Diversity Thought Leadership

Brands Must Show They Understand and Respect the LGBTQ Community, PRSA Webinar Panelists Say

PRSA recently hosted a webinar in its Diverse Dialogues series to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. Featuring some of the country’s leading LGBTQ communications professionals, the event covered how PR practitioners can engage with and support the LGBTQ community.

“Brands that do not include us and are not engaging with the LGBTQ community are starting to [be scrutinized] for why they are not being diverse and inclusive,” said panelist Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer for GLAAD, a non-governmental media-monitoring organization that fights the defamation of LGBTQ people. “I think there’s a big opportunity right now for LGBTQ inclusion,” he said.

“Inequality anywhere is inequality everywhere,” said panelist Debbie Ebalobo, director of external and financial communications for the Coca-Cola Company. While there has been progress, companies need more LGBTQ leaders, she said. “There’s usually a ton of women in PR,” but “we need people of color and then, on top of that, we need people of color who are gay in leadership positions.”

Panelist Ben Finzel, president of RENEWPR, spoke about how the Black Lives Matter movement affects the LGBTQ community, especially the Black transgender community.

“It is not enough to just speak up for one marginalized community on one topic,” he said. “We all have to take responsibility for each other. We’re not just looking at Black people and saying, ‘You have to stick up for yourselves.’ All of us understand that this is a broader issue.”

Finzel, who helped launch FH Out Front in 2004, the first global LGBTQ communications practice within an international PR firm, said that recent marches for “Black trans lives matter” have been “life-affirming.”

According to a study by GLAAD and Procter & Gamble called “LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media,” non-LGBTQ people who see LGBTQ people in ads are 70 percent more likely to support that brand.

Moreover, brands must do their homework and demonstrate that they understand and respect the LGBTQ community, Finzel said. Consumers are taking the initiative to learn and they no longer give brands a pass for anti-LGBTQ practices, he said.

Ferraro advised brands not to limit their LGBTQ marketing campaigns just to Pride Month in June. “You are not marketing to a moment,” he said. “You are joining a movement when you are involved in LGBTQ inclusion.”

Finzel agreed, stressing that it’s inadequate for brands to simply encourage an LGBTQ employee-resource group within the organization or to issue a supportive press release during Pride Month. Rather, companies must constantly demonstrate that they are giving LGBTQ people opportunities to lead, he said.

During the PRSA webinar, which was moderated by communications strategist Troy Blackwell, panelists also shared their advice for up-and-coming LGBTQ professionals: Find ways to connect with LGBTQ champions; don’t feel pressured to come out, and go at your own pace instead; lift up others; and create space for more LGBTQ professionals in the future.

Here are some resources the panelists recommended:

• The Trevor Project — This leading national organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25

• GLAAD — The world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love

• National LGBT Chamber of Commerce — The business voice of the LGBT community, and the only national advocacy organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunities for the LGBT business community

• The National Center for Transgender Equality  — Advocates changing policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people. NCTE works to replace disrespect, discrimination, and violence with empathy, opportunity and justice

• National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) — Journalist-led association working within the news media to advance fair and accurate coverage of LGBTQ communities and issue

• Out & Equal — The premier organization working exclusively on LGBTQ workplace equality

• Black Trans Org — Improves the Black trans human experience by overcoming violence and injustice in the world through the power, value and love of all people.

PRSA’s next Diverse Dialogues session is titled “LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination: The Road to the Supreme Court,” and is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Aug. 26.

Kimberly Aldunate is a senior studying public relations and advertising with a specialization in social media and marketing analytics at Florida International University in Miami. She is the 2019-2020 Chapter president for FIU PRSSA and a sunshine district ambassador for PRSSA National supporting Chapters in Florida and the surrounding area. Follow her on Twitter @kimaldunate and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Kimberly Aldunate

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