Diversity & Inclusion – The LGBTQ Experience in Public Relations


CommPRO Editorial Staff

The Museum of Public Relations achieved a “first” on June 6th as they presented an evening of celebration and reflection on the communications industry’s thriving LGBTQ community…including stories from industry leaders and the warning that “We need to stay vigilant because nothing is a guarantee anymore,” according to keynote speaker Scott Widmeyer, Chief Strategy Officer, Finn Partners.

The evening was planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.  This event was the inspiration of Shelley Spector, President, Spector & Associates, and  Founder of The Museum of Public Relations.  “We’ve been doing events to honor diversity for more than three years.  When the anniversary of Stonewall came upon us, we felt it was important to do this event to celebrate the diversity in our community,” Spector said.

Although speakers represented a wide range of generations, ethnic backgrounds and geographies, the personal challenges they’ve faced as LGBTQ professionals are strikingly similar.  And despite the field’s drive toward greater diversity, bias still exists.   According to Andrew McCaskill, former SVP of global communications and multicultural marketing at Nielson, there continues to be a lack of diversity basics within the agency world.  “Where are the people of color in senior levels at agencies?” McCaskill asked.  

“I can’t stand hearing people say the whole diversity of thought thing,” Mccaskill said. “That’s diversity 4.0. Most organizations are still trying to get diversity 1.0 right, which is the diversity you can actually see.” 

Ever since the Stonewall Uprising, public relations strategies have played a key role in the national Gay Rights movement, in framing the narrative, getting the message out and molding public opinion.

Jim Joseph, BCW’s global president, said that progress for the LGBTQ community often comes from the private sector and that PR has an opportunity to play a critical role in this social movement.  He added, “the future of PR is not about isolated storytelling but about total inclusion.”

Industry executives at the event offered their comments…

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” said Don Bates, New York University adjunct professor, PR firm M&A expert, and leader in the PR field, “but it strikes me as odd that this program was the first of its kind in my 50 years in the PR profession. Some of my first mentors were gay when I worked in the Bell System. I took this program as a salute to them and the thousands of other LGBTQIA+ practitioners who toiled and toil in relative obscurity because of their gender identity, especially among PR firms. The comments of the speakers and panelists were informative, enlightening, and moving.

My takeaway from the discussion, for both straight and LGBTQIA+ people, is that we can’t just proclaim inclusiveness on the job; we also have to live it in our daily lives. We can’t leave diversity at the office. We have to take it home. We have to express it in our relationships, cultural connections, friendships, and loves. Inclusiveness needs nurturing in everything we do.

“My other takeaway is that this program should be repeated in every PRSA and IABC chapter over the months ahead. Also, that the LGBTQIA+ practitioners should establish a group or association to address the challenges they face in finding and keeping PR jobs and moving up the management ladder to the top. We need to live our beliefs,” Bates added.

“The LGBTQ Experience was a wonderfully revealing walk through fifty years of history. The panelists’ personal stories show how far we’ve come from the days when gay people were universally encouraged and sometimes threatened to stay closeted at work. Their fight for the right to authenticity, representation and legal protections continues to this day…Kudos to the Museum of Public Relations for bringing these engaging stories and important issues to light,” according to Judith Harrison, Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion at Weber Shandwick.


(Photos courtesy of Patrice Tanaka)