As an openly gay millennial, I’ve often struggled with fully embracing LGBT advertising messages that reduce a beautifully diverse queer community to two-dimensional stereotypes of fashionable, hard-bodied, blonde models. It’s a confession I’ve never been proud enough to voice until now, at a time of unprecedented strides in LGBT equality, and an equally strong movement within media and marketing to build support, advocacy and community.

In the era of declining print advertising and increasing digital banner blindness, it seems the most impactful way to reach the LGBT community is through 1:1 on site community building.

The shift in successful LGBT marketing is no longer just speaking at the community—but to actually become a part of it.

As a born and raised Texan, growing up gay was hardly something to celebrate. Even with a vibrant nightlife and active community, I always felt I was on the periphery of the mainstream. A member of an auxiliary group that brands tried to engage with using hunky shirtless models, homoerotic undertones and the occasional Pride flag.

As well-intentioned as these efforts were, they felt half-hearted and inauthentic. Growing up with these messages made me feel even more secluded from the rest of the world. Was I fit enough? Did I dress well enough? Was I proud enough? Was I really a member of the community I identified with?

On June 26, 2016, exactly one year after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, I attended my first Pride Parade in New York City with my partner of four years, for my 27th birthday. It was the most exciting experience of my life because it was the first time I really understood what it meant to be a proud gay man.

I remember looking left to right on the crowded street in New York’s West Village neighborhood and my eyes filling with tears. Booth after tent after sign of countless Fortune 100 corporations, were affirming me. Accepting me. Embracing me. These brands weren’t trying to sell me their products; they were there as advocates and members of my community.

That unforgettable experience shaped how I saw my community and my perception of these brands. As a marketing professional, I took home plenty of notes on what it means to connect and build advocacy with the LGBT community and the values that successful brands shared.

Equal Representation

Trends within the millennial generation suggest that the best gay outreach messaging is equality messaging, not “gay-specific” messaging. Forty-seven percent of millennials are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality-themed ad.

105644_1_busdev_culture-and-diversity-millennial-graphCommunity Building

My Pride experience didn’t make me feel like an auxiliary afterthought or an outlier. My partner, friends and advertisers all came together to not only include me, but to celebrate me.

Impactful LGBT messaging is true cultural immersion, and brands across the country have stood up to celebrate my community.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority embraced 1:1 community building while at Los Angeles Pride this year with “Virtually Fabulous.” The on-site activation brought Las Vegas to LA Pride (and attendees to Vegas) with an incredible virtual reality experience featuring interactive videos that users could choose from a number of Vegas attractions, ranging from zip lining through the Rio to bottle service at Marquee.

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Authenticity

Another value that ran through the brands whose message moved me during Pride, was unapologetic authenticity. Honey Maid did this beautifully in its “This Is Wholesome” TV spot, where it took all the negative and disapproving messages and literally created a message of love.

Inclusivity

The strongest theme that tied all these LGBT advertisers together was a message of togetherness. At NY Pride, I felt like a part of an experience that united all sexual and gender identities. This sentiment is illustrated perfectly by a San Francisco Burger King with “The Proud Whopper” that proclaims “We Are All the Same Inside.”

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As a gay millennial, equality, authenticity, inclusion and community are all values that deeply resonate with me. Marketers meaning to connect with the LGBT community will be the most successful by joining our community and joining in our celebration.