LGBT+ and brands

June marks Pride month in the United Kingdom and as someone who was educated under the cloud of Section 28 and remembers the age of consent being lowered and then equalised through contentious debates, it is still a fortunate feeling to work at a firm that wants its people to bring their whole selves to work. 

At Stobbs we protect brands on a daily basis and brands look to be socially relevant. Naturally, consumers like brands as they are an indication of quality. Increasingly, consumers look at what a brand's values are. Of course, this can range across a number of diverse topics from climate change and commitments, paying living wages, through to support for diversity and inclusion.

Brands are keen to be seen in a positive, progressive light. Commercially, it can be very attractive and, in relation to LGBT+ rights, this is not simply trying to tap into the 'Pink Pound', with many people outside the LGBT+ community looking at a brand's stance towards inclusivity.

Brands do need to be careful though. The Court of Public Opinion can easily label marketing attempts to demonstrate support for LGBT+ rights as tokenism or blatant attempts to cash in.

Brands in the tobacco and alcohol industries may also need to tread carefully as smoking and alcohol dependence rates are higher within the LGBT+ community. They would not want to be seen as irresponsible. Although the United Kingdom has strict laws around advertising these products, the same may not be true in other countries.

Global brands may find themselves in difficult commercial positions when it comes to their LGBT+ values as in many countries same-sex intercourse is illegal, or local societies are not as accepting of LGBT+ individuals. (The decriminalisation of sexual activity between men happened in England in 1967 so what's taken us 54 years we perhaps should not expect other countries to get to in a far shorter time.)

Global brands can be very powerful but, as the saying goes, this comes with great responsibility. Brands can help shape and change public opinion. They should be careful not to have a pro-LGBT+ message at home and an anti-one in other countries. If so, the internet means people will probably find out. Brand owners may not want to break local laws, for example, the so-called 'gay propaganda law' in Russia, but they can work within these confines not to be anti-LGBT+.

Businesses should be careful not to seek to monopolise words and other features that the LGBT+ and wider communities feel are free for anyone to use. There was a backlash to the registration of the trade mark GAYMER in the United States as this is a term used to refer to a gay (video) gamer. The registration was subsequently cancelled.

It is clear that there are opportunities and risks present for brand owners. They should take a considered and unrushed approach to their brands and inclusivity, so they come across as genuine support for LGBT+ rights and not a cynical way to make money.


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