THE ART AND BUSINESS OF SPEAKING

Straight Talk on the Gay Market

Straight Talk on the Gay Market

What do the following prominent historical figures have in common: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, Hans Christian Anderson and Emily Dickinson? If you answered that they are all famous authors, you are correct. How about Michelangelo, Leonardo di Vinci and Andy Warhol? If you answered they are famous artists, you are right again. How about Cole Porter, Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein? (Composers) Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and King Richard the Lionheart? (Great rulers) Johnny Mathis, Josephine Baker and Janis Joplin? (Singers) Collectively, what did all of these high-profile individuals have in common?

Obviously, they were all enormously talented and skilled in their fields of endeavor, and most were involved in the arts—but what commonality is less obvious? Answer: In today’s world, they would belong to the LGBT community. LGBT is an acronym for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender. Are you surprised these individuals would identify with this demographic? The fact is that stereotypes don’t always apply. In most cases, a person’s outward appearance does not reflect his or her sexual orientation.

Bringing LGBT to the Forefront

 In recent years, people have become more open about their sexual orientation. Celebrities, in particular, have contributed to a positive transformation in the general public’s attitude about LGBT individuals. These familiar, influential faces are ambassadors of change, and are helping to break down clichéd norms in society. With increasing frequency, gay celebrities have been coming out of the closet to express their true identity, support gay rights, or combat America’s bullying epidemic. Whatever their motives, they have gained respect and are opening doors for other LGBT individuals to be proud and vocal about their sexual orientation.

Here are some celebrities who immediately come to mind:

• Comedian and talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell was one of the first celebrities to come out. She is an outspoken activist of same-sex civil union and LGBT adoption.

• Award-winning singer-songwriter Sir Elton John has been heavily involved in the fight against AIDS since the late 1980s. He established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $200 million.

• Talk-show host and actress Ellen DeGeneres, has been honored with numerous awards for her charitable efforts. In November 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton named her a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.

• In 2012, prominent news personality Anderson Cooper confirmed he’s gay, and very proud of it.

• In December 2013, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts and British Olympic diver Tom Daley both came out about their sexual orientation.

Now, you’re probably wondering why the LGBT community is important to you as a speaker. With America’s rapidly changing social and political landscape, it’s important to develop an understanding of this dynamic demographic for your brand, and avoid offending audience members.

LGBT: An Influential Niche

 It is estimated that approximately 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, or 15 to 16 million adults, self-identify as LGBT, based on Harris Interactive polls. So, it’s likely you will have an LGBT client or there will be LGBT attendees in your audiences. You may even book a speaking gig that focuses completely on the LGBT community. The LGBT market has $790 billion in spending power, with the third-most overall buying power after Hispanics and African-Americans. The LGBT market is larger than the Asian and American Indian markets combined. In fact, the LGBT community owns more homes and vehicles, travels more often, spends more on electronics, and has the largest disposable income of any niche market, according to research conducted by Community Marketing, Inc., in 2012-13. This prime niche has a median household income of $94,500. Eighty-five percent are DINKS (dual income, no kids) and 75 percent are heavily influenced by companies that are gay-friendly and advertise in LGBT media. Big-name retailers acknowledge that the LGBT market is ripe for business. In June 2012, the JC Penney catalog featured a Father’s Day ad showing two gay dads playing with their kids. Marriott International, Allstate Insurance and American Airlines also have launched marketing campaigns targeting LGBT audiences and gay-friendly consumers.

Most major U.S. corporations have instituted a diversity initiative, which includes LGBT employees, suppliers and customers. Recently, General Motors announced that marriage benefits would be extended to the spouses of same-sex employees, even if the pair lives in a state where gay marriage isn’t legal. Do you think the sales of General Motors’ vehicles will escalate as a result? I’ll take that bet. Other companies that continue to attract support from the LGBT community due to their pro-LGBT policies include Starbucks, Target, Amazon, Apple and Absolut Vodka, according to CMI’s 2012-13 research study.

