vocalising their support because of a fear of misspeaking.

Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer and partner at Mr President, explained: “One of the things that potentially holds a lot of the UK back from being vocal allies [of the LGBTQ+ population] is the lack of knowledge – they feel under educated, they’re worried about saying the wrong thing, some of the terminology has changed and even for people in the community there’s a lot of confusion over terms such as non-binary."

Stonewall hopes the voice technology, which will reach people predominantly in the safe space of the home, will connect most with those in rural areas, or who come from a religious or ethnic or background that has not historically welcomed those who identitfy as LGBTQ+A. In those places, Bambach contended, it’s difficult to know who to ask if you are curious about matters of sexuality and gender, “and that actually prevents people from saying anything at all.

“So the idea is you’re able to actually ask Alexa all of these things that you’ve always wanted to know, get a bit more understanding and hopefully become a better ally.”

Mr President developed the API by crowdsourcing questions via a microsite dubbed LGBTQ+A. Members of the public were encouraged to anonymously submit queries regarding the LGBTQ+ community that they’d always pondered but never asked, reassured that ‘there’s no question too silly or strange as together we learn how to become better allies for the LGBTQ+ community’.

The agency plans to extend the project into Google’s voice offering but gained a leg-up with Amazon due to the conglomerate’s pre-existing links with Stonewall. The brand is part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which helps companies create inclusive and accepting workplace environments.

“It meant we were able to get access to the programmers within Amazon and that’s allowed us to do a couple of really special things that otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do,” Bambach explained, referencing its ability to locate a number of terms within Alexa’s memory at large as well within the Stonewall skill. The development of a second, supplementary skill meant that at the Cannes unveiling, Alexa acted as Bambach’s ‘co-host’, asking the panel questions rather than answering them.

The skill will be promoted with a print ad featuring an Amazon Alexa ‘wearing’ a miniature ‘Come Out for LGBT’ t-shirt. The campaign will be heavily promoted throughout the UK during Pride celebrations and marches over the summer, with Omnicom’s Rocket leading on media.

“The fight for LGBT equality is far from over here in Britain, and we all need to play a part in making it happen,” said Holly Christie, head of corporate partnerships at Stonewall. “It’s exciting that this collaboration with Amazon on the new Alexa skill will help us reach more people and show them we all have a part to play in building a world where LGBT people are accepted without exception."

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