Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, announced to the world that he was gay in an essay published in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. While many believe Cook’s statement will shock and awe the nation, chances are it won’t. Being part of the LGBT community is not only popular today, but has also become a lucrative niche market for America business.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) is in the sites of marketers in a variety of sectors from wealth managers to travel companies. As it should be, since the LGBT numbers build a compelling case for niche marketing. At a guess, there are between 16 and 20 million gays and 1.5 million LGBT-owned businesses in the U.S. today. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Urban Institute estimate that two-thirds of same-sex couples own their own homes and close to one-third have an annual income of well over $100,000 or a combined income of greater than $250,000..
The public emergence of gays in America is generally thought to date back to the Stonewell Riots of 1969. It was then that large numbers of gays gathered on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969 to protest a police raid on a popular gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. That confrontation put the gay community on the front page of America’s newspapers.
Before that event few gays would willingly have “come out,” and with good reasons. In many locales it was worth your life to admit to be being gay. But the days of an all-white, all -straight, conformist America had come to an end. It was the Sixties, a decade that gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Vietnam Protests.
Prejudice against the gay community was rampant. The American Psychological Association, for example, was on record as classifying LGBT sexual orientation as a mental disease. Our government, while drafting gays in the military to fight in Vietnam, refused to admit known homosexuals into the country or to allow them to become citizens.
Over the years, political activism, combined with various events tied to advertising and marketing, helped forge a unified, self-conscious and influential gay community. Advertising and marketing campaigns such as the Anita Bryant-Florida Orange Juice Boycott in 1977, the Benetton AIDS ad in1992 and the boycott of Coors in the same year, helped spotlight and illustrate many of the issues the LGBT community faced.
Since then, gays have fought and won the right to serve openly in our military, won Federal recognition of same-sex marriages and are presently battling for the same right in state after state. Today, whether in ads or simply watching television shows, the gay community is well-represented in the media and among our politicians and captains of industry. They are part of the growing diversity and strength of American life and always have been whether we admit it or not.
Forged by adversity and prejudice, the gay community today has emerged as a powerful, self-conscious politically-aware community. Within this context, Cook’s announcement seemed inevitable to me. Readers, however, should be aware that, to my recollection, this is only the third time a CEO of a publically-listed U.S. company has come out. I recall back in 2007, the chief executive of British Petroleum, a UK-based company, admitted the same thing and was forced to resign. But times are obviously changing.
As for the sudden rush to cash-in on this new niche market in my own business, I would urge my gay clients and friends to cast a jaundiced eye towards these LGBT financial planning seminars, gay-oriented portfolios and the like.
Granted, there are some differences in estate planning and other areas that need to be addressed (at least until all the states ratify gay marriage). However, making money and preserving capital is not a gay-versus-straight decision, nor will it ever be. So don’t get sucked in by the hucksters, although most of the LGBT community probably knows that already.