While our community has come a long way, I'm still surprised by the reaction I get each year when I tell friends and acquaintances how excited I am about the New York City Auto Show. Much like sports, while I'm not a professional athlete, I am an "athletic supporter" and cars are no different. I know how to change a tire, check my oil and more importantly, I know how to make a service appointment when an indicator light pops up on my dashboard. As such, I derive great joy in seeing what's trendy and what's trending in a "what will they think of next" sort of way.
This year was no disappointment as I was not only impressed by what was under the hood, but by a realization that as a gay man, I am part of the consumer dream team as the LGBT community commands nearly $800 billion in spending power.
Alas, with that kind of power comes a sense of responsibility as I also realize that being perceived as having deep pockets makes me a moving target against the backdrop of the consumer landscape. I'm proud to be a man who is gay, I'm grateful to have family and friends who support me and I love 8 cylinders of fuel injected horse-power.
Yet, the reality remains that we as a country are still slowly gaining distance from precipice of the "Fiscal Cliff". Being gay makes me highly sought after by many brands as I am to put it bluntly seen as a very large dollar sign. As such, in some markets, specifically travel and alcohol, I believe I'm also seen as consumable and disposable. I am also misunderstood as naïve enough to think that hanging out the rainbow flag or advertising in a gay magazine is enough to engender in me a sense of well-being and goodwill towards a label, a destination or the ubiquitous drink with a cute name and a fancy price.
Clearly, the automobile industry is out to make a buck but I have no issue with blatant capitalism. This year at the auto show I was introduced to a refreshingly grassroots outreach effort on the part of General Motors focusing on the LGBT community. While strategic, it is authentic in an effort to not only treat people equally, but to have the internal face of the company reflect the external consumer and vice versa.
Joe LaMuraglia, General Motor's LGBT Communications Manager was a breath of fresh air. Months ago, I made an effort to reach out to several brands inquiring about their LGBT programs with Joe being the only one who reached back with a sense of authenticity and a genuine desire to tell a story.
Offered the opportunity to not only be given a tour of his brand, but the entire show, I was escorted along with a small group of other gays and lesbians throughout the floor. In fact, I had the chance to ask questions of other brands and encouraged by GM to engage in robust conversation despite the fact that my host for the evening was the competition.
I was inspired by the transparency as I have no doubt that this brand clearly wanted access to the $800 billion LGBT consumer dream team; and why shouldn't they?
Marketers, experts and influencers take note as I believe any consumer can be slightly pampered without being pandered to in the process. I am a man who is gay who happens to like cars. I like nice cars and I'm not sure what my next new nice car will be. What I do know is that the automobile industry is running to catch up and claim a piece of the treasure at the end of our rainbow. There is no excuse for any consumer to be uninformed in this day and age. The LGBT community is no different. Before we allow any of these brands to take our money, we need to take a good hard look at who is looking to capture our attention and why. Although the gay community may do things with dash of glitter and a side order of fabulous it does not mean we don't recognize smoke and mirrors marketing techniques. Because I am gay does not mean that I want a gay car or truck pimped out with tasseled trim. Ladies and gentleman, start your engines and show a bit more pride in the Pride you expound as you try to capture the attention of my LGBT dream team.