The power of brand allyship will uplift and amplify voices to create a path towards greater understanding and inclusion.
Join David Pangilinan and Angel Bellon from Paramount’s Audience Impact & Intelligence team as they share insights from their groundbreaking study on the LGBTQ+ community in America. With a sample of 4,500 nationally representative respondents, their research marks a major leap forward in inclusivity and understanding in research. Discover how their study reveals the increasing acceptance and identification rates among younger generations, and why brands must prioritize year-round support for this dynamic community.
Take a look at the findings from their study here
You can also see their session at IIEX North America — Use the code PODCAST25 for 25% off your registration!
You can reach out to Angel on LinkedIn.
You can reach out to David on LinkedIn.
Many thanks to Angel and David for being our guests. Thanks also to our producer, Natalie Pusch; and our editor, James Carlisle.
*Please Note: The viewpoints shared in this episode belong to Angel and David and do not necessarily reflect the stance of Paramount.
Karen: Hello, everybody, welcome to another edition of the GreenBook Podcast. I’m happy to be hosting today. It’s Karen Lynch with GreenBook and I’m joined by two guests today, two people that I’m very excited to be talking with, about a topic that feels incredibly important to all of us as we navigate into the future and the future of insights. First, we’re going to be introducing to you Angel Bellon, who is with Paramount. He is the senior director of insights and cultural intelligence at Paramount. He’s going to be able to tell you a little bit more about what he does in a minute, but he’s a hybrid strategist and cultural anthropologist with over 15 years of experience. So, he’s fusing consumer insight with cultural foresight to forecast consumer behavior. Super interesting gentleman, I’m so honored to have him on the show.
And then also, we have David Pangilinan with us. He also is with Paramount, he’s the manager of audience impact intelligence. So, you know, aside from being a scuba diver, which is really cool, and I’d love to talk to him about that personally, but he’s working within this culture trends and creative insights team at Paramount, and you know, taking some of his background as a social media influencer into the work that he does. So, both of you, welcome. Thank you for being here. It’s great to have you.
Angel: Thank you for having us.
Karen: I am so glad to allow you both to introduce yourselves. Angel, why don’t you go first and give the audience a little more background into you and your role?
Angel: Yeah, so as a senior director of insights and cultural intelligence, I work within Paramount Global for Paramount Advertising, which is our ad sales division. So, everything that we do is in service at our advertising partners, making sure that they understand audiences and culture and inspiring future thought-provoking [unintelligible 00:01:56] ideas. What I tend to do is—really, my remit is to inspire the thought leadership and lead them and add that trend-thinking layer to everything that we do from research to the storytelling.
Karen: I love it. Thank you so much for being here. And David, please share with the audience a bit about yourself and your role as well.
David: Yes, hello. So, I am a manager on the team with Angel. And in addition to helping him formulate and develop these thought leadership studies, we really like to say that we like to arm our advertising partners with the expertise of Paramount, showing that Paramount really understands what’s happening within the cultural zeitgeist. And that can take place as these thought leadership studies or workshops or white papers and trend reports. But we also want to make sure that our advertising teams, when they go out there, they’re with the most up-to-date information about what’s happening from the cultural conversation.
Karen: Yeah, and it’s such an important one to have the cultural conversation because I know that in our audience, we have a lot of people who are paying attention to not just generational changes, but you know, kind of the behavioral changes that come along with them and the attitudinal changes that come along with them. So, there’s a lot that goes on in understanding culture. So, I’m glad you’re doing the work that you’re doing and that you’re going to be sharing a little bit with us today. So, let’s talk about, kind of, yourselves in the context of how you got to where you have gotten. What’s the journey that you took to get here? You know, Angel, if we start with you, those 15 years that have brought you here. What are some of the either milestones that you’ve stepped into along the way or skills that you’ve honed? Tell me about your career journey.
Angel: Yeah, so I originally started in the fashion industry as a fashion forecaster. And I really loved the research part of it, but I didn’t like the output, no offense to people in the fashion industry. But I wanted to forecast more than a new color or silhouette or accessory; I wanted to predict consumer behavior. And so, I transitioned to futures marketing, starting off with Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve. And I really say that’s the true beginning of my career.
