01st Jul 2022
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the first UK Pride march in 1972. The march saw two thousand people come together to celebrate LGBTQ+ individuals and to demonstrate the need for improved representation and rights. Over the past 50 years, the Pride movement has grown exponentially, breaking down barriers and changing mindsets. This year’s London march is expected to have over a million attendees.
However, being homosexual is still illegal in 71 countries and is frowned upon in many more. This means centuries-old biases against the LGBTQ+ community continue to be perpetuated and enforced, with cultural influences and norms playing a major part in this process. To be able to truly affect and influence change in these regions you need to acknowledge and respect these cultural sensitivities. Simply pushing a diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) campaign without understanding the cultural nuances of these regions, is setting yourself up to fail.
In this article we review some of the data collected by Creative Culture on the varying representation of the LGBTQ+ community across the globe and how to correctly tackle DEI in regions that are traditionally more conservative with their cultural views.
China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from its official list of mental disorders in 2001, but with same-sex marriage still illegal and the Chinese authorities banning “abnormal sexual behaviours” from the media in 2016, the impression among many is that LGBTQ+ people are free to explore their identities as long as they do so in private.
The ongoing clampdown on LGBTQ+ spaces appeared to accelerate on July 6 2021, when China’s most popular messaging app WeChat suddenly shut down dozens of LGBTQ+ accounts run by university students, one of the largest and coordinated acts of censorship targeting sexual minorities in the country in decades.
Contrastingly in Japan, LGBTQ+ rights and awareness are widely perceived in a positive light and not seen as a taboo anymore, thanks to the Pride movement but also the film industry, portraying characters of different sexual orientation. Japanese TV dramas and films featuring gay couples such as Ｏssan’s love and Midnight Swan featuring transgender people have really helped break down barriers in Japan and have been well received over the last couple of years.
Various events are also organised in June for Pride month, to celebrate and inform about the LGBTQ+ movement across Japan. For example, Kyoto city has set a series of special events to celebrate Pride month this year. Such as illuminating the City Hall building and Daimaru department store (a signature department store for Kyoto city) with the rainbow flag colours.
Under the motto “LOVE MY COLOURS – LOVE YOUR COLOURS”, the Daimaru department store hosts various events during Pride month like music concerts by LGBTQ+ artists, talk shows, photo exhibitions to show photos from the Pride Parade in Kyoto 2021 & 2022, a participatory event where visitors can write a message on a colourful card and the cards are collaged to make a huge rainbow.
Sierra Leone on the other hand, paints a very different picture. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are regularly attacked and even killed. Being LGBTQ+ is more than just a taboo, there is a deep level of sensitivity around this topic. It is viewed as lifestyle choice from western countries and an African or Sierra Leonean that chooses to be part of the LGBTQ+ community is often seen a “disgrace” and even as a “slave of Satan” for some.
“Being a heavily religious country, people are taught that being gay is a sin, and this is the view that most – though not all people hold.” explains documentary photographer Lee Price in this 2017 Daze Digital article.
The public perception of the LGBTQ+ community in Sierra Leone was analysed by Equaldex, with over 90% of the people polled who would not tolerate having a homosexual neighbour.
Russia is one of the countries where being homosexual is still illegal. In 2013, the State Duma adopted a law which establishes responsibility for “promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors” to the population and in the media, better known as the prohibition of “homosexual propaganda”. Under the legislation, any act or event that authorities deem to promote homosexuality to children is punishable by a fine. After the law passed, the country saw an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ violence, according to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report.
In a 2019 Russian LGBTQ+ Network poll, more than half of the LGBTQ+ people surveyed reported experiencing at least some type of violence or abuse due to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. 56% reported experiencing psychological abuse, 12% reported physical violence and 4% reported sexual abuse.
Despite all of this, respectful attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights in Russia are gaining popularity among the protesting youth and non-governmental human rights organisations.
Same-sex marriage is constitutionally forbidden in Hungary, but civil partnerships are recognised. The act declares that only married couples may adopt children unless granted special permission by the family affairs minister. This effectively bars same-sex couples or single individuals from doing so.
In 2021, the Hungarian government passed a new law similar to the “homosexual propaganda” law in Russia, prohibiting the sharing of content on homosexuality or gender reassignment to people under the age of 18 in school sex education programmes, films or advertisements.
Across the nation there still is huge polarisation around the topic, but there have been progressive movements over the years, particularly in large cities. In the capital Budapest, the running mayor has more progressive left leaning views and has allowed Pride celebrations to take place for the past few years, even though right-wing partisans have tried to sabotage the parade multiple times.
There are many obstacles to navigate when it comes to embedding DEI in a challenging market. Building awareness and starting the conversation is always the first step in changing mindsets, but doing so at a global level means you have to have a thorough understanding of each local culture and what influences those cultures. A one size fits all approach will not work.
Laying your foundation in understanding and accepting each local culture will help you assess how best to communicate, educate and empower them. Getting accurate local insight can provide invaluable information on how each culture communicates about certain subjects, like LGBTQ+ rights or gender diversity. Breaking down barriers and changing cultural perceptions takes time. This process shouldn’t be rushed, and it requires resilience, persistence and bravery.
Understanding the nuance of language is another big factor, just using inclusive language most of the time won’t work. Some languages like French for example, are more gender-oriented, so implementing inclusive language can be very visible (i.e. with the use of asterisks for gender neutral endings). If the local audience isn’t familiar with inclusive language or so open to it, introducing it too abruptly can cause them to react negatively and not adopt it.
Putting together any sort of communication or marketing campaign to these new markets needs to be a collaborative effort between departments and has to be led by DEI. It is also key to input and test these communications in the local market before going live, to gauge the response, learn from your findings and tweak the campaign if necessary.
Being truly inclusive is not just about how you’re communicating externally, but how you communicate internally across your organisation too, especially when involved at a global level. For example, communicating in English across a global organisation with teams in multiple markets, speaking different languages isn’t inclusive or culturally sensitive by nature and could lead to fragmentation and miscommunication of the messaging.
To achieve real impact, your communications and guidelines must be localised and adapted to local customs. The language you convey needs to be localised too, as both language and cultural norms work in very different ways.
To sum up, remember to consult, not inform.
Seek to understand and listen to your markets first, then you can create a DEI framework that works and provides the freedom and space to change mindsets. Cultural differences are not something to be afraid of or shy away from, they may be complex and appear daunting at first but don’t get disheartened, there are experts at hand that can guide you along this journey to driving real change.
Brands, organisations and companies have a responsibility to drive societal change and help progress the conversation about more inclusivity and representation worldwide. This can only be achieved globally by understanding our cultural differences at a granular local scale.
If you want to learn more and discuss how local insights could help your organisation drive change, contact us here.
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