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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

LGBT: the global momentum

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) demographic is gaining significant traction in its quest for equality. Both negative and positive factors are building momentum towards an inflection point – a moment of dramatic change in expectations, responsibilities and market opportunities.

Is this too bold a projection? Not if you focus on LGBT through the global lens of STEEP forces – that is society, technology, economics, environment and politics. By connecting the STEEP dots a pattern emerges of pumped-up volume on diversity, gay and gender rights and the outing of individuals, companies and countries. Companies need to tune in to these converging forces to plan for the future. Let’s look at them individually:

Society
“Adam Lambert, whose attention-grabbing run on American Idol was largely interpreted as a referendum on tolerance… Not everyone has to be a Lambert fan to appreciate the power of his position to influence our cultural and social attitudes for the better…” Out.com, 2010, describing Lambert in its 4th Annual Power 50.

Remember the media frenzy about Ellen DeGeneres’s sexuality? That was 13 years ago. Today Modern Family’s Lily and her two-daddy lifestyle hardly raises an eyebrow and episodes of Will & Grace are one of South Korea’s favourite imports.

Tolerance is bubbling along an interesting spectrum of socio-cultural sites. But still, according to Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) president Jarrett Barrios, advertising agencies and their corporate clients are lax in creating mainstream TV ads for LGBT consumers. “The issue is visibility,” he says. “If you were a Martian come to Earth right now, and if you were to just watch the TV for 24 hours, you’d have no idea gay folks were a part of this country.”

In the music world, lifestyle authenticity rules. Ricky Martin’s coming out earlier this year, Lady Gaga’s embrace of bisexuality and Adam Lambert’s Glam Nation tour selling tickets from NYC to Peoria to Tokyo and Osaka are each working hard to nix homophobia.

Moving from entertainment to religion the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), based in the UK, is campaigning internationally for ecumenical tolerance, justice and equality. One issue they champion is the right of same-sex couples to adopt a child – a taboo in many countries both progressive and conservative. In August LGCM applauded a precedent-setting ruling by the Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, which prevented the Catholic Care charity from discriminating against gay and lesbian couples applying for adoption.

“If trying to initiate a brand relationship with the LGBT audience the net may open the door… In countries where the closet remains closed the net is a safety net, a way to find a supportive community beyond provincial cultural taboo”

Be alert to same-sex couple adoption as a marker to monitor. As more countries and institutions accept the adoption rights of gay and lesbian families we expect a tipping point where major cultural values will shift. Smart marketers will need to be aware of and sensitive to this more inclusive definition of family.

Technology
“The arrival of Rachel Maddow in the Apple App Store several weeks ago signalled one giant leap for lesbiankind. Finally, official lesbian-made content on your iPhone.” Posted on AfterEllen.com, 9 July.

The web’s endless buffet presents the LGBT individual with an affirming array of affinity-linked choices: gay news, travel, zines, history, help centres, scholarships, blogs, advocates, dating, music. If you are trying to initiate a brand relationship with the LGBT audience the net may open the door. A June survey of close to 2,500 Americans conducted by Harris Interactive found gays and lesbians to be more active online than heterosexuals. They frequent blogs more often – 54% versus 40%. Facebook is a big favourite and for business connections 16% of straights use LinkedIn compared to 22% of gays and lesbians.

In countries where the closet remains closed the net is a safety net, a way to find a supportive community beyond provincial cultural taboo. Technology as a force for freedom and empowerment for gays is captured in this quote by Chung-Chuan Yang in a paper he wrote while at the Yuan Se Institute of Technology in Taiwan: “In reality, the internet has partially achieved what mass media have failed to do – allowing the voices of homosexuals to be heard on an equal and objective basis. With the internet, homosexuals have assumed the control of presenting their opinions in the marketplace of ideas without the mediation of reporters and existing media organisations.”

Environment
“As a Gaygler (a member of Google’s LGBT affinity group) and a Greygler (a Googler over 40 years old), for the first time in my long career, I’m working for a company that not only recognises and values their LGBT employees, but gives those employees the tools to succeed in defining their mission, outreach, and activities…” Scott, Google Software Engineer.