And I really spent about, maybe, four to five years there really honing in on how to analyze culture and forecast consumer behavior. Then from there, I wanted to really understand qualitative and quantitative techniques, adding that layer of foresight to consumer insight and then did freelance for about seven years worked across, you know, different agencies, from packaging to innovation to branding to traditional research agencies, and then went back on the agency side, not as a freelancer, building cultural anthropology disciplines for larger agencies. And then I really wanted to go in-house and get that corporate, you know, build something and build disciplines and build thought leadership, seeing them from beginning to end, and found a perfect job at Paramount that really allows me to bring that trend-thinking, brings that DNI element to it, and have the resources to really bring to life a lot of the insights in a very unconventional way.
Karen: I love that. And if you’ve listened to some of the episodes that I’ve hosted before, you’ll hear me say, like, I am fascinated by trend work and that future view into what might be coming either whether it’s able to predict consumer behavior or even just thinking about what current behavior is. So, if you wouldn’t mind answering for me, like, what is it about it that you love this trend work? Like, what does it do for you that it keeps you so engaged in your career?
Angel: Yeah, you know, I really feel like I would be doing this anyways. I always think about—early on when I was studying during undergrad, I was always thinking about, okay, this is happening. Then what does this mean for this industry or the future consumer? So, it’s something that’s innately there and what I do. And I’m just a natural researcher, I am a pop culture junkie; I immerse myself in everything from media to food to retail, and it’s always about finding the stories within that.
But I think what is really interesting for me is having that trend knowledge allows you to think of the world in a different way and identify what are the knowledge gaps or the white spaces in storytelling, in audiences, in media, in culture overall, and create some sort of pointed differentiation so you’re being additive to the culture rather than duplicative.
Karen: I love that. Thank you. David, how about you? Tell us a little bit about, you know, how it’s gone for you, kind of, how you landed here?
David: Yes. Well, actually, I was studying to become a doctor and go to medical school, but then I realized that wasn’t for me. But [laugh] my first gig really started at NBC Universal. So, I’ve always been in, sort of like, the entertainment industry. And I knew I wanted to work for a television company.
And at NBC Universal, I was actually a sports booker. So, I was booking a bunch of athletes to appear across the different platforms at NBC, which is great. I got to go to the Olympics, which is amazing, in Rio. But then I realized that, I mean, no hate to any bookers, and [unintelligible 00:06:56] of them, but I wanted to test more of my creative side because I had kind of established my presence already online as a social media influencer on Instagram—this was like almost a decade ago—and so I knew I wanted to really pursue this type of passion of understanding, like, what makes something super popular, what makes a good trend, and what makes it go viral. And so, I heard about this creative consultancy back when Paramount was called just Viacom and it was a team called [Scratch 00:07:23].
And that team essentially is what it is today, but it went through so many iterations through Viacom, CBS, and now Paramount where I work alongside Angel on these thought leadership studies that I never thought I would have ever been able to work on, and really dive deep into culture and use this mindset and this framework that I feel like you aren’t taught at school or in undergrad or grad school, but it’s sometimes inherently known to you and something that you just learn how to build on your own as well.
Karen: Yeah, I’m really excited to get into the studies themselves. Obviously, the primary one that we’ll be talking about, but tell our listeners a little bit about the types of studies you’re talking about when we talk collectively about the studies and before we get into, you know, the one we’re unpacking a bit today.
Angel: Yeah, so I would say our thought leadership studies fall within three different pillars. The first one being audience intelligence, and that’s understanding our audiences from a generational standpoint, life stage, as well as looking at marginalized communities. And then the second area would be business intelligence, that would be something closer to the media industry, and we launched a white paper series looking at people’s relationship to content and streaming, we looked at the culture of influence and understanding how the creator economy is evolving. And then we just launched one around branded content and how brands can use culture to create content around it. And then the last one would be the culture intelligence, which is the more topic du jour is zeitgeist-y topics that David was mentioning, we launched one looking at the evolving relationships coming out as a pandemic, one on the metaverse, and David and I are also working on one, soon to be released in the next month or so, around the culture of AI. So, those are the three areas.
