Cannes Lions | Article
The LGBT Issue at Cannes

Happy Pride, everyone. All weekend, LGBT communities around the world have been coming together to march, party, and prove that love beats hate any day.

In Cannes, it’s a slightly different story. We’re at the end of the week-long International Festival of Creativity, the annual event where agencies from all around the world gather to celebrate the best work being done in their industry. Yet, if you search the festival’s app, you won’t find the term “LGBT” anywhere. “Gay,” “lesbian,” “trans” and “queer” are similarly invisible.

The closest delegates got to an LGBT-themed session was an appearance by ‘Inside Gay Pakistan’ director Mobeen Azhar; during his conversation with Cindy Gallop he revealed some genuine insights into modern gay culture, although their panel was on the broader theme of sex in advertising. Apparently not a single hour in an eight day schedule could be spared to talk specifically about the place of LGBT people in advertising, and the billions of dollars that brands miss out on by failing to address this audience.

That isn’t to say great work isn’t happening in this area. It is. Brands and agencies are doing more than ever to foster diverse talent and ensure that their gay customers feel heard, and they’re even winning Lions for their efforts. So why isn’t this culture reflected more in the Palais? This is the one week of the year when the leading thinkers from every major agency in the world are all in one place to share and to learn; leaving LGBT issues off the agenda feels like a huge missed opportunity.

Following the tragedy in Orlando just two weeks ago, one would have expected a last-minute LGBT addition to the schedule. Even if it had only been a hasty, tokenistic gesture, it would have demonstrated some awareness of just how isolated this community feels, and how desperately it needs a voice. Festival organisers were quick enough to fly the equality flag in Cannes this time last year, when the Supreme Court of the US approved same-sex marriage — but being a true ally is about more than celebrating the wins.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise or disappointment. After all, we’re still nowhere near gender parity, and that’s a conversation which has been going on at the Cannes Lions, and in the industry as a whole, for years. Equality takes time, or at least that’s what you get used to hearing when you’re female/black/gay/trans/disabled (delete as appropriate).

Cannes Lions is a jawdroppingly impressive event — but it has the potential to be even better.

We have a year. A year in which the creative industries can make giant strides towards representing society as it truly is. A year in which diverse artists, designers, writers and entrepreneurs will produce innovative work that deserves to be celebrated. A year in which festival organisers have time to think about what they want to stand for.

The countdown to Cannes Lions 2017 starts right now.

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