IBM, Google, Morgan Stanley, Cisco and BT Group have been hailed by the International Lesbian Gay Chamber of Commerce (IGLCC) as the five most LGBT-friendly companies in the world. Collectively these brands represent over 640,000 employees. They are recognised in the IGLCC’s 2010 Equality Index as leaders in institutionalising a “climate change” of gender equality in the global business environment. This is only the second year for the Index but we project it will steadily grow in stature as an important mirror for international corporations as they assess their own ecosystem of diversity and equality offered to their workforce. This formal LGBT-friendly recognition is especially important in the American marketplace where 78% of LGBT consumers say they are more likely to do business with companies that have a reputation for fostering a welcoming work environment for gays and lesbians.

Economics
“Whether you are choosing a grocery store or buying a pair of jeans or an airline ticket, give your hard-earned dollars to companies that are committed to our equality.” Joe Solmonese, president, Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

The power of the LGBT wallet is impressive, although nailing down the exact global buying power of gay and lesbians is near-impossible. The International Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, representing 15 countries and 55 million consumers, claims the purse is $2.1 trillion. Another credible guesstimate comes from a twenty-country research study, 2010 Out Now Global LGBT, which sizes the market as 6% of all sales worldwide. In the US Witeck-Combs Communications and Packaged Facts project $743 billion in total buying power for the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adult population in 2010. By 2012 that number will reach $2 trillion if Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is correct. Huckaby’s projection is based on surveys of PFLAG’S 200,000 members.

“The power of the LGBT wallet is impressive, although nailing down the exact global buying power of gay and lesbians is near-impossible. The International Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, representing 15 countries and 55 million consumers, claims the purse is $2.1 trillion”

Whatever the worldwide sales figure is, nurturing brand loyalty is always paramount to a company’s success. We believe the US LGBT market sentiment is also reflective of the global consumer’s mindset. Buying decisions are based on companies and brands who do not discriminate against the LGBT lifestyle – “70% of gay men and lesbians report that they have switched products or service providers because they found out the company had engaged in actions that are perceived as harmful to the gay and lesbian community,” according to Packaged Facts. With that in mind, it will be interesting to follow how far the recent call for a boycott of Target over the retailer’s donation to anti-gay political candidates will hamper sales. As of writing, Target has been removed from the Human Rights Commission’s list of gay-friendly companies touted in their LGBT Buying for Equality Guide 2010. This is a perfect segue to…

Politics
“There is still a land of opportunity, friends - it’s called Texas,” Governor Rick Perry said this summer. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation… Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?” The Texas Tribune, 30 August.

The good, the bad and the ugly all surface in politics when talking LGBT. Luckily in 2010 for the sake of human rights it is getting harder to hide injustice. In a nanosecond an individual, community, company or country’s bad deed or inflammatory words travel the globe via the internet and satellite TV. As gay travel writer Mike Luongo told the Gay Times: “You see a lot of bad things in the media, but if we look at President Ahmadinejad [who claimed there is no homosexuality in Iran] just the very fact that he said certain things meant it had to be covered by the media throughout the world, and that itself created a dialogue that wasn’t there before.” Another case in point is Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill with its death penalty. Now stalled, the legislation ignited spontaneous global protest including threats to stop $50m in development aid.

Advocates for and against legalising same-sex marriage continue with vociferous political debate. Around the world in 2009/2010 the momentum to extend the legal rights of marriage to gays and lesbians has picked up speed. The governments of Argentina, Portugal, Iceland, Mexico City and Canada now fully extend the same rights to LGBT couples as heterosexuals. Still, in the US only five states – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa – have not limited marriage exclusively to one man and one woman. The political fur has begun to fly with the August strike-down of California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage ban. Expectations are the case may eventually migrate to the US Supreme Court.

As the STEEP forces intertwine the LGBT momentum for equality and justice builds. Is your company on the leading edge of this positive change?

Vickie Abrahamson co-founded consumer trends consultancy Panoramix Global with colleague Mary Meehan. The pair previously founded Iconoculture. Check out parts one and two of the trends series here and here.

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