But the presentation that we’re going to be sharing at IIEX is under the audience intelligence, looking at marginalized communities as part of our ‘In America’ series. And we launched that during 2020 as part of our Content for Change Initiative, which is a corporate mandate across Paramount to increase representation in front and behind the screen. And the In America studies, we started off with Black in America, then Latinx in America, which I worked on, Asian America, which David worked on. And then lastly, LGBTQ+ in America. And it’s looking at the lived experiences.
I say these are more evergreen studies because it’s not about you know, Latinos love food and family or gays love to travel. It’s really trying to understand them as people first and that’s our point of view when it comes to studying marginalized communities is you need to understand them as people before you think of them as viewers or consumers. So, these are not your traditional multicultural marketing research studies. These are very powerful, people have laughed, people have cried, and people have asked us to share with their children, their parents. We presented to the US military as part of our initiative. So, it’s really been not only professionally rewarding but personally rewarding as well.
Karen: Yeah, I love that. And thank you for the plug for North America. You got there first, which [laugh] is so great. Thank you. So, for those of you who are listening, you know, I’m sure Natalie, our producer will put the link in the show notes to our event that’s going to be happening in Austin, Texas, towards the end of May, IIEX North America, it’s our flagship event and we’re very excited to be welcoming these two to our main stage to talk about this initiative, and also the zine, right?
So, both the study and the zine, there’s two things here. And again, I really do want to get into the study, so I keep pushing it back a little bit because there’s so much more that I want to talk about. Tell me about the creation of a zine in particular because many people in our audience are thinking about deliverables all the time and they may be doing an insight study or a market research study, but they do have to think about how they’re going to report it. So, the creation of your zine is almost equally as important as the study itself. Can you share?
Angel: Yeah, so with LGBTQ+ in America, it started off as a presentation, a 45-minute presentation, you know, multimedia with a docu-style video as a teaser. But we also, there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make the cutting room floor, right? There’s only so many stories that we can tell. And if we’re really pushing this mission of getting to know them as people, we figured, why not create a magazine version, right, that we’re really highlighting the people that we met on the road, talking about what David and another person on our team went to Charleston, Albuquerque, and Detroit, getting those stories. And you know, also too, again, thinking about how can we disrupt the storytelling, make something exciting for people?
You know, everyone has seen so many presentations, right, like, so it’s about, like, waking them up and hacking their attention and producing something in an unconventional way. And it makes it exciting for us as well, like, being able to challenge ourselves. And I think that’s one thing that’s great about working at Paramount is that they’re really committed to the Content for Change Initiative, supporting this with the proper resources, right? Because oftentimes, on the agency side, even the corporate side, you know, senior leadership will say, “Yes, you can study this audience, but it’s a part-time, like, a passion project,” and there’s no funding for it. And that is not the case at Paramount.
Karen: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And, you know, I have talked to, over the course of the last year that I’ve been with GreenBook, a few individuals who are fortunate that their organizations have kind of a, you know, corporate sustainability or corporate responsibility, some sort of a corporate initiative that is happening at the strategic level, and they are empowering their researchers with money and funding and resources to do this work because it’s feeding something bigger than their departments. Anyway, so kudos to your organization. I know it serves a great purpose. Let’s get into the methodology a little bit. You know, you mentioned, David, you are out there, right, in some of those cities and locations, but start off telling us a little bit about the methodology and, kind of, how you undertook the research to fit into this LGBTQ+ in America study.
David: Absolutely. So, we wanted to ensure that when we were doing the study at first, it wasn’t duplicative of anything that was already out there that you could find about the LGBTQ+ community. So, we were super intentional about how we’re crafting it. And so, to get the robust amount of research that we wanted, we wanted to make sure first that it was nationally representative. So, everything that you see in the presentation at IIEX North America, you can say that it is nationally representative.
