What is Tokenism?

I am often asked how to attract more LGBTQ+ clients by other wedding industry professionals. One of the first pieces of advice I offer people is to be conscious of tokenism, which is often met with “What is tokenism?” Understanding what it looks like and how it causes harm is an important step in marketing to minority groups.

What is Tokenism?

Tokenism is a performative action a business takes to appear diverse. Typically, this involves including a minority group (these groups could be based on characteristics like ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability) for the sake of sounding or appearing diverse. These attempts are misguided as the business is more focused on the optics of diversity than actually addressing diversity-related issues. Tokenism is, ultimately, false advertising because it gives the appearance of equality without actually achieving it.

While there are many different minorities that can be targeted by tokenism in the wedding industry, I will be focusing this post on tokenization of the LGBTQ+ community.

Examples of LGBTQ+ Tokenism in Wedding Industry

Tokenism is disproportionately sharing LGBTQ+ couples during Pride month or Pride week.

If you are not regularly sharing LGBTQ+ couples in your business, and you shift your social media strategy entirely during Pride month, you are tokenizing.

Tokenism is creating styled shoots with heterosexual models posing as LGBTQ+ couples.

If you are trying to build your LGBTQ+ portfolio by writing false narratives and misrepresenting heterosexual models, you are tokenizing.

Tokenism is optimizing for keywords that do not reflect the identity of the couple.

If you are using keywords like “lesbian wedding” or “same-sex wedding” to rank for search engine optimization, and your couple does not identify as a lesbian couple or a same-sex couple, you are tokenizing.

Impact of Tokenism on the LGBTQ+ Community

Tokenization dehumanizates.

Tokenization uses people as symbols of progress and denies them of their humanity. Using LGBTQ+ couples to promote the diversity of your business fails to elevate their love stories and lived experiences.

Tokenization stereotypes.

Tokenizing often relies on stereotypes due to a fundamental lack of knowledge about the group being represented. Within the LGBTQ+ community, some of the most common stereotypes are rainbows, bright colours, glitter and sparkles, and drag queens. Stereotypes further dehumanize communities by painting them as one dimensional rather than multifaceted and unique.

Tokenization misleads.

Through tokenizing, an impression is created that a business is inclusive and diverse. This is particularly dangerous if the business has previously been accused of discrimination. Businesses often participate in tokenization in order to deflect these accusations. When a business misrepresents themselves to appear LGBTQ+ inclusive without also educating themselves on inclusive business practice, a false sense of security is created for potential LGBTQ+ clients.

Homework

How are you currently marketing to LGBTQ+ couples? Have you participated in tokenism in your business? What impact do you think that had on your LGBTQ+ clients or potential LGBTQ+ clients?

Did you like this post about tokenism? Click here for more wedding industry education posts. Check back next Tuesday for how to avoid tokenism and embrace representation in your wedding industry business.

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