“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.” — Barbara Gittings
Prominent activist Barbara Gittings fought to stop companies from barring LGBTQIA+ applicants from employment, but she recognized the need for acceptance and inclusivity in every community. Since then, recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community has come a long way — including Pride Month.
There has been similar progress in other parts of the world. In 2018, consensual gay sex was legalized by India’s Supreme Court. Last year, several countries, such as the UK, Canada, and Germany, banned conversion therapy.
However, the fight for equal rights is far from over. Hungary and Poland’s governments have signed anti-trans legislation and banned same-sex marriage. In Egypt and the Philippines, LGBTQIA+ youth are harassed daily. In the United States, 6 in 10 LGBT students report feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
How the LGBTQIA+ community is leveraging the Internet
The Internet, especially social media, has played a critical role in supporting LGBTQIA+ youth. Multiple studies have found that social media helps stigmatized youth maintain critical access to emotional support, develop identity, find important information, and be entertained. Whether it is the #ItGetsBetter campaign to support LGBTQIA+ youth or sharing queer art during Pride month — the Internet is an important space to foster connection and expression.
Companies also use the Internet to amplify their support for LGBTQIA+ causes. They change their display picture to the pride flag colors or publicly claim to donate to LGBTQIA+ initiatives. However, people question whether these efforts are genuine or a marketing move. For example, H&M only donates 10% of the sales from its “Pride Out Loud” collection to LGBTQA+ charities. Disney tweeted, “there’s room for everyone under the rainbow, Happy #PrideMonth” but was hit with a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit the same day.
People are also quick to call out these hollow efforts. With hashtags like #performativeally trending, it is clear that the LGBTQIA+ community and allies will not accept brands’ lip service. The hashtag #performativeally is widely used to directly call out companies or executives for not showing genuine support. Through this hashtag, thousands of people have taken to Twitter to demand that brands are inclusive all year round, not only during Pride Month.
With this in mind, Quilt.AI set out to better understand people’s attitudes towards Pride Month and how the Internet serves as a positive space. We studied 375,000+ searches and used our Cultural AI tool to analyze the sentiments and tonality of 400 posts from Twitter and Instagram.
Here’s what we learned:
Content about support and self-reflection dominate
Twitter is an important platform for the LGBTQIA+ community. Many LGBTQ1A+ users felt it was a comfortable space for them to express their voice and opinion or connect with others in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Our Cultural AI identified positive sentiments with emotions that exhibit happiness, creativity, affection, and sensuality. These emotions stem from people sharing their art under #queerart, hashtags about sexuality (e.g., #panpride, #bi), and expressing pride in being part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The highest volume of discourse was related to society, arts & entertainment, and style and fashion. This includes people sharing their favorite outfits, cross-dressing, life as part of the LGBTQIA+ community (e.g., discrimination faced or pride), and art.
We also conducted a qualitative analysis of 210 users to understand sentiments related to LGBTQIA+ discourse.
We identified four types of tweets:
- Support: Expressed desires to support the LGBTQIA+ community, such as celebrating Pride month and encouraging people to be themselves
- Advocacy: Calls to action for people to support or learn about the LGBTQIA+ community. For example, resources on the history of gay rights, charities to donate to, and demanding equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Institutions: Companies, organizations, or institutes (e.g., education) express being an ally or supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. This includes running workshops, donating money, or celebrating Pride month.
- Self-reflection: Outwardly sharing one’s identity or experience as being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This includes posting selfies, details about sexuality, and expressing pride in one’s identity.
We sized the number of tweets and found that 35% were supportive. This is followed by tweets related to advocacy and self-reflection at 25% each. Finally, about 15% of tweets were related to companies or institutes supporting Pride month and the LGBTQIA+ community.
This reflects a positive shift in the potential of social media platforms as safe spaces for vulnerable communities. Though online violence and hate speech is still prevalent, Twitter provides a space for people to mobilize around LGBTQIA+ causes and celebrate the community.
Corporate interest in LGBTQIA+ issues and Pride month has grown, but people are becoming weary of it.