So, that really means 4500 respondents in total, aged 13 to 57, and specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, we had 3000 respondents and 1500 non-LGBTQ+ respondents. And in addition to that, into more of the methodology, for the quant, we had three social groups. So, that’s really what you’re talking about earlier, Karen, about how we were able to—me and someone else on the team were to travel to these three different cities. And the cities were Detroit, Albuquerque, and Charleston. And the reason why we chose these micro-cities is because we wanted to understand what does it mean to live as a person who is LGBTQ+ in these communities that are micro-cities, but also aren’t coastal representations of who we are already, right?
So like, we didn’t want to go to New York already because that’s where we live and then we also didn’t want to go to LA because you feel like the respondents that we would get from those specific cities would be too similar. And so, when we went to Detroit, we wanted to ensure that we got, like, the African American, the Black experience there to really understand what it means to be LGBTQ+ in America in that city. And then for Albuquerque, New Mexico, we wanted to talk to a bunch of respondents there that had more of like that indigenous tie to that city. And then finally, when we went to Charleston, we wanted to ensure that we had also, like, a little bit of a southern view of what it means to be LGBTQ+ as well. We also did 15 DIY ethnographies across different cultures, setting LGBTQ+ Gen Z and Millennial leaders and experts, so everything from an aspiring congresswoman to an undocumented immigrant. And we wanted to make sure that we had all of these different views, and we’re doing our research.
Angel: And making sure that we have respondents that go across the different letters of the identity, right? Because that was a big thing for us as going into this research is that David and I can only speak to the gay experience, and even within the gay experience, you know, race, ethnicity, region, how visible your identity, how accepting your parents are, your relationship to religion, that all impacts. So, there’s so many slices and dices within a letter. So, we want to make sure that we’re being as comprehensive as possible so that we can really authentically be an advocate for some of the other identities as well.
Karen: Yeah. And speaking of which, I will dig into some of these findings because there’s so much that’s important there when it comes to the identities. One of the ahas was when we were looking at over the zine internally, was that—I think the question was, which of the following identifiers do you feel is most meaningful to the community? And it was the LGBTQ+ community. And, you know, in that, alongside or further in, there’s an infographic that explains the plus. And I think that for some people listening, they may not know what the plus is. So, I’d love for you to just pause there for a moment and define the plus so that there’s context for the fact that that’s included in that kind of list.
David: So, the plus, when we include that, the plus really encapsulates many of the fringe identities that go across the entire spectrum of what it means to be queer. And so, that includes everything from demisexual and pansexual, and I think Angel also was just alluding to how complex our community is. And as we outlined in the study that we’re going to be presenting is that there are so many more identities within LGBTQ+ and we wanted to try to encapsulate as much as we could inside our study. And so, that it makes it more diverse and what I like to say, more beautiful when you see the plus at the [unintelligible 00:17:21].
Karen: Yeah. Go ahead. Were you going to share something else, Angel?
Angel: Yeah. And there were some identities that I’ve never even heard of, right? So, we’re all learning, there’s a culture of learning happening, even people within the community. So, if there’s some labels that you’ve never heard of, it’s okay. Something’s new to everyone at some point, right?
Karen: Yeah. I love it. And there’s something else about the study that I think is really important, and again, captured in the zine is, some of the data around the meaning, some of the percentages that might take you back a little bit. So, for instance, why don’t you share some of those stats that we discussed in sort of a pre-call that really take you back? There were people in your community that do not identify as community members and there’s statistics that bring them into the fold. So, share some highlights with us, if you wouldn’t mind.
David: Well, the one stat that I still am so amazed by and takes me aback is that we found that over half of LGBTQ+ people say that, “My life would be easier if I weren’t LGBTQ+.” And the reason why this is so shocking to me is that we see that there are rising levels of acceptance, right, and as we see younger generations being more accepting, it’s just it’s shocking to me that we’re in a year—and I hate saying that because I feel like we say that all the time, but it’s shocking to me that we’re in 2023 and this beautiful community that I’m a part of, more than half of them would say, “I don’t want to be who I am,” and that’s mainly because they think their life would be easier. And I feel like that’s just so shocking to me.
Angel: And I think what you were alluding to Karen is, like, the whole idea of a community, right? And we found that it was pretty much split, like, 55% identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, whereas 45% identify as LGBTQ+ but are not as part of the community. And what oftentimes people don’t realize is that the LGBTQ+ community is even more diverse than the non-LGBTQ+ community, right? Because we have the ages, the regions, the incomes, the education levels, the race and ethnicities, but on top of that, we have the sexual orientations and the gender identities. And even when you look at generations, it’s much more complex than non-LGBTQ+.
We understand there’s a difference between Gen Z and Boomers, but within the LGBTQ+ communities, those differences are apparent. But then imagine a boomer that grew up in the ’80s, right, where AIDS was a death sentence or marriage equality was never even an option for them. And we know that those two are no longer the case, right, for a Gen Z growing up. So, there’s going to be even starker differences between the Boomer and the Gen Z experience.
And then also to you know, unfortunately, there’s a lot of racism that exists within the community. There’s a lot of—you know, some LGBTQ+ people don’t believe—there’s a lot of erasure around bisexuality. Our trans brothers and sisters, unfortunately, don’t get, you know, as much visibility within the community as well as outside as a community. So, there’s a lot of conflict that also exists. So, I understand why it’s kind of evenly split of people that identify as part of the community and those that do not.
Karen: I think what’s important for me to kind of just take a pause in is how important it is, as researchers that, you know, we’re always talking about starting with empathy, and everything that you were just saying, to me, helps build empathy for members of this community. And if we just always keep that in mind, wouldn’t we all be better served in our lives, but also in our work and in our professional circles? So, thank you for sharing those details. Another thing I want to talk about, though, is really connecting some of the dots, Angel, when you talked before about kind of that future-forward work and some of that trend work. And I was taken aback by the changing percentages. So, there was one percentage, for instance, that was talking about 7% of the population might identify in the community, but it is changing for the younger generation and being predicted to go up to a certain percentage, which I won’t steal the thunder if you want to share that [laugh].
Angel: Yeah, so looking at just population size alone—and I would say when you’re looking at marginalized communities, populations size alone is not the true story of why you should prioritize a community, number one—but looking at population data, currently, the US population 18+ that identify as LGBTQ+ is 7%. By 2026, a conservative estimate is 15%. And that number is going to increase as the Gen Z starts to age up into 18 and be recorded as part of that sample. But if we look at Gen Z specifically, I’ve seen numbers as high as 28, 30% of the Gen Z population that identify as LGBTQ+. And so, I think a lot of conservative media would say, oh, you know, the gay agenda is making people gay, and it’s not that there’s more gay people; it’s just that more people feel comfortable expressing their identities and being accepted and identifying as part of the community earlier than before because there’s rising acceptance rates and there’s more media representation and families are more open and children are being raised differently. It’s a positive thing.
Karen: For sure. There’s also another stat in there that kind of builds on what you’re saying that talked about the percent of people who care about somebody in this community. So, I know it’s a measurement, it’s a metric, right, it’s a percentage or a stat, but it’s compelling. So, share with me a little bit about that and help our audience understand a bigger thought for the future.
Angel: Yeah, definitely. So, this is part of our why brands should prioritize this community. First, we say we have the numbers, right? And the numbers being the population size and how that’s growing, as I previously talked about. But the other thing is, too—and this is why I say that doesn’t tell the full story of why you should prioritize the community—is that in our survey, we were very intentional.
We wanted to identify, okay, is the current discourse representative of the majority of the population. And thankfully, I was surprised to know that 70% of non-LGBTQ+ people say there’s someone that they care about that is part of the community. Not that they know: care. So, there’s an emotional connection. So, that 7% that exists today is now 70-plus percent of.
That’s going to resonate as a brand if you’re connecting with this consumer. And it’s nationally representative, so it’s definitely you know, a viable statistic, but if you also look at acceptance rates of the LGBT+ community on, you know, Pew data, if you look at marriage acceptance, it’s also around the 70-plus, so to me, it gives that gravitas and that weight to really show that this is the case. I think what we’re seeing is unfortunately, a very loud, hateful minority, but I always tell brands, they are the minority.
Karen: That’s great. I think that one of the things I’d love to talk more about is, you know, brands—listen up brands who are listening, literally—listen up, take this in, but what are some of the either calls to action or words of encouragement? What else would you say to brands other than, take this in, you know? What are some things that they can do to really embrace what we’re sharing with them?
Angel: Yeah, so I think there’s a lot of ways and all of these are very applicable across marginalized communities, right? So, you want to make sure you’re understanding who they are as people, right? And it’s about building a culture of empathy and that’s the mission of our In America series. I think the other one that we talk about is support the issues that matter to the community and making sure that you understand what those issues are. And it’s not just about throwing money, it’s about having committed, sustainable action across those issues. So, that’s another thing.
We also say advocate for us, right, shows your support and don’t waver, regardless of what’s happening. Again, we’re telling you that the backlash might seem strong, but it is a minority. And as part of our presentation, we’re going to update it a little bit to really challenge a lot of the backlash that some of the brands are facing currently and really give a lot of solid data points of why you shouldn’t waver and how it’s just a little dip. Because if we look at Bud Light, for example, yes, their stock dipped, but it went above previously, in a matter of days. So, we’ll have all of those great reporting data to really show off, like, don’t buckle, regardless of what happens. So, I think those would be the biggies. David, do you have any others?
David: Yeah, I think you know, just laddering it back to Paramount’s Content for Change Initiative, right, is ensuring just at Paramount alone, that we have accurate representation that’s not just on screen, but off-screen as well. And I think a lot of the work that we do with all of our In America series is kind of preaching that to brands is, like, ensuring that if you are going to be trying to connect with the community, that sometimes the messaging isn’t necessarily—and it shouldn’t only be, if at all—only be during celebrated months. And in our study, we go into this generational divide about, you know, the term rainbow-washing being used and how, in the LGBTQ+ community, younger generations versus older generations actually have different views on whether or not brands should even participate in Pride. So, just to build off of that and just to ensure that when brands are creating messages, it’s coming to experts who have these studies that are nationally representative and speak more than just slapping a number on to an audience, but rather, like, giving you their story, their lived experience, so that when you are crafting messaging, it’s not missing the mark.
Angel: Yeah, I think the Pride thing is a really important one. That’s the only time people want to connect with the audience and it’s sort of like, it’s table stakes. And it’s not just for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s for every other marginalized community. I like to, when I’m presenting Latinx in America, I like to say, like, Latinos don’t celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The only heritage month that is a celebration is Pride. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only time that you can connect with us. You really need to be an advocate and a supporter of us 365 days a year because that’s what we are, I’m gay 365 days a year. And it’s not just about the money either.
Karen: I think that it’s so important when we realize, you know, we have an audience of individuals who are taking this in as insights professionals. And I think, you know, talking about some of these big issues like representation matters, and empathy and understanding matters, but you are really bringing the voice of a customer, the voice of a consumer, the voice of a human to the world, which is the ultimate goal of every researcher, right, as we are listening and learning from and taking that voice and sharing it with the stakeholders, which you’re doing. You just have a world of stakeholders, really. So, it’s sort of exaggerating what the role of a researcher is, on some level because you’re taking the voice of an entire community and putting it out there. So anyway, just wanted to take a pause on that for a moment and say, that’s a big responsibility.
Angel: Yeah, and for me, you know, one thing… I did Latinx in America first and it was probably one of the hardest presentations that I’ve done, mentally, emotionally, time-wise. And I was kind of hesitant to really do the LGBTQ+ in America because that was our fourth one; Latinx was our second one. And not only because I couldn’t—I didn’t feel I could genuinely express and speak for all of the audiences, but I was just, like, I don’t know if I can handle another hard, emotional toll presentation. But seeing a show on TV and being so grateful that young people have this representation, I said, “If I have the voice of people that could potentially make some sort of change, whether professionally or even personally, then I have an obligation to go through it and have, create, maximize those opportunities in those spaces, in those occasions.” Now, I understand, you know, some marginalized people feel it’s not their responsibility and I respect that, but for me, I take it as my responsibility to do that.
