The Ugly Truth Behind Advertising & Ad Tech’s Relationship With LGBTQ Media

The LGBTQ community has come a long way since the Stonewall uprising back in 1969, and these days there is more established respect for queer people.

This month we’ve seen all types of celebrations, parades, and street festivals worldwide to commemorate queer culture. However, there are certain ugly truths about how the LGBTQ community is treated that many are unaware of, and one of those awful truths happens to live in the worlds of advertising and ad tech.

There’s a really complicated relationship between advertisers/ad tech companies and the LGBTQ community and media. Throughout the month of June, we saw many brands rainbow wash their logos and packaging, but wondered whether those companies were working to implement change and stop bias towards the LGBTQ community?

Are those brands using their ad dollars to support LGBTQ media companies that provide a voice for a community that is often underrepresented?

The short answer is not usually, which is an age-old issue that the advertising ecosystem needs to address.

Brands are not really allocating ad spend to LGBTQ media, so their reach is not extending as far as it can. They’re shooting themselves in the foot because the very audiences they are avoiding, are the same communities that would most likely buy their products. According to The Pride Co-op, LGBTQ spending surpassed $1.4 trillion in 2021. That’s a whole lot of money being left on the table.

And even when advertisers are committed to spending their budgets in these communities, a few ad tech companies (and their technologies) have made it difficult for those dollars to freely flow through the pipes.

LGBTQ Publishers Face Ad Tech Rejection

For years, LGBTQ media companies have struggled to monetize their traffic. While most of these issues are related to LGBTQ content being inappropriately blocklisted, some ad tech companies have flat out refused to work with LGBTQ publishers.

In 2020, CheckMyAds Co-Founder Nandini Jammi wrote about how five ad tech companies refused to work with Salty, an independent newsletter magnifying women, trans, and non-binary voices. 

From her point of view, there was no justifiable reason behind any of their decisions. Today, Salty is still calling some of them out by name.

And it doesn’t look like much has changed since.

“As far as I know, the situation is still the same for LGBTQ publishers; LGBTQ and other marginalized publishers face an uphill battle when it comes to entering the digital advertising industry,” says Jammi

There's a real disconnect between advertisers — who want to reach diverse audiences — and what ad exchanges are actually monetizing.

“Many of them are developing incredible communities, and inclusive environments — the sort of environment most national brands would be excited to sponsor. But the ad tech companies they depend on are notorious gatekeepers, making it difficult for advertisers to connect with these quality communities. There’s a real disconnect between advertisers — who want to reach diverse audiences — and what ad exchanges are actually monetizing,” she adds.

Keyword Blocklists Take an L

As if that wasn’t enough, advertisers — with a heightened sense of anxiety around brand safety since the pandemic and racially-charged social unrest — have inadvertently (or not) turned up the heat on prejudicial keyword blocking.

Adverse blocking is a process that keeps ads from running alongside certain content. It is an issue that continues to plague LGBTQ media and negatively affects the community. Blocklists are a list of words, found in any piece of content, that are usually deemed unfriendly by advertisers.

“Saying ‘lesbian’ is a death sentence to advertisers,” Orlando Reece, CEO of Pride Media, told NBC news

Words like lesbian and reproductive health are usually blocked, thus stunting publishers’ ability to grow and monetize their audiences. Last year, 65% of what tech firm Oracle considers progressive media was blocked by a standard blocklist, including LGBTQ content. Lesbian, gay, trans, pandemic, and politics are terms that were all blocked.

Ad tech company, Teads, conducted a study on a sample size of 10 different campaigns and found that 50% included blocking words that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. In some cases, the situation has extended beyond blocklist to full-out categories.

LGBTQ pubs also have a hard time retaining investments. 

Ad Tech Vendors Helping LGBