Making social media more welcoming for trans and nonbinary people

Join me in a commitment to flood our newsfeeds with powerful, positive and truthful representations of trans and queer joy.

Abe Blackburn headshot
Blackburn: 'Consider partnering with LGBTQ+ organizations to ensure you’re poised to create authentic stories.'

In the wake of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, the subsequent Florida-Disney feud and the resurgence of hostile voices like Libs of TikTok, it can feel challenging to find positive, safe spaces for trans and queer people on social media. In addition to the constant barrage of bad news, these factors contribute to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness in our community.

But it shouldn’t be this way. In fact, marketers are perfectly positioned to help create positivity in an environment that often feels bleak.

Lean into data and understand trends

There is considerable research on the harm social media can cause on young peoples’ sense of self. The past two years have continued to demonstrate the impact that consistent bad news can have on people’s mental wellbeing

The irony for trans and queer people is that social media is often the first place where many of us find community: loud and proud voices of elders showing It Gets Better, nerdy fan groups picking up on crumbs of queer subtext in TV shows (queer-baiting, it’s a thing) and resources and forums that aren’t available offline. 

But the very place that provides solace can also subject us to violent, negative narratives. It’s important to recognize that this push and pull is exhausting. Knowledge and awareness can help media companies and marketers avoid accidentally harmful contributions. 

The documentary “Disclosure” offers a pointed review of this aspect for trans voices and bodies in particular. LGBTQ+ people in the media are too often either the butt of a joke or subject to violence and death. That experience shapes how we, as a community, consume media. Look no further than the #BuryYourGays movement, which raises awareness around LGBTQ+ characters being disproportionately killed and pushes the industry to write more uplifting stories. 

Own your role (and your responsibility)

When the media has trained you to expect horrible things, and the news shows those horrible things happening, it takes a significant amount of good news and healing to balance that out.

Some of the most impactful pieces of content I’ve seen have been from brands – ads and tweets showing genuine human connection. A father teaching his son to shave for the first time with Gillette and Oreo’s shorts about the impact that parental support can have on coming out are incredible examples of how powerful human-first, story-led advertising can be. Other examples, such as an ad where a son comes out to his father under McDonald’s golden arches in Taiwan and a Doritos film that shows a father using social media to learn how to support his gay son in Mexico demonstrate how brands can have a global impact.

Each has reduced me to joyful hiccuping tears in front of my screen, immediately bookmarked for rainy days — and I know I’m not the only one.

Be authentic 

Resist ingrained urges to use trans and queer storylines to provide shock value or temporary glittery relief. We aren’t a marketing ploy. We’re a community of real people.

Instead, consider partnering with LGBTQ+ organizations to ensure that you’re poised to create authentic stories the community will be proud of. Oreo has been working with PFLAG since 2020, and Unilever and Getty Images have worked with GLAAD to empower authentic representation.

Be consistent, hold fast to your ideals and own your role as an ally

Be prepared to defend your story on all platforms – loudly, proudly, repeatedly and with active moderation. You might experience some opposition from the usual detractors. Hold steady. Continue to support what you’re doing and remember why it matters.  

Your brand’s voice is a tool — a way to spotlight the community to whom these stories belong and show them that you support them. Which means ultimately, it’s not about you.

Abe Blackburn is director of tech at The Social Element.

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