This week, Adweek is introducing a new industry award recognizing LGBTQ talent: Adweek Pride Stars. The 15 leaders chosen for the inaugural Pride Stars honors are changemakers in advertising and marketing, brands, media, tech and culture. They go beyond being out and proud in the professional sphere; each blazes a trail for future generations through advocating for diversity and inclusion, being visible and tirelessly working to lift up others in the LGBTQ community.
We asked each of the 15 Pride Stars about their roots, the work they’re doing now to expand LGBTQ inclusion and what’s in store in the future.
“Probably Celie in The Color Purple. When I saw her kiss Suge it was a life changing moment for me. I was very young and for the first time in my life I felt seen. I also remember the miniseries The Women of Brewster Place where there was an open lesbian couple. They were fly, black, and gay as fuck. They were proud. True trailblazers.” —Lena Waithe, filmmaker and actor
“The first time I saw a Jean-Paul Gaultier show on TV and my mother told me he was gay. I realized you could be gay, be extra and be appreciated for it.” —Benjamin Lord, CMO, Mira Beauty
“I was greatly influenced by Drian Juarez, who had for years been been running a program in Los Angeles devoted to helping transgender individuals find support in the workplace.” —Michaela Mendelsohn, CEO of Pollo West Corp and founder of TransCanWork
“Seeing two men embracing after getting engaged on a Lloyds Bank ad will always stand out. It’s the first time I saw the topic of same sex marriage being addressed in a mainstream ad. However…they were hugging, not kissing. It showed that we’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go.” —Asad Dhunna, founder, The Unmistakeables
“Alvin Ailey immediately comes to mind. From my viewpoint, gay culture in the ’80s and ’90s depicted blonde, blue-eyed white men. Clearly, not at all what I see in the mirror. Alvin Ailey not only looked like me, but represented poise, style, grace, and was boldly innovative depicting Black art as simply art.” —Allyn Shaw, president and CTO, Recycle Track Systems
How brands can improve LGBTQ representation
“Authenticity. Sometimes it feels like brands are screaming, ‘Look! We’re inclusive! We included an LGBTQ person in our ad.’ I think it’s important for companies to remember that this is someone’s identity—not just a check-the-box item.” —Randall Tucker, chief inclusion officer, Mastercard
“There has to be a cultural acceptance for gay equality and that includes depicting that on television. That picture should be a reflection on big and small screens, social media content or however you get your news and entertainment.” —Yvette Miley, svp, MSNBC and NBC News
“If companies want to create an equitable landscape for their employees, they can. If they want to implement equality by putting their money where their mouths are, they can. If they don’t, they’re choosing not to. Bottom line.” —Rachael Rapinoe, co-founder, Mendi
“It is a tremendous step forward to wrap your burger in a rainbow packaging and punch through the very fabric that are very heteronormative marketing campaigns, but to have this passion and release echo through every part of your company—even down to your brand imperatives and your decision makers—that is when we will see real progress.” —Kendra Freeman, co-founder, Mendi
Bringing LGBTQ advocacy to the workplace
“The work you do in and for your community should not be your ‘side hustle.’ No more of this talk about my ‘day’ job and my ‘gay’ job. As leaders in our communities, businesses, families and even religious organizations, we have a responsibility to be real and our whole selves.” —Shaw
Join Adweek and many of this year’s Pride Stars, LGBTQ leaders creating an impact in advertising, marketing, and culture, this Friday at 12pm ET for a live discussion on how they are personally and professionally navigating these turbulent times. Save your virtual seat.