Shifting away from social media, we looked at how people’s search behavior related to LGBTQIA+ topics has changed over the last three years. We categorized the types of searches like the following:
- Interest in companies that support LGBTQIA+ initiatives or Pride month
- History of pride month
- Information about being an ally or supporting the LGBTQIA+ community
- Services for the community such as shelters, funds, and support groups
- Information about how and when to celebrate Pride month
- Related to whether certain religious groups support the LGBTQIA+ community
This trend is reflected in search behavior. We studied 92 keywords over the last three years and found that interest in companies’ support for the LGBTQIA+ community has grown.
In 2019, searches about companies’ support made up 5% of the overall searches we studied. This grew to 25% in 2020 and then tripled to 105% in 2021. People mainly searched for specific companies’ stances with LGBQTIA+ issues. In the last year, keywords with the highest volume were:
- “facebook support lgbtq” (194%)
- “salvation army anti lgbtq” (202%)
- “starbucks support lgbtq” (100%)
- “apple support lgbtq” (100%)
- “Limited edition rainbow oreos” (100%)
We also looked at the interest of companies during Pride month. Searches related to how companies were celebrating Pride, in particular, grew seven-fold between 2019 to 2020. The keywords that grew the most were:
- Companies after pride month (1165%)
- Companies during pride month (263%)
- Companies celebrating pride month (492%)
Searches for “companies after pride month” have the highest volume and growth. This trend shows that people are keen to understand how companies are meaningfully supporting LGBTQIA+ causes.
Search behavior shows that people are looking for ways to support and donate to LGBTQIA+ causes
Our social media analysis showed that people are increasingly using the Internet to mobilize around LGBTQIA+ causes. So we set out to see if this reflected in search behavior and people’s interest as well.
We found two main insights. First, people were increasingly searching for supporting and donating to LGBTQIA+ causes and other Pride month initiatives. In 2019, Support -related searches made up 20% of all searches. This grew to 62% in 2020 and 207% in 2021.
Keywords related to supporting LGBTQIA+ causes:
- “support pride month” — 1538%
- “pride month support” — 1000%
- “lgbtq charities to donate to” — 192%
- “support lgbtq” — 169%
- “lgbtq donations” — 139%
Secondly, people are increasingly searching for services related to the LGBTQIA+ community, such as housing support and coming out help. In particular, the following keywords grew in the last year:
- “lgbtq financial help” — 100%
- “lgbtq peer support” — 100%
- “lgbtq support websites” — 100%
- “trevor project coming out guidebook” -100%
Looking Beyond Pride Month
As the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights continues worldwide, it is necessary to look beyond Pride month. A powerful tool like the Internet can save lives by redirecting youth to services and mobilizing people around pro-LGBTQIA+ legislation and causes.
Based on our insights, there are multiple ways to support LGBTQIA+ youths’ needs:
- Educate yourself and those around you. Whether it’s participating in Pride Month or fostering an inclusive workplace, the key is to educate oneself. You can start with these Instagram accounts and companies that work to educate and advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights: @lgbt_history, @visual_aids, @lgbt, @ihartericka, @tomboyx, and @pflag.
- Youth must find the right services while providers must reach youth in need. Search engines are where LGBTQIA+ youth begin their journey for information — from sexuality to peer support. Redirecting youth’s searches to the right resources is critical in destigmatizing and connecting them to support networks. For example, PFlag Canada is a peer-to-peer non-profit supporting LGBTQIA+ communities. They built DestinationPride.org — a data-driven mobile search platform that visualizes the world’s LGBTQIA+ laws, rights, and social sentiment. This helps inform local ads to reach LGBTQIA+ communities in need and sparked discourse among politicians.
- Tap into the power of self-expression and connection. Social media is the go-to platform for LGBTQIA+ youth to self-express through queer art or share their challenges and achievements. Service providers and tech companies can tap into this by ensuring safe space online and destigmatizing the LGBTQIA+ community with personal testimonies. In particular, change can happen within their companies by making senior leaders’ support visible. Through campaigns that highlight senior leaders’ self-expression and connect them with staff and consumers is one step to creating change.
The Internet can amplify the voices of marginalized communities. This holds for LGBTQIA+ youth around the world. Interventions must meet people where they are increasingly searching for information and services — online.