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Five ways consumer brands can become more queer-friendly

An LGBTQ-inclusive lingerie expert shares three small suggestions and two slightly bigger ones.

Five ways consumer brands can become more queer-friendly
[Photo: Flickr user Elvert Barnes]

Pride started as a radical protest in New York City to assert the dignity, humanity, and equality of LGBTQ people. Since then, however, it’s been commodified–especially by brands–as a monthlong festival that gives companies a chance to appear inclusive and diverse each June, simply by decking their storefronts and websites in rainbow flags and shouting “Happy Pride.”

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Those tactics don’t always resonate with queer consumers who, after all, are queer 12 months a year. There’s value in dedicating a month to raising social consciousness, but there’s even more value (including the kind you can see on a balance sheet) to meaningfully representing the significant chunk of the population that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual. As the beauty industry, for example, is finally coming around to discover, it just doesn’t make business sense to ignore them. Indeed, market researchers have found that LGBT households spend more than non-LGBT households and estimate queer American’s combined spending power at some $965 billion.


Related: 7 execs on how companies can celebrate Pride without pandering


Inclusivity isn’t always queer (but should be)

Nevertheless, LGBTQ people remain consistently marginalized across many consumer industries, including in my own, lingerie. All the “body positivity” marketing we’ve been seeing from fashion and beauty retailers so far hasn’t translated into greater LGBTQ inclusion. Not only are brands that are explicitly queer-focused brands largely absent from major trade shows and industry publications, they’re also rarely sold in boutiques or department stores. There’s a kind of enforced invisibility at work here, one implying that queer people don’t exist or at least don’t buy lingerie. Yet the success of companies like Chromat and TomboyX indicate the exact opposite is true. LGBTQ customers not only exist, but brands that welcome and encourage their patronage go on to thrive.

It’s not just a business matter, though. When historically marginalized people see themselves represented in mainstream imagery–in lookbooks, editorials, on a company’s website, and so on–it  validates and acknowledges their existence, a sign that they are worth being noticed and catered to. We know that representation when it comes to size and skin color matters. Why should gender identity and sexuality be any different?

Still, for brands that are new to inclusivity, expanding their horizons can seem daunting. What does being LGBTQ-inclusive look like? And what changes can brands make for the long-term? For those wondering how to get started, here are three small recommendations that are easy for companies to incorporate into their branding, marketing, and work culture, plus two bigger suggestions that may take a bit longer to implement. But all are worthwhile to make everyone feel more welcome.


Related: Can the beauty industry make over the gender norms it created?

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Three easy changes . . .

  1. Use gender-neutral language. It can take some practice, but once you get used to it, this semantic shift is easy to maintain, and your trans, genderqueer, and non-binary customers will appreciate it. For example, instead of saying “she” or “he,” use pronouns like “they” or “them.” Similarly, when responding to customer service inquiries or emails, don’t assume the customer’s gender. Before automatically responding with honorifics like “Mr.” or “Ms.” or “sir” or “ma’am,” ask yourself if you’re certain they fit the person you’re speaking with (or better yet, scrap them entirely).
  2. Don’t assume your customers are heterosexual or even in relationships. Especially around holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas, brands tend to use language that assumes everyone belongs to a straight, nuclear family. But many of your customers may be gay or non-binary or even asexual. Don’t assume your female customers automatically have husbands and boyfriends or that your male customers don’t. Words like “spouse” and “partner” are always suitable if you’re unsure.
  3. Keep talking about LGBTQ issues outside of June. During Pride month, every brand is proud to wave its rainbow flags for all to see, but what about the other 11 months? Your queer customers don’t disappear on July 1st. Show that your investment in the community goes beyond the bare minimum by being inclusive all year round.

Related: Brands still haven’t figured out how to talk to LGBTQ consumers


. . . And two bigger ones

  1. Use more diverse models, especially on the axes of sexuality and gender expression. Your brand imagery is your calling card. The photos you use to market your brand and its products and services are more effective than any press release when it comes to showing what your company values and who it’s trying to market to. No matter what you’re selling, chances are that images of human beings will feature in your marketing campaigns in some form or another. So think about what they should look like. Be willing to show same-sex couples in your advertisements (even when the message isn’t about a LGBTQ-focused product or initiative!) or ads featuring non-binary, trans, or genderqueer people.
  2. If you sell things that people wear, offer fit notes for a range of bodies. This is crucial for apparel or footwear retailers. And while it’s certainly the most time-intensive suggestion on this list, it’s also the one that stands to make the biggest impact on customers. A good example of a company that does this is Bluestockings Boutique, one of the first lingerie e-tailers for the LGBTQ community (in full disclosure, I’m friends with its founder), which offers fit notes for trans-feminine people on items like underwear. It’s neatly incorporated onto the site alongside other information on size and fit.

Becoming a more LGBTQ-friendly consumer brand isn’t impossible, and you don’t need to get it right overnight. Queer people will be paying attention long after Pride month ends. We aren’t going anywhere.


Cora Harrington is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular intimate apparel blog The Lingerie Addict and author of the forthcoming book In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love LingerieFollow her on Twitter at @lingerie_addict.

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