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Author: Steph Bottoms, Senior Manager, Multicultural/LGBT Communications Golin

LGB… and T

Posted October 24, 2016

On the heels of the one year anniversary of national marriage equality, another huge LGBTQ rights fight has emerged and its battleground is the bathroom.

In March 2016, the state of North Carolina passed a law that eliminates anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and specifically states that individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates. As a result, the state has seen protests and boycotts: PayPal has canceled plans for an expansion, the NBA and NCAA have moved athletic events, and musicians like Bruce Springsteen have canceled concerts. The Charlotte Observer estimates the state’s economy could see losses of $500 million in 2016 as a result of this legislation.

While the financial impact to North Carolina businesses and taxpayers is undeniable, it’s important to understand how this affects more than just people’s wallets. And as brands and communicators that are eager to target LGBTQ consumers beyond Pride Month, it’s important to understand the evolution of the community as it relates to the nuances of each subgroup and the current and emerging issues that we face.

The most publicized and criticized portion of the “the bathroom bill” targets those who identify as transgender or non-cis or gender non-conforming, meaning they don’t identify with the sex assigned at birth. And it has nothing to do with being gay.

This is a crucial distinction. Historically, gender and sexuality are often discussed in the same conversation, so it would make sense that smaller minorities like those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, have banded together for larger visibility. The community extends beyond this even – as indicated in its every-growing acronym LGBTIQA+ – to include other sexual minorities, such as asexual and intersexual individuals, and those who prefer the umbrella non-label “queer.”

But now, we are seeing the trans community become more visible in pop culture and in mainstream news, leading to growing support that is independent of the larger LGBTQ community. A new USA Today survey shows that 62% of millennials (age 18-35) agree that they should be able to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

As the visibility of the trans community continues to grow and trans people as a distinct target audience is established, education is important. It’s a matter of sexual orientation (LGB) vs. gender identity (T). Simply, for ourselves, who we are vs. to whom we are attracted. And to the public whom we meet in bathrooms: what I look like vs. who I love. Emma Green from The Atlantic is astute to point out “sexual orientation is fundamentally private—the sex people have, and who they have it with, largely happens out of the public eye. The experience of being trans, by contrast is public.” To understand the difference is imperative, as diverse marketing efforts will continue to target audiences that are becoming more niche.

Three things marketers ought to consider when communicating to LGBTQ consumers:

1. Educate yourself. Beyond consumer behavior and purchasing power, understanding the issues and needs of the community is crucial in order to create strategies that are targeted, authentic and thoughtful.

2. Engage the experts. Enlisting LGBTQ marketing professionals can not only provide creative, on-target thinking but ensure that existing strategies are sensitive to the current community landscape and will resonate with the target.

3. Try not to generalize. When marketing to a group of consumers, it’s difficult to not make decisions based on the collective. For LGBTQ consumers, it’s important to acknowledge and practice sensitivity when targeting subgroups.