Karen: So, here’s a question for you. In this research process—so now, again, putting our hats on as researchers and saying—there are researchers who are listening saying, “Yeah, this is a great conversation and, you know, kudos to the team and anxious to learn more about the findings of this study,” but what are some of the lessons learned as researchers? What are some of the things that you, either when you were designing the study or executing the study, what are some learnings that you can share with the other insights professionals listening in?
David: Yeah, I mean, just to build off of what Angel was saying is that I feel like there’s even more of this stress as a researcher and as also part of the community to try to encapsulate as much as you can. And there was so much that we wanted to talk about in the study that got cut. But I feel like it was encountering a lot of our own biases, too. I think, you know, when you’re creating a study and doing research about your own lived experience, it makes you think and look back at, like, what have you been doing, and like, what are some biases that are in your own life? And I feel like, especially as two gay men of color, Angel and I have similar yet different experiences, especially in New York City, where it’s like a hub for the LGBTQ+ community.
And it was really trying to understand on how to best encapsulate the entire LGBTQ+ community as a whole in our research study. And I feel like a lot of it was me and Angel going back and forth about how much history do we need to include, you know? When we think about it, a lot of the LGBTQ+ history is, truly, let’s be real, is untold, and if we’re going to talk about the political elephant in the room, books are being banned, words are being banned, identities are being erased. And so, it was a lot of us just ensuring that we were telling a story that wasn’t just coming from two gay men of color but was representative of just how we got here, as a community.
Karen: David, talk to me about the importance of having people who identify with the community that they’re doing research on that team, right, rather than me, for example, as you know, a hetero white woman, that would be a totally different lens. So, just talk to me about how some of those decisions are made on these studies that you’re undertaking.
David: Yeah. That’s a really great question and a lot of it is always up for debate about who can speak about who. And I feel like one, anyone can be educated about a specific topic, but when you’re talking about the lived experience of a specific community, you’re only going to get the richest and most robust research from people who have lived through that, who can actually relate. And so I feel like being part of the community and being able to speak to it, we were able to catch, you know, when we were working with our vendors, as well, with our research vendors, we were able to kind of already be the first line of defense of being like, “Hey, like, actually, you’re missing this part of the research that I think that needs to be included or at least talked about.” And so, it was this continuous culture and cycle of learning that we had with each other and with our research vendors because we are from the community, and while we aren’t the entire moniker of LGBTQ+ we have lived that experience already and so we can kind of speak to it a bit better. Yeah, I think we can just speak to it better because we’re from that community.
Angel: Yeah. And I think being academically trained as a researcher gives you more of a worldview of, like, how to eliminate those biases. You should never go into research thinking you’re the expert. Even if, let’s say, you’ve been working on laundry detergent for 15 years, and if you start a new project, you still shouldn’t go into a project thinking you’re the expert. If you are, you’re wasting your money.
Change the methodology, change the questions, change the people you’re speaking to, right? Because why are you even doing that? Just for another data point? Those data points exist. So, I think it’s, number one, going into it like a newborn kid, right? And newborn baby with a blank canvas of, like, what do I need to know.
And I think it’s really important, back to David’s point of having people as part of it because if your survey questions are flawed, your data is going to be flawed, right? So, you can school yourself as much and immerse yourself in the research, but fundamentally, at the foundation, the starting point, if it’s off, it’s off, and everything else is going to be off. And I think another point, too, is it’s not just about having one or two people on the project that identify or belong to the community because, you know, we are professional people, we are often in big cities; I can’t speak for the Latinx community, you know? We’re equally as diverse, right, so it’s about making sure that the respondents are fully representative, the people are not just one or two people, right? So, it’s really trying to be very purposeful with everything at every single touchpoint.
Karen: There’s a fine line between establishing and meeting quotas in a methodology and making sure you’re being inclusive. How did you walk that line? Do you have any kind of thoughts on how you figured out, like, what the right approach was?
