iStock Tips for Avoiding Tokenistic and Stereotypical Representation of the LGBTQ+ Community
Jun 12, 2023
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Research shows authenticity is key when demonstrating allyship this Pride month and beyond

London – 12 June 2023: As Pride month commences, iStock, a leading e‑commerce platform providing premium visual content to SMBs, SMEs, creatives and students everywhere, has revealed that businesses continue to use tokenistic and stereotypical imagery when trying to demonstrate support of the LGBTQ+ community. Only 1% of all customer downloads in 2022 featured LGBTQ+ representation and rainbow flags make up 29% of all imagery used to represent the LGBTQ+ community.

These insights sit at odds with consumer sentiment, with iStock’s VisualGPS research showing that people are looking to engage with brands that celebrate diversity. Almost 70% of non‑LGBTQ+ consumers feel better about buying products from companies that feature LGBTQ+ people in adverts and 75% of non‑LGBTQIA identifying respondents state they are comfortable seeing this inclusion.

The research also shows that visualising communities in an authentic way matters, with 83% responding that it’s important to see pictures and videos of what’s happening to people around the world in order to understand the daily challenges they face. With 53% of LGBTQ+‑identifying people reporting experience of discrimination based on their sexual orientation (a worrying increase of 5% in only 8 months), it is more essential than ever for businesses to be using authentic, everyday imagery of the community.

“People clearly recognise the power of authentic representation of the LGBTQ+ community to drive change and acceptance, and consumers are open and accepting of the imagery, yet businesses still fail to get it right,” said Dr. Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights at iStock. “The future could look better though, with 56% of respondents to our VisualGPS research stating that they think it is likely that people will be widely accepted regardless of how they identify in the future (up 3% in 8 months). Businesses therefore have an opportunity to show their allyship to the LGBTQ+ community with thoughtful and inclusive marketing which extends beyond Pride month. Authenticity is key to building trust and believability, and crucial to representing all LGBTQ+ people with humanity and dignity.”

There are a few simple questions business owners can ask themselves when selecting images and videos to ensure they are more reflective of the lived experience of the LGBTQ+ community, helping build better understanding and acceptance and demonstrate allyship all year round:
  1. What scenarios are LGBTQ+ people pictured in? Are you showing them at work, at home, at school, travelling or in other social settings? Currently, 28% of imagery shows LGBTQI+ people marching/protesting, 27% at rainbow‑washed parties, only 14% show individuals in a business setting, or 14% as professionals.
  2. Are you only showing LGBTQ+ people in romantic stories or as parents? What about non‑partnered LGBTQ+ people living full lives? Currently LGBTQ+ people are 5x more likely to be pictured with a romantic partner than the general population.
  3. Are you showing LGBTQ+ people living fulfilling, positive lives? Having shared experiences both within and outside their communities? With friend groups of all identities? With a variety of family structures and with colleagues? Currently 30% of gay men are shown as feminine or 28% as flamboyant, while 29% of lesbian women are shown as masculine, promoting ongoing stereotypes.
To find imagery and videos that authentically depict the LGBTQ+ community, visit

Image credit: xavierarnau/iStock
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