Dr. Faith Ong (Lecturer, University of Queensland Business School) has presented her research focused on how events and gatherings bringing communities together can be open and welcoming to people with various backgrounds and needs.
Dr. Ong’s research interest lies with tourism and events’ roles in social change, and impacts on marginalized groups. Her recent research* investigated the LGBTIQ+ community’s perception of events’ inclusiveness. She explores various signals that communicate inclusion and openness, or sometimes exclusion to the LGBTIQ+ community.
*Faith Ong, Clifford Lewis, Oscar Vorobjovas-Pinta (2020): “Questioning the inclusivity of events: the queer perspective”, Journal of Sustainable Tourism
What Makes a Gathering Inclusive?
From the perspectives of individuals from marginalized communities such as the LGBTIQ+ communities, being included in an event is about the event organizers fulfilling a societal obligation, consistent with laws that prohibit discrimination or social expectations that all organizations should aspire to meet.
On the other hand, at an event that is openly accepting and welcoming of marginalized groups, inclusivity is felt to be a more authentic sentiment, allowing individuals to feel safe to bring their true selves to the event.
Based on this understanding, below are some of the key factors LGBTIQ+ community members consider when evaluating whether an event is inclusive (prior to attending the event), and tips on what event organizers can do to ensure their events are inclusive of various groups and welcoming to everyone.
1- Use Inclusive Marketing Language and Visual Communication
Prior to an event, community members look for more information online (especially social media posts, including marketing visuals and past event photos) to observe how the event represents itself.
Symbols like the pride flag are often used to show inclusivity. Such symbols are perceived as a signal that something is more queer-friendly, however, most community members do not take it for granted that they would be welcomed. It takes more than one symbol to genuinely communicate inclusivity.
One example of how event organizers can communicate their commitment to inclusivity is ensuring representation of various groups in the marketing language and visual communication around the event.
For example, when describing “families”, are you only referring to the conventional image of a family with a mother, a father and kids, or are you using a broader conceptualization of what a family looks like?
The key is ensuring that the tone of your event marketing and promotion will convey a friendly and welcoming atmosphere overall, and not just relying on using symbols such as the pride flag. Those symbols can be a way to indicate your support for inclusivity, but overusing them can have the opposite effect, as the display of symbols and images, when overdone, may be seen as superficial and not authentic.
2- Create and Communicate about Safe Physical Spaces
Open spaces, where event participants can express themselves more freely, are considered to be more inclusive than closed spaces. A venue with dark corners, for example, where potentially hostile incidents could happen and go unwitnessed, is perceived as unsafe for marginalized groups.
When designing an event, therefore, it is important to ensure the event provides a safe physical space for its participants. And the organizers should give assurance to prospective participants (particularly those from marginalized communities) through images of event venues, indicating how the experience of attending the event will feel like.
In addition to event settings with open spaces and no dark corners, events that are perceived as family friendly are often seen as more likely to be queer-friendly too, because family-friendly events tend to involve limited alcohol consumption, and excessive consumption of alcohol can bring about negative behavior.
To ensure that everyone can safely and comfortably participate in the event, event organizers should develop and consistently enforce safety and security measures, and make it clear that abusive and hostile behavior will not be tolerated.
3- Select Locations and Hosts with Inclusivity in Mind
In addition to the physical space, organizers, partners, sponsors, speakers, and vendors (those who are seen as the “faces” of the event) associated with the event are also a key part of creating an inclusive experience.
If an event has relations to groups that are seen to be hostile to LGBTIQ+ community members, for example, the event will also be perceived as less inclusive and not welcoming. LGBTIQ+ individuals might feel unsafe attending the event, as there is potentially a group of participants known to be hostile towards their community.
While event organizers cannot always control who attends the event, they have full control over the venue selection and the programming of their event. Take time to consider and implement steps to consciously creating a friendly and inclusive atmosphere, and a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, keeping in mind that if you are hosting an event at a location that is perceived to be unwelcoming of members of marginalized communities, you have a greater responsibility to prove that your event is inclusive, so that your participants can feel welcomed.
As highlighted in Dr. Ong’s research, events are a way of fostering a greater sense of community and belonging, helping build a collective shared identity for those who come together. For your event to serve such purposes, it is critical that a wide range of participants are comfortable joining the gathering. And following some of the advice shared here will be a great way to get started.
What other ideas, opportunities and solutions would you suggest for event organizers to help make their gatherings more inclusive?
Some Related Examples and Resources
- Travel Proud: Booking.com is training hotel partners to learn more about including and welcoming LGBTIQ+ travelers.
- Travel Unity: An NGO focused on increasing diversity in the world of travel through individual and community empowerment.
- ITA Diversity Challenge: Impact Travel Alliance challenges travelers to support diverse-owned, impactful businesses and to advocate for a more diverse and inclusive travel industry.