Written by Lizzie Cooper-Smith, Copywriter
Illustration by Lucy Yong, Designer

After working together on a campaign promoting trans allyship for this year’s Pride in London march, creative consultant Rico Jacob Chace and Paul Dazeley, our Head of Planning at TMW Unlimited, sat down to discuss why this work has never been so vital.

The importance of authentic trans allyship

In recent years, mentions of trans people and the trans community have rocketed in the media. Far from being a positive thing, this rise is almost exclusively down to populism, clickbait culture and political point scoring, as outlets stoke so-called ‘culture wars’ and politicians across the world respond by rolling back hard-won trans rights.

The result is that a community that makes up less than 0.5% of the population is repeatedly and collectively referenced in almost purely negative terms.

Pride in London 2023 – bringing the community together

For Pride in London 2023, the organisation wanted to paint an authentic picture of the trans experience, while also highlighting and fostering the allyship that comes from both inside and outside the wider LGBTQ+ community. (One of the most striking tactics of the anti-trans lobby has been to promote voices that divide lesbian and gay people from their trans siblings.)

In bringing the campaign – titled Never March Alone – to life, TMW and Chace recognised the simple power of shining a light on the reality that trans people are individuals who contribute fully to society. They are friends, siblings, colleagues and teammates, whose lives have context beyond their gender; and they're surrounded by people who love and support them every day.

The result was a series of specially commissioned portraits, shot by trans, non-binary and queer photographers, depicting trans and non-binary people, and the allies who enable them to be their authentic selves. Drawing on his own experience as a Black trans man, Rico Jacob Chase said of the campaign:

“When brainstorming this campaign, I wanted to send a powerful message of unity, love and support to my trans siblings. The campaign needed to bring trans/non-binary people into the spotlight with positive media representation created by our community for our community. Secondly, it was important to counteract any negative representation that trans people are on the fringes of society. We aren’t. Allies should know we are loved by the people around us – parents, partners and siblings, to name a few. The campaign brings Pride back to its roots as a protest, and we’re saying this is how trans people, or people in general, should be treated, and we will accept nothing less.”

Dazeley agrees that authentic representation is key, saying that a campaign like this ‘should not be about a fun social post with a few white, cis drag queens. It’s about showcasing the incredible breadth of beautiful diversity that exists within the queer community. A diversity that is often excluded from the media narrative. This isn’t a problematic marginalised minority, it’s a joyful, multi-faceted community trying to live rich and rewarding lives. Brand campaigns create space to tell that authentic story, to platform that talent, and ultimately to give back to a community who are misrepresented, underappreciated and underpaid.’

The role for advertising

So, how can the wider advertising industry embrace this opportunity when, as we know, agencies and brands don’t always get it right? As Dazeley says, ‘The advertising industry has almost a sense of arrogance sometimes. The belief that they can just tackle any brief and do good in the world.’

But we don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t always understand what we haven’t experienced. That’s not a bad thing – but it is something we need to acknowledge, as individuals and as an industry. Conversation and collaboration are crucial. If we really want our work to enact change and do good for the communities that it represents, then we need to work directly with those communities. 

As Chace says, ‘If you’re depicting a minority group, especially one that’s constantly vilified in the press, you really need to work with a creative consultant to ensure you aren’t playing into any unconscious biases that will contribute to perpetuating negative stereotypes. Forty-one percent [MM6] of trans people have experienced a hate crime in the past year, and all trans people are two times more likely to be victims of crime than cisgender people; misinformation fuels hate and can even cost lives. A creative consultant, like myself, can sense check if the message your advert is sending is A, true, and B, helpful. Bringing the right people to the table at an early stage is really important.

‘[The Pride in London campaign] wasn't just a creative concept about sticking a trans or non-binary person on a poster and a thumbs up saying Happy Pride. The team actually thought about how they could help the community. And when I added my thoughts or helped develop an idea, I was half expecting the team to say, okay, we've done it now, which is typical of some of my clients. But they'd always go away, think about it even more and come back with an even more in-depth pitch.

‘And I think that's the reason why we worked so well collectively. It was because we didn't just see the campaign as an opportunity to stick some trans people on posters. Their core intentions were to help the trans/non-binary community, so the team asked themselves how can we make this campaign even better, link it to grassroots organisations, link it to what's currently happening in the media and politics and actually put trans and non-binary people first? And the campaign idea that we came up with does exactly that.’

Never March Alone: harnessing the power of collaboration

Given advertising’s ability to influence how we think and how we live – even if we don’t always acknowledge it – brands and agencies have a real responsibility to do the right thing. What this Pride in London campaign shows is that that when we co-create, advertising has even more impact. It can benefit both the brand and the people it features – and there are more untapped opportunities for this positive collaboration.

Chace added, ‘Honestly, whenever clients approach me with a campaign idea or advert I’m always over the moon. Why? Because when I realised I was trans there was very little media representation, and what was there was rarely positive. This career is my dream.'

He continued 'I don’t think ad companies realise the full breadth of talent in the LGBTQ+ community and the amount of beauty and raw untapped talent that exists. The voguing houses and voguing balls, they exist in London.  There are trans bodybuilders, musicians, poets, graphic designers, scriptwriters, actors, Bollywood dancers, and beauty pageants... you name it, we have it. A campaign with any of them would be ground-breaking! There is an infinite number of ideas you can create.

'Also, as a trans creative, it’s challenging to get your foot in the door, so brands can create campaigns with positive representation that help everyone. Of course, it goes without saying that talent should receive market-rate compensation. Ad companies have the power to do a lot of good, but without the right direction, equal amounts of harm too.’

When so much of our media is engaged in misrepresentation, authenticity, depth and diversity matter more than ever. To get this right, we need to work with the people we’re trying to represent, right from campaign ideation through to execution – and to embrace collaboration as a key way to make all of our work more meaningful.