June was National Gay & Lesbian Pride Month and PRSA Detroit hosted a timely program focused on understanding the LGBTQ+ community entitled, “Connecting with the LGBT Community: Social Issues, Political Environment and the Press.” Speakers included: Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of Pride Source Media Group and publisher of Between The Lines, Lilianna Reyes, youth program manager at Affirmations, and L. Michael Gipson, deputy director at Equality Michigan. The program focused on several issues, including:
- The LGBTQ+ community landscape and its evolution.
- Who the LGBTQ+ consumer is.The current political landscape.
- Why the LGBTQ+ community important to communications professionals.
- How to effectively communicate and develop elationships with the LGBTQ+ community and media.
The dialogue in the room was informative and energizing. We invited two Wayne State University students and members of the university’s PRSSA chapter to share their experiences. Here’s what they had to say.:
Understanding and Sensitivity are Important for PR Pros
By Natalie Cieslak, Wayne State University PRSSA
The seminar featured presentations from three panelists from various pride advocate organizations. Each spoke about the importance of understanding the LGBTQ+ community from a business and social standpoint.
Gipson spoke about the different ways in which society has viewed him as a gay man over the last 40 years. He said, at the time of his birth, being gay was considered a mental disorder. As a young man (and up until the year 2003), being sexually active pinned him as a criminal. He contrasted that experience with today, where for a little over a year now, gay marriage has been legal in the United States. Though this is a huge milestone and victory for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, Gipson stressed there are more obstacles to overcome. Reyes, a transgender woman, also reminded us that while legalization of gay marriage is a huge step for the community, not everyone wants to get married.
Stevenson shared insights from a business perspective. She highlighted the importance of marketing to and connecting with the gay community. A recent census report stated that 3.7 percent of the United States population is gay – approximately nine million people. Stevenson pointed out that the Jewish population is half that amount, while the African American population is four times as many. For public relations professionals, it is important to learn ways to effectively communicate with this important demographic.
Stevenson suggested that today’s gay rights movement is much like the civil rights movement. She believes that to understand the LGBTQ+ community and its struggles, we must first understand basic civil rights. She suggested it is important that public relations professionals strive to understand the perspectives of all of their publics.
I was reminded during this program that a large part of being an effective PR professional is being culturally sensitive.
Natalie Cieslak is majoring in public relations at Wayne State University. She serves as PR coordinator for the James S Measell PRSSA chapter.
New Perspectives and Insight Gained
By Gabe Dunlap, Wayne State University PRSSA
It’s not every day I get to experience something as insightful and informative as this PRSA Detroit event. Not only did it open my eyes to what’s actually happening around me, it gave me new insight into the LGBTQ+ community.
The panel discussed a series of hot button topics impacting the LGBTQ+ community. Together, these LGBTQ+ community leaders not only helped me understand the issues facing the community, they also helped me connect to them.
The program featured a discussion concerning the Supreme Court’s ruling and legalization of gay marriage. LGBTQ+ couples are now able to access the same health care benefits, social security benefits and family rights as non-LGBTQ+ couples when they marry. It was expressed that for some, this victory may create the perception that all LGBTQ+ rights issues have been solved. Some have been, but not all.
Another interesting insight came from Gipson. While sharing his experience growing up, he said, “I went from being crazy to being invisible and at one-point invisible and crazy.” His experiences really matched mine, and allowed me to view them differently.
Stevenson also helped me to fully understand the size of the LGBTQ+ community. The United States has a population of over 300 million people with roughly 3.7 percent of the population (nine million people) identifying themseves as being a part of a same-sex household. With roughly $860 billion in spending power, companies are focusing more on learning to communicate and empathize with this group.
I left the program with an overwhelming sense of hope after discovering the history of the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community and how long people have been fighting for rights and acceptance. I was able to use what I learned to appreciate what has been accomplished. This program showed me how I can learn to communicate with empathy, not assumptions. Now I can see better with a new perspective.
Gabe Dunlap is majoring in public relations at Wayne State University. He serves as VP of chapter development for the James S Measell PRSSA chapter.