Each June, cities across America host parades, speaking events and community building activities to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. It’s a time for us to acknowledge and honor the impact and accomplishments of those in the LGBTQ community. It’s also a time to listen and learn, and to reflect on how we, as a profession, can engage with this community at a higher level.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am very pleased that many funeral professionals are already doing this, or working towards greater inclusivity in their outreach and business models. You are compassionate, service-minded people who are skilled at reading emotions and tailoring your words and actions to offer comfort and support. Those skills naturally carry over when working alongside LGBTQ families.
It’s important to remember that everyone you serve has a family that they celebrate – whether biological or chosen. People in the LGBTQ community have parents that are aging, grandparents that may be in their final years and children and grandchildren celebrating the close of a school year. You have an opportunity to serve all of these families, and they, in turn, deserve your services as well. You are our leader in times of grief and celebrations of life, and we look to you as trusted experts to guide us through the difficult days surrounding the loss of a loved one.
It’s likely, though, that there are unique needs that your current operations may not account for when serving LGBTQ families. I encourage you to start by making an honest assessment of where you’re at today. If you have relationships in the LGBTQ community, ask those you trust to help you identify your blind spots and places where you could be more intentional in providing a safe, inclusive space for these families. If you do not have existing relationships, take a look at other businesses that are doing this well (like Intuit, Uber and Microsoft). You can also check out this helpful site from the Human Rights Campaign, which ranks Fortune 500 companies using a data-driven LGBTQ equality index.
Once you’ve assessed where you’re at today, earmark some key areas to focus on moving forward. Where you start will vary based on your local business and market, but here are a few things to consider:
- Meet with representatives from your local LGBTQ community and ask how you can support them and participate in their business offerings. Listen as much as you can and remember that LGBTQ consumers are often very loyal – if you make an honest effort to understand and meet their needs, they’re likely to think of you first whenever they need a funeral provider.
- Make time for you and your staff to participate in local LGBTQ events and organizations. Did you know that there are national and local chapters of the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce? Participating in these groups can help you find ways to promote economic advancement among LGBTQ-owned businesses.
- Consider flying a Pride Flag below your American flag at locations in June. If you do not have a flagpole at your funeral home, consider placing a small window cling on or near your front door displaying the Pride Flag. I know when I walk within my neighborhood and see a small Pride Flag on a business, I make an intentional effort to do business with them. Not every space is safe for this community, so acknowledging that you are is meaningful. And keep in mind that it’s not just those in the LGBTQ community who take note. Allies also notice these things done in support of their LGBTQ friends and neighbors, and they can be fiercely loyal as well.
- Ensure your hiring practices are inclusive. Consider how you write your postings, the interview questions you’re asking and where you’re advertising your open positions.
- Evaluate your advertising. When you design ads, are you using diverse representation? Are you including photos of same-sex couples as well as people of color? Also, consider where you’re advertising. Many communities have LGBTQ publications that accept advertisements.
- Train your staff to ask non-assumptive questions when they meet with families. Instead of asking about Uncle Henry’s wife, ask an open-ended question like, “Tell me about Henry’s family.” Asking questions that assume sexual orientation or marital status can be painful for those in the LGBTQ community. It’s a tremendous gift to ask questions in a way that allows them to lead those conversations.
One final thought: Continue to find ways to show how you serve diverse and underserved communities. It is okay to openly communicate that you welcome LGBTQ families, just as it’s okay to communicate that you are welcoming to Black families, Latino families, Jewish families or Buddhist families.
Being socially conscious with signage, symbols, other communications and in advertising helps members of the LGBTQ community feel comfortable choosing your firm and recommending it to others. And, in doing so, you model the way to openness and acceptance that unites communities in caring for all who grieve, regardless of faith, creed, color, culture, sexual preference or gender orientation.