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Inside Queer Ad Folk’s mission to ‘hang giant, glittering arrows above’ LGBT+ staff

Queer Ad Folk is a project shining a light on LGBT+ talent in the advertising industry, helping up and comers see people like themselves thriving out there. Created by John Osborne and Oli Rimoldi in partnership with Outvertising.

The Queer Ad Folk series aims to improve the visibility of LGBT+ people in advertising and encourage greater openness

Queer Ad Folk is a project created in partnership with Outvertising that will talk to LGBT+ adland VIPs about their experience of being queer in the advertising industry. The project aims to improve the visibility of LGBT+ people in advertising and encourage greater openness. Its creators John Osborne and Oli Rimoldi explain why it is so needed.

As the adage goes – it’s hard to be something you can’t see. And when you’re an invisible minority, like the LGBT+ community are, it can be difficult to spot someone like yourself out there in the boardrooms and beyond.

Queer Ad Folk wants to put an end to all that.

We’ll be hanging giant, glittering arrows above LGBT+ people who are thriving in the industry to act as beacons for up-and-comers. Figuratively speaking, of course. To be more accurate, QAF will be a bit more subtle with a series of profiles exploring people’s thoughts and experiences of being LGBT+ in adland.

The project was created by myself, John Osborne, senior creative at Creature, and Oli Rimoldi, creative director at Mother. We met through the Outvertising mentorship scheme, and after swapping our stories it became clear that we’d both have benefited from seeing – and knowing – queer leaders to aspire to. But also to confide in. LGBT+-phobia, after all, is very much still an issue and it tends to be easier to discuss it with someone who already ‘gets’ it, rather than someone you have to educate in the process.

To be honest, even just being aware of openly queer agency people, in general, would’ve helped. We both came into the industry with no LGBT+ peers that we knew of. Which, statistically, seems improbable. What’s more likely is that the queer people dotted about were instinctively keeping that side of themselves hidden or muted – something most of us learn from a young age in order to protect ourselves.

The result can be anything from a feeling of isolation to a fear that someone like you might not ‘make it’ in this business, given the lack of role models to follow. That’s the importance of visible representation – no matter what it is about yourself that isn’t deemed ‘the norm’.

And that lack of representation likely plays a significant role in young LGBT+ people returning to the closet when they enter the workforce. In fact, as many as 41% of them do so, according to Out Now’s 2018 report.

Our hope is for Queer Ad Folk to not only improve visibility for others but to encourage more openness by empowering LGBT+ people to be their full, unedited self in the workplace. After all, studies show that being open at work can actually improve your career. A 2018 Stonewall report found that 92% of LGBT+ leaders believe being ‘out’ improved their work relationships, and a 2011 report from Harvard Business Review found that those who are ‘out’ stand a better chance of being promoted compared to their closeted peers. Because, as anyone who’s ever had to be in a closet will tell you, it takes a lot of energy to conceal and curate yourself – which ultimately leaves less mental bandwidth for you to handle everything else to the best of your abilities.

We’ll be launching Queer Ad Folk in partnership with Outvertising, the UK’s LGBT+ advertising advocacy group that not only runs the aforementioned mentorship program, but also organizes workplace training and campaigns for representation and inclusion in the ads themselves.

Together we’ve assembled a strong team of LGBT+ designers and photographers to help us bring the project to life. Shout out to all of them for their continued support.

To kick things off, we’ll be coming out this week with all manner of LGBT+ adland VIPs, hosted right here on The Drum. From then on, Queer Ad Folk will live on Instagram and Twitter @QueerAdFolk. So please give us a follow to stay up to date, and slide into the DMs if you are – or know of any – LGBT+ advertising talent we should be including to help us leave this industry a little better, and queerer, than we found it.

Co-founders of Queer Ad Folk, John Osborne is a senior creative at Creature while Oli Rimoldi is creative director at Mother.

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