Is Our Painful LGBTQ+ History a Thing of the Past?

People waving LGBTQ+ flag

The UK’s LGBTQ+ history month has just finished – but is one month enough? 

February was LGBTQ+ History Month in the UK. For many it’s a time to look back on how far we’ve come, but personally it’s been an awakening of how far we’ve still got to go.

I struggled to find the right words to post during February about our collective past/future, and not for want of trying. I couldn’t work out how to empower the community, or find the energy to talk about what a month of reflection means when the present feels so overshadowing, and potentially dangerous.

Even with remembrance, celebration and education freely available every day during the month, the UK government and the Equalities & Human Rights Commission seem poised to roll back transgender rights, and are even hosting private meetings with known anti-trans groups.

I mentioned some of this to my mother. She said: “Why haven’t I read about this?”

“I don’t know Mum,” I wearily replied.

Homophobic hate crimes went up 210%, and transphobic hate crimes rose by 332% between 2015 and 2021 in the UK.

The Council of Europe has stated that the UK is a country of concern over “extensive attacks” on LGBTQ+ rights – calling out in particular our media coverage as a key issue with “mainstream newspapers [running] one or more anti-trans articles every day.”

The power to do something

So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. If the media is part of the issue, and many of us find ourselves working in that world, then surely we have the power to do something about it?

LGBTQ+ History Month saw so much great content foregrounding LGBTQ+ trailblazers, from museum-curated history lessons to full-blown libraries of content, ground-breaking magazine cover shots (shout out to the awesome Jordan Rossi) and even Olympics-level sports coverage.

So, what can we add? If we’re curating the narratives and strategies for today’s influential brands, how do we make our day jobs work for the greater good?

True progress calls for year-round promotion, celebration and pride.

I realize now that I couldn’t talk about LGBTQ+ history during the month of February because 28 days is not enough. The anti-LGBT rhetoric is year-round, so we need to be too.

If you work in advertising or marketing you are in a privileged position, influencing what people see and thus how the world is portrayed every day.

Maybe that sounds cliché, or overblown, but if you make a thing that people look at, you get to decide what they’re seeing.

If our mainstream media is portraying LGBTQ+ lives as something to fear, we have a platform to show people love, care and joy instead.

So, how exactly are we going to do that?

  1. Listen to LGBTQ+ folk: Go check out all the content linked here, but also hunt out your new favorite trans podcast, gay author or gender non-conforming influencer. If you open your eyes and ears to LGBTQ+ creators, you will understand how to include them in your work with confidence.
  2. Give space for all voices: Hire/work with/empower people of all genders and sexualities, and encourage them to bring that side of themselves to projects. LGBTQ+ consumers are not a niche, so you should be talking their language at all times. Lived experience helps a lot.
  3. Show up every day: Educate that colleague or client, make that brief include LGBTQ+ people (especially if they didn’t ask it to), and push for queer and proud work as you hang your pride flag all year round. This is a 24/7/365 fight; you can’t win it if you only show up two months of the year. We all need to be vocal, and this is not just for queer folk. Allies are key to this.

I encourage you to pay attention to what you’re consuming, listening to and reading. Remember that the media too often makes us think about LGBTQ+ issues as talking points, culture wars, equal debates – but they’re not.

I have the pleasure of working with WPP Unite, which brought a campaign called ‘LGBTQ+ HisStory, HerStory, TheirStory and more’ to our screens during February to tell the real stories behind our history, present and future through Instagram. It’s awesome content, and well worth a read, but now as the month comes to an end I recognize these stories shouldn’t have an expiration on February 28.

Every single headline, bad policy and strongly-worded ‘opinion’ focuses on the topics, not the people they effect, but it’s the people that will change the world. Like you, and me, and my mum.

We can make our painful LGBTQ+ history a thing of the past, so our future is for everyone.

- Jamie Hill is Creative Inclusivity Director at VMLY&R COMMERCE

Originally published in The Drum