How to create with LGBTQ+ inclusivity in mind

01 Feb 2021

February is LGBTQ+ history month, and this article is one in a series that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the creative industries. 

The theme of LGBTQ+ history month this year is Body, Mind and Spirit, which is why we’ve put together this guide on how you can create with inclusivity in mind. Whether that’s making sure you use inclusive language when starting a business, consulting minority groups when writing about issues that you don’t yourself have experience of, or designing a website that is accessible to marginalized groups – check out our top tips below.  

How to be inclusive

… when designing websites

Jaymie Strecker, a non-binary Drupal developer at Kosada in Athens, Ohio told DreamHost: “Making your site more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people can improve the user experience for everyone. Your site’s audience almost certainly includes people who are LGBTQ+ themselves or have LGBTQ+ friends and family. To provide the best user experience, you have to understand how that facet of their lives intersects with your site. Why would you want to alienate a significant percentage of your users?”

Ways that SAE Web students can ensure they are designing websites with inclusivity in mind is by ensuring contact forms have inclusive fields that allow individuals to select the option that they identify with, whether that’s a gender identity or sexuality label. But at the same time, provide the opportunity for people to be discreet if they do not wish to provide this information. 

Other tips include using gender neutral language and including LGBTQ+ images if you’re depicting family units or couples - see TetraImages.com, Twenty20, Blend Images, PhotoAbility, the Getty Images Lean In Collection, and Canva’s Natural Woman Collection

… when running a company 

We spoke to Sara-Jayne Slack who is Managing Director of independent UK publisher Inspired Quill about how her company ensures that the authors they work with are creating with inclusivity in mind.

We asked Sara-Jayne how you can raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues without it becoming a marketing tool, or 'virtue signalling'. She said: “I used to worry about this a lot when I first created Inspired Quill almost a decade ago. Our diversity pledge is only a few years old, because I assumed that everything in there should be 'obvious'. But unfortunately, the world isn't there yet. So we do have to shout when we have a book with a protagonist who is bisexual, or who is trans. We need to be vocally pro-diversity at every step, and not just around book launch! We pledge profit percentages to charities and run workshops for under-represented writers. If someone says you're virtue signalling, you need to be able to shrug it off and keep doing good work, and/or be able to show them the receipts. A good part of raising awareness comes from boosting others in the space, rather than shouting about yourself. Raise up other voices as well as your own, and don't expect a pat on the head and a cookie for doing so. Also, if your entire pitch is "this has a gay character, cool huh!?" then you need to go back and start again.” 

Inspired Quill has a diversity and accessibility pledge. We asked Sara-Jayne why she thinks this is important, and she said: “As I mentioned earlier, we're not yet at the stage when being pro-diversity (or anti-racist/anti-homophobic etc) is a given, even (or especially) in the creative industries. We created our diversity and accessibility pledge because we wanted to show folks that we were holding ourselves accountable. Pledges like this must have tangible outcomes, otherwise it's just words on a page. So for example, we've taken steps to try and remove unconscious bias from our submissions process. We've been working hard on ensuring our website is accessible for screen readers, and we have a non-negotiable transparency policy when it comes to our internal processes.” 

We wanted to know how these commitments cater to both LGBTQ+ individuals and also those with accessibility needs. Sara-Jayne said: “Intersectionality is super important, and so is the understanding that all personal experiences cannot be extrapolated to everyone who is part of that community. No-one attribute creates a monolith. (A good example of this is the 'sassy gay friend' or the 'inspiring wheelchair user' - these are damaging stereotypes which absolutely might be a fair representation of a specific person within that community, but they cannot be taken as a whole). Specifically for Inspired Quill, accessibility includes ensuring that our videos are (properly!) captioned, we've recently added an accessibility plugin to our site, which brings it up to WSAA2 standards, and we use our voice to boost others in our industry when they're doing great work. You can read the full diversity and accessibility pledge on our site - it's long, but it's also a 'living document', which means it's frequently updated and we keep learning and implementing as much as we can within our means.” 

Sara-Jayne added: “It's important to remember that you're not going to be perfectly inclusive 100% of the time. That's human, and although it can be exhausting to always be striving to do better, I can guarantee it's more exhausting for folks inside those communities. As soon as any creative work turns into a box-ticking exercise, you need to regroup and start from the mindfulness step I mentioned earlier. Always be willing to listen to others, and to confront your own biases. Sometimes the biggest blocker to these things is our own egos - especially when our intentions are good, but we still miss the mark.” 

… when writing

We also asked Sara-Jayne how students who may be working on films, TV shows, videogames etc. can write narratives that are accurate reflections of the world we live in. She said: “The first thing I tell my authors is that every choice should be mindful. If you don't share attributes with a minority character (e.g. if you're white or straight), you tend to 'default' to what's closest to yourself, and your 'choices' become "Okay, I want to add a bisexual character", or "this character is Black" or "this character has autism" (for example). Instead, we need to look at every individual character, and choose when they're also white or straight or able-bodied. It really helps to understand your own bias.” 

Sara-Jayne added: “Diversity should also exist outside of trauma. We see this a lot within the publishing industry, whereby a Black author writes a story and it's expected that the whole thing should be about the 'Black Experience'. Or the same with a Queer author. We also need to celebrate and push and lift up stories of joy, too. Or even stories where the characters are who they are, and that one element of their identity doesn't define them for the whole narrative (see again 'sassy gay friend trope').” 

Author Dominic Stevenson has written a non-fiction book called Get Your Head In the Game: an exploration of football’s complex relationship with mental health. For the project, he spoke to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Dominic said: “Minority communities are a vital part of the fabric of our society, and they are so often underrepresented in sports writing. To me, ignoring their stories and contribution would be negligent and only reinforce and even support the negative voices who seek to exclude them. By including representatives from the LGBTQIA+ community in my book I wanted to take the first steps in trying to show that many people want to make sports a safe place, but I also wanted to acknowledge and declare for others that for it to happen we must listen to the voices who tell us why sports aren’t currently a safe space for them.” 

Dominic also gave those he’d interviewed a ‘read back’, that allowed them to confirm that they were happy with how their narratives had been framed and presented. We asked Dominic why he felt this was important. He said: “By agreeing to be interviewed for my book, the contributors were trusting me with their story – and that was the greatest honour. To do them justice I had to ensure that they were represented accurately in their interviews and in the context I provided around them. I knew that a number of the people I was speaking to had previously been misrepresented in the media, so giving them the chance to read their chapters and to make amends as they wished was vital to me. In addition, as a CIS man I have little to no understanding of the prejudice that they have faced, and I would rather have scrapped the whole book than fuel any further abuse by guessing at or interpreting what they were saying incorrectly. I hope that by raising my head above the parapet and listening to and writing about the LGBTQIA+ I can encourage others to not only do the same but to extend opportunities to members of the community to share their own experiences in whichever way they are most comfortable with.” 

This article is part of a series of content SAE Institute is planning as part of LGBTQ+ history month. If you’ve got an idea for an article please contact: b.kirkbride@sae.edu  

Download resources about LGBTQ+ history month here

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