Angel: So, in addition to the survey and how you’re casting that, I think it’s understanding your blind spots. So, for us, we could have easily gone to the New York and LAs, but we added time to the schedule because it was really hard to recruit in Detroit, Albuquerque, and Charleston, right? We can easily have said, “You know what? We’re not going do New York and LA; we’ll do Chicago to change it up a little bit.” And I think knowing your blind spots, too, is saying, “Hey, actually, when we come to the qualitative sample, we feel like we have the Gs. We talked to enough Gs. We really need to over-index in the Ts. We need to over-index in the Ls.” Or, “There’s a lot of erasure when it comes to bisexual people. Let’s make sure that we are being more diligent in our recruiting for bisexual people.”
And I think that’s the same thing across different marginalized communities, right? So like, if you look at the representation of Latinos, it’s always the white-skinned, more European-based people. Make sure that you’re talking to Afro-Latinos, it’s 25% of the Latinx population, but we totally ignore them. So, I think it’s about understanding your own blind spots as well as the industry blind spots, as well.
Karen: Yeah. And I’m picturing a million recruitment screeners from my 30-year career that [laugh] probably were not inclusive of people that we need it to be talking to, and I’m really glad that this conversation is out there. Is there anything that you wish I had asked you that I haven’t asked you yet, things that you’d like to share with our community about the study about the zine in advance of your talk, as we come to a close of our interview? What are you wishing I had asked you that I didn’t?
Angel: It’s not necessarily something that I wish you asked, but I want to just leave with people if they’re deciding not to attend because I’m not connecting with the LGBTQ+ community; it’s not a target. We are super influential, we have data that shows that we are the mainstream behaviors of tomorrow, right? So, you need to understand it. And even if it’s not your target, as a person, you’re going to benefit from this. Learning about a segment, an audience that you may not have as much exposure to or may not know someone—and statistically, you definitely—if you don’t know someone, it’s statistically impossible that you don’t know someone from the community, so you definitely want to attend.
David: And I’ll say for me, for everyone who is going to attend [laugh] our presentation, the first thing I want to say is thank you because you’re giving yourself the ability to learn, perhaps for the first time, the lived experience of the community that definitely didn’t hear about in your history books. And I think I went to a quite liberal private school and I didn’t have any of that in my history books. But I want to say that, as a human being, Angel and I like to tell people that—especially researchers—as you continue to learn about the LGBTQ+ community, is that you will stumble. An Angel says, like, this great line that says, like, “You should stumble forward.” Is that you should be having grace with yourself to make mistakes.
Angel and I still make mistakes, going to these three different cities and learning about the different fringe identities, making those mistakes, misgendering people, and assuming things because I feel like in our culture, we’re already taught to assume that people are straight unless they say that they’re part of the community. And so, I’ll say, thank you for coming to our presentation and I hope that you are able to, if not apply this to something in your research, that you can apply this to dinner table conversation or even to be an ally in some way that we also outline our presentation to make people comfortable who are from the community.
Karen: Well, I’m so grateful to you both that we are having this pre-conversation to the bigger conversation that we can have in Austin. I am incredibly grateful that you’re both here and that you’ve done this work and that you’ve shared just a little bit about how you went about doing it and what some of the results were on this talk. So, thank you both. How can our listeners either learn more from you or reach out to you? Is there a preferred method of communication, if you want to put that out there?
Angel: Yeah, definitely come visit us after the presentation. Connect with us on LinkedIn: Angel Bellon, and also via email.
Karen: All right. And, David, how about you? Is there a preferred way that they can find you in the world?
David: Yes. So, you can obviously see us at the presentation and also reach out to us on LinkedIn. But if you’re looking for some New York City food restaurant [email protected] on Instagram.
Karen: [laugh]. David is here now. All right. Well, I’ll be doing that, since I’m just a little bit north of New York City. I’ll be finding you there. So, always a social media influencer, I suppose [laugh].
David: Yes [laugh]. Yes.
Karen: For sure. For sure. So, that’s all for our show today. I want to thank both of you, David and Angel, for being here once again. I want to thank our listeners for tuning in week after week and especially this week. I want to thank our producer Natalie Pusch and our editor, James Carlisle. I am very grateful to have been a part of this conversation today, so thank you, it’s been an honor. And to everybody listening until next time, take care.