Addressing LGBT Audiences

 I started working with LGBT customers more than 13 years ago. My hard-learned lessons have enabled me to generate millions of dollars of economic impact to my clients, and speak all over the world on LGBT consumerism. I wish I could have shortened my learning curve by attending workshops like my “Straight Talk on the Gay Market.” It takes years, and usually more than a few faux pas, to acquire the sensitivity and awareness needed to always be respectful, fully accepting and appreciative about such an important segment of the worldwide community. I’m straight, which, ironically, has worked to my advantage in dealing with my LGBT and LGBT-friendly clients. My goal is to share my knowledge with others by using an inclusive approach that is considerate of everyone who listens to me. I want the friends and family members of LGBT individuals in my audience to walk away feeling their loved ones were given the respect they deserve. It makes a difference, and can position you as a speaker who cares, and someone who clients and planners will want to book repeatedly.

Professional speakers always try to avoid obvious unacceptable terms when developing speeches that could offend audience members. Unfortunately, we frequently laugh at phrases that society has wrongfully accepted, such as “That’s so gay.” Occasionally, those same mockeries can creep on stage in the middle of a speech and offend audience members. Knowing the sexual orientation of your clients and audiences puts you ahead of the game. For example, if you had the opportunity to speak at an Apple, Inc., function, you would do your homework and learn that Tim Cook, the CEO, is one of the most powerful gay men in America. In this case, you would be mindful to use only the most appropriate terminology in your speech.

You can’t always learn a client’s sexual orientation in advance, so it’s wise to err on the side of caution at all times. Even an innocent question or assumption could kill your chances for repeat bookings with a client. I recall overhearing a casual conversation between a fellow speaker and the meeting planner who hired her. The planner announced that she gotten married and started a family, and then proudly produced a snapshot of her twin infant daughters. Assuming the planner was straight, the speaker inquired who gets up at night to feed the babies—the planner or her husband? The planner, unbeknownst to the speaker, was a lesbian and appeared noticeably uncomfortable with the question. She cut the chat short and walked away, leaving the speaker bewildered and scratching her head.

Learn the Lingo

 Whether you approve or disapprove of a person’s sexual orientation, your attitude and opinions should not interfere with being an effective, audience-centered speaker, who is sensitive to issues and attitudes about sexual orientation in today’s society, and communicates respectfully to LGBT audiences. Familiarize yourself with the appropriate terms and nuances of the LGBT community, so you can avoid making mistakes that hurt, embarrass or otherwise negatively impact your clients, meeting planners or members of your audience. In the LGBT community, “spouse,” “partner,” “same-sex couple” and “same-sex partners” are the preferred terms to describe same-sex relationships. Always refer to the mate of an LGBT person as husband/wife if the couple is legally married. Refrain from using “friend.” Avoid using the term “queer,” even though it has been embraced by the younger demographic. Instead, use LGBT or LGBTQ. Many also use LGBTQIA to include intersexed and allies (supporters of the LGBT cause).

LGBT-Friendly TERMS

 AVOID                                                 USE

Homosexual                                       Gay, gay man, lesbian

Sexual preference                               sexual orientation

Special rights                                      Equal rights

Transvestite                                        Transgender

Sex change                                        Transition

Alternative lifestyle                                LGBT

Hermaphrodite                                      Intersexed person

For more terminology, download the National Lesbian & Gay

Journalists Stylebook at www.nlgja.org/resources/stylebook.

Mya Reyes
Mya Reyes, CMP, is a speaker, trainer, founder of Straight Talk on the Gay Market, and the author of a book by the same name. Her consulting firm specializes in positioning companies to drive revenue from effective LGBT sales and marketing initiatives. She advises domestic and international entities on their LGBT outreach efforts and sales initiatives.
Mya Reyes
Mya Reyes
Mya Reyes

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