At Team SEQ, we firmly believe that everyone deserves to feel respected, valued, and safe at our events. It’s not just the right thing to do—it’s also good for business, and can benefit every aspect of the gathering by allowing all attendees to participate freely and fully.
And let’s face it: With anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and attitudes on the rise, particularly those targeting the transgender community, making your event an inclusive, safe space is more important than ever.
Our view? Every event and conference should be a welcoming and safe space for LGBTQIA+ attendees. Because after all, over 7% of American adults identified as LGBT in 2022, a new record high—and when you look only at Gen Z, that number jumps to almost 20%.
What better time to examine this topic than in June, when rainbow-clad Pride celebrations are taking place around the globe and brands and event hosts are posting statements of support? Here are some tips for making a meaningful effort to be inclusive at your events.
1. Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes when choosing an event destination and venue.
When possible, consider partnering with queer-friendly destinations and event venues. A good reference: The Human Rights Campaign offers the State Equality Index, a comprehensive state-by-state report that reviews statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ people and their families. While event or conference attendees may only be visiting an area for a short time, they may be more comfortable traveling if the gathering is held in a city that enforces LGBTQIA+ affirming laws.
If city and state choices are out of your control, you can still make an impact by looking for a venue that takes steps to be gay-friendly. Ask if the staff has training in discrimination, for example. Another best practice? Consider whether the space has gender-neutral bathrooms, or if the current bathrooms can be modified to accommodate all genders (with clear signage, of course).
2. Emphasize inclusivity during the registration process.
Kick things off on a good note by using gender-inclusive language on your registration forms. If you need to ask attendees for their gender, include a range of options including “male,” “female,” “non-binary,” “other,” and “prefer not to say.” Also give participants a chance to list what name they prefer to be addressed by in person and on name badges, in case it’s different from their legal name.
Another easy way to be inclusive on site? Consider listing guests’ pronouns on name badges, or offer optional buttons, stickers, or ribbons for guests to express their identity in their preferred way.
3. Spend some time thinking through a code of conduct and anti-discrimination policy.
At the beginning of the planning process, create an inclusion policy and make sure your team, vendors, and attendees are all on the same page. If your organization doesn’t already have one, take a cue from templates used by Human Resources professionals and modify them for your event.
You may also want to establish a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory language, making it clear that anyone using homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, or other biased language will be removed from the event. These policies should be made clear on your event’s website, social media, and with on-site signage. (Want to take it a step further? Ask attendees to agree to these non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies while registering for the event.)
4. Have a diverse lineup of speakers.The best conferences and events feature a diverse lineup of speakers that can provide the perspective of a variety of audiences and communities, giving attendees the chance to both see themselves represented and to learn from people of different backgrounds.
Regardless of the makeup of your presenter lineup, though, remind them to avoid gendered language; during speaker rehearsals, you can even circulate a document with suggestions for words to use (everyone, folks, they/them, etc.) and words to avoid (ladies and gentleman, ma’am and sir, guys, etc.) Tip: Higher ed resource company Lumen offers a great guide to inclusive language that’s worth a read.
5. Avoid superficial “rainbow-washing.”During the month of June in particular, many brands and event hosts want to publicly voice their support for LGBTQ rights with rainbow-themed branding and social media posts. Great! We love rainbows! The key, though, is ensuring the support goes beyond the superficial.
Avoid “rainbow washing”—when companies voice support but take little meaningful action—by highlighting how you’re really supporting these vulnerable communities. Maybe you’re partnering with a community-based organization that works in the space, or donating a portion of ticket sales to a nonprofit? Think through what makes sense for your specific organization and event themes—and when possible, take it a step further by involving members of the LGBTQIA+ community in your planning process, whether that’s through an informal focus group or consulting session or through an more formal Employee Resource Group that’s specifically focused on diversity and inclusion (which is what we do here at SEQ!).
6. Encourage feedback.
Nobody’s perfect, and even the most thoughtful teams don’t always get it right. During post-event surveys, ask questions specifically about inclusivity, accessibility, and more—and be sure to actually act on this feedback and make adjustments for future events. Want to take it a step further? Get involved with established industry groups like the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association.