Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

New Ad Campaigns Feature LGBTQ Couples

It's year-end, which means that your company may be revisiting its marketing images and ad campaigns for the coming year. This is the perfect opportunity for your business to make steps towards inclusivity. LGBTQ individuals are incredibly brand loyal and want to see themselves represented. 

There are a few major corporations which have stood out boldly in the past few weeks with ads that have included gay and lesbian couples. Take a look at some of the ads below by fearless companies such as Hershey, Nordstrom, Sprint and Zales Jewelers and decide if this approach is something that fits with your brand:

Bernadette Smith
Understanding Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions

Unconscious bias is a sneaky thing. We're all guilty of it. If you've ever assumed someone is gay or lesbian, you're guilty of it. Yes, even "gaydar" is unconscious bias.

The "official" definition according to the LGBTQ Council is: an unquestioned or automatic assumption about an individual, usually based on positive or negative traits associated with a group they belong to, that prevents them from treating them as an individual. 

Unconscious bias can relate to every type of person - people of color, people of different religious backgrounds, races, people who are LGBTQ, people who are homeless, people with disabilities, people who are mentally ill and more. There is even unconscious bias towards the most privileged groups. And yes, we can even have unconscious bias towards people in our own "group."

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not necessarily - if we keep this to ourselves. But often in the business of customer service, unconscious bias creeps in (think racial profiling) and microaggressions occur. It's the microaggressions which can cause trouble for your company.

Direct from our survey respondents, here are just a few examples of microaggressions which can occur in LGBTQ customer service:

  • “Had the owner of one venue tell my wife that she ‘looks straight as straight can be’”
  • "Almost every hotel assumes we are not together and will book us into a two bed room, even when a single bed is specifically requested”
  • “Being told you don’t act gay or look trans as if it’s an accomplishment.”
  • “Seeing every billboard and advertisement depict straight couples as the only option.”
  • "If I walk into a men's clothing store or department, I feel like they reluctantly provide assistance and that I'm unwelcomed."
  • "I'm afraid of other people's aggression when they feel that I am in the 'wrong' area."

How are you preparing your team to avoid microaggressions?

Speaking to a Trans or Nonbinary Customer by Phone

When one of your team members is speaking to a customer on the phone and pulling up their account information, they may find that the account information references a male name when the voice on the phone sounds very female. Or vice versa. Or the person on the phone doesn't identify as male or female yet your data puts them in one of those boxes.

This unfortunately leads to lots of awkward phone conversations and being asked to transfer to a manager. Here are some comments from our survey respondents:


The phone is always the most challenging. I understand but please listen to me when I ask for you to correct it. When I explained I was not a sir he asked if I would rather be called brother.
I get, "I can't give you any information on this account. The account holder is female and you are obviously male." I get referred to managers a lot.
I'm often refused entry to things or access to my accounts because my voice doesn't match my feminine first name. I've even been TOLD by customer service that I'm NOT who I say I am.


Legally changing gender is a LOT of work and can be a significant time and money drain. Additionally, federal offices don't speak well to each other or have linked systems where a name is updated throughout. This creates challenges with transgender individuals but does not need to create major challenges for your institution. 

Training your phone CSRs to sensitively interact with the LGBTQ community is another area your institution can show inclusiveness. Here are some best practices for managing a phone call where one guest is transgender or gender nonconforming:

Internal Policies

  • Consider whether you actually need to collect someone's gender on forms, and how relevant that information actually is.
  • If it is, update your internal policies to allow for a box beyond male or female on forms. Include "other" and/or "transgender."
  • Update your internal policies to allow for titles beyond Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Dr and include Mx (the gender neutral honorific).

Customer Service Best Practices

  • Don't challenge someone's identity. If the name in your files is Danielle yet they are speaking to you with a more "male" voice, ask other qualifying questions such as date or place of birth to verify identity.
  • Avoid use of "sir" and "ma'am."
  • Mistakes happen. If your CSR does slip up and use the wrong pronoun or uses "sir" or "ma'am" inappropriately, apologize quickly with a comment like: “I'm sorry for using the wrong pronoun/name. I did not mean to disrespect you.” 
  • Don't feel the need to transfer the customer to a manager unless there are other issues that arise - it makes the transgender customer feel marginalized.

Do you have a policy in place for training your phone CSRs?

Customer Service to LGBTQ Families
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Right now in the United States, 20% of same-sex couples are raising children under the age of 18. Surveys tell us that about 50% of gay men and lesbians expect to have children in the future. With marriage equality the law of the land, having a family seems like the next logical step for many LGBTQ couples. This can have a profound impact on your customer service.

Although families have been increasingly diverse (many with single parents or children being raised by grandparents), many businesses fail to include LGBTQ families in their customer service training. Here are a few tips to ensure that LGBQ families are included.


If you run a medical office, gym, school, museum or otherwise have a form that parents/families must fill out, remember that the form should not say mother's name and father's name, but rather inclusive language such as "Name(s) of Parents/Guardians. As a lesbian parent I can't tell you how many times I've seen a form which says "Mother's Name" and "Father's Name." Not only is this exclusive to LGBTQ families, but also to single parents and children being raised by grandparents.


Train your team members to interact with all guests, including children, neutrally. This means that if the child is interacting with one of your team members, the team member should under no circumstances make a reference to the mother or father, but rather to the parent. If the team member references mommy, and the child doesn't have a mommy, that comment will make the child feel isolated and stigmatized. Your team member should not have to be corrected by a child. This can, of course, lead to a loss of business. As with gender fluidity, the best approach is neutral words. For example, if a team member says to a single child, "Do you need help finding your mommy?", that could be stigmatizing for a child with two dads. A better approach is, "Do you need help finding your adult?"


Inclusion marketing (or marketing that reflects the diversity of our society and our families) is always my recommended approach. In this case, include photos of diverse families as well as specific language and images that resonate with the community. 

Recovering from Misgendering a Guest

Misgendering is the act of using the wrong pronoun or term to describe someone's gender. An example of this is if an associate uses the word "sir" when addressing a person who identifies as female or non-binary. 

So, your team member has accidentally offended a transgender or gender nonconforming guest by using the wrong pronoun. Now you have a guest who is correcting the associate and the associate is feeling awkward or uncomfortable. How do you recover from the situation and keep your company's brand intact? Recovering from a misgendering incident is actually easier than it sounds.

Don't worry - this happens a lot. Unfortunately, for many trans and gender nonconforming guests, it's actually a routine occurrence. Our survey tells us that 82% of transgender and gender nonconforming guests have been misgendered in a public space in the past year by an employee. Here are a few comments from our survey respondents on how they like you to respond and recover from a misgendering situation:

Don't freak out and make it "a thing" if you misgender me. Apologize, correct yourself, and move on.


When they employee realizes they have misgendered me, and even though I never make a big deal about it, they get embarrassed and make things more awkward or even get hostile with me as if I was trying to deceive them.


 I am consistently afraid of awkward interactions where someone calls me by one pronoun, then decides they have made a mistake and apologizes repeatedly or offers explanations for their mistake. Please just focus on providing the service, not on your insecurities about my gender expression.


The bottom line again here, is to keep it simple. Apologize quickly and move on. Your intentions are what matter and if it's accidental, you apologize sincerely and you don't make a big deal out of it, the customer will be forgiving and remain loyal.

Has this ever happened in your space? How did your team member recover?