Outvertising explains trans liberation mission after ‘Safe To Be Me’ boycott
Marty Davies, founder of strategy consultancy Smarty Pants and co-director of events at Outvertising – a not-for-profit LGBT+ advertising and marketing advocacy group – reflects on how it inspired more than 100 LGBTQ+ rights organizations to ditch the UK government’s self-proclaimed first-ever global LGBT+ conference. Dubbed ‘Safe To Be Me,’ the conference was shunned in response to the government watering down a ban on conversion therapy.
The trans and non-binary members of the LGBT+ community must be supported
‘Safe To Be Me’ was scheduled to take place in London this June to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights within the UK and around the world. It was said to “focus on making progress on legislative reform.” The government was seeking sponsors for the event, however it was struggling to secure those given its record on LGBTQ+ rights. Most notable are the delays and failure to substantially reform the Gender Recognition Act, which means the process of gender recognition remains unnecessarily medicalized – where someone must obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to be recognized legally in their gender identity. The Women and Equalities Committee made this clear in their inquiry on the reform of the Gender Recognition published in December last year.
Then, on 31 March (International Trans Visibility Day), a leaked document revealed that the government was set to quietly ditch plans to legislate against so-called conversion therapy. The fierce backlash caused them to swiftly U-turn, but it soon became clear that the ban would only include gay, lesbian and bisexual people – leaving trans, intersex, non-binary and asexual people vulnerable to harmful non-therapeutic practices. It was yet another attempt to divide the community.
It was at this point that LGBTQ+ groups across the spectrum, channeling an immense amount of anger, were spurred into collective action. Our organization, Outvertising, called for sponsors to withdraw support for the event in solidarity with trans people. Soon after, over 100 LGBTQ+ rights organizations spoke out against it and said they would no longer attend.
Why was it important for us to speak up and speak out on this? Outvertising is a fully volunteer-led organization that exists to make advertising and marketing completely LGBTQ+ inclusive. We help to advise brands how to support the LGBTQ+ community in authentic and meaningful ways. It was clear to us that any brand sponsoring this event would be doing harm to the community – being complicit in a pinkwashing PR exercise. And so we took unprecedented measures for our organization to recommend that groups and brands back out or decline any sponsorship commitments. The government was forced to cancel the event just days later.
We believe passionately that LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation is important for brands to be successful. Let me give you three big stats that should be driving your thinking in this area:
40% of the general population feel that the advertising industry does not accurately portray people of different gender identities (source: Simpson Carpenter Research)
45% of consumers under the age of 34 say they are more likely to do repeat business with a LGBTQ+-friendly company (source: Think with Google)
Three out of four tested LGBTQ+-themed ads outperform generic ads in driving brand recall (source: Hornet & Nielsen, 2018 study)
The simple truth beyond the clear ethical case for LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation is that it brings with it a commercial success for brands.
International Trans Visibility Day saw trans and non-binary people the subject of yet more attacks on their rights and bad-faith framing. Genitals and women’s safety in toilets continue to be the warped lens through which a national moral panic plays out. All while suicide rates, violent assaults and delays and barriers to access gender-affirmative healthcare pass by without mention. Our trans and non-binary siblings are sidelined, their lives dissected and debated without them even being present.
Visibility matters. We know that when people know lesbian and gay people they have much more positive attitudes toward them in general than those who do not know any.
There is no robust data on the UK trans population, but it’s tentatively estimated that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK (source: 2018 government equalities report). But with many not personally having a trans friend, family member or colleague, visibility in advertising and marketing is even more valuable for trans people. Brands can play an important role in usualizing trans visibility and gender nonconformity – such as seeing trans and nonbinary people do the stuff we all do, including drinking Guinness, licking their Kentucky Fried fingers and celebrating Christmas.
Some notable trans-inclusion campaigns over the past few years include Starbucks’s #WhatsYourName campaign, which celebrated trans people trying out their chosen names while they order coffee. This also gave back by helping fund the trans charity Mermaids with product-linked donations. A Gillette ad shows a trans man being taught to shave for the first time by their father. And Nike Women celebrated non-binary dancer Honey Balenciaga voguing in their new line of clothing.
In the absence of the right government support and action, all of us at Outvertising are encouraging brands to do more – to support and advocate for the whole LGBTQ+ community in this, the 50th year since the UK’s first pride march. Yes, drape your logo in the pride flag – make it the intersex progress flag. But do make sure your advocacy isn’t hollow. Are you creating a supportive environment for trans and non-binary colleagues in your own organization?
Some guidance to help you get it right:
Provide support for and to allow employees to state their gender pronouns in their communications eg in email signatures
Make sure there is inclusive language in all employment documentation, and specifically trans-inclusive language
Have a stated transitioning policy and process
Provide trans-inclusive health benefits including gender-identity cover, offering support if NHS-provided services are insufficient – for example, counseling and hormone monitoring
Provide gender-free bathroom(s)
Make sure non-binary-identifying employees can have their chosen identity recognized on all company systems
Do be mindful that with heightened visibility comes heightened vulnerability for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. This makes active allyship crucial to trans liberation.
If you’re queer or an active ally then we’re here. Join our growing Outvertising community and help us make advertising and marketing completely LGBTQ+ inclusive.
LGB with the T. Always.