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Watch Your Language When Approaching the LGBT Market

When talking about a community where being “out” is “in,” it’s no wonder marketers can sometimes get the language wrong, especially when acceptable terms change quickly as awareness of LGBT issues evolves. Even gay and lesbian people are sometimes confused about which word or phrase is the best choice in 2013. So before you or your CEO speaks to a reporter about that new ad or TV spot, or about how diversity awareness has become part of your brand, here’s what you should know:

 Out In Why


“Sexual Preference”

“Sexual Orientation”

Apartment living is a lifestyle. Being gay isn’t. The terms “lifestyle” and “preference” imply a choice, which is a sensitive issue to gay people
who do not see their sexuality as something that was optional.



There is a lot of discussion about being “tolerant” of gay people, but
that term is starting to strike a sour note with LGBT people and supportive progressives who believe it sounds judgmental more than inclusive. Do you “tolerate” someone you respect and want to know better? Or do you simply accept them for who they are?

referring to
a legally
wed person)

“Husband”/  “Wife”

Not everyone is comfortable with what to call the spouse of a gay
person, both legally married and not. Even the Associated Press got itself into hot water by announcing an editorial policy that they
would NOT use the words “husband” and “wife” to describe legally
wed gay people. A backlash from their own reporters as well as gay groups made them reverse that decision. Progressive brands
recognize that these words do apply to gay marriages today.



The term has evolved as understanding of transgender people has
become more educated. The change to using “transgender” points
out that one’s gender is not about sexuality, which is a separate factor. Some of today’s ads creating the most controversy are ones that
have unintentionally offended transgendered Americans.

“GLBT” or “Queer”


“LGBT” or
“Gay &

In a 2012 Community Marketing Inc. survey, LGBT consumers chose “LGBT” and “gay and lesbian” as the most preferred terms for referring
to the community as a whole. Although other classifications are being included in some circles, making the acronym LGBTQ or LGBTQIA,
these are not widely used yet and even some members
of the community do not fully understand their meaning. But stay
tuned. Terminology changes as laws, rights, and sensitivities evolve.

so gay!”


Sadly this phrase has worked its way into the vernacular of some
younger Americans, but it’s not okay. No matter how many times or
in what context it’s used, it can’t be divorced from its origins of
equating “gay” with “uncool” and it is offensive to most gay people. What’s really in is respect: respect for diversity and for all people no matter how different from us they may be. Brands are catching on as enlightened kids once again are leading the charge to a better understanding by ditching this dated and hateful phrase.

Brad Fuller is US managing director at full-service marketing agency RIVET Global. A 20+ year marketing industry veteran, he has worked at numerous agencies, including Momentum, Glennon, and Zipatoni. His client experience covers a broad spectrum of accounts in categories from CPG to QSR, including financial services, soft drinks, hardware, beer, and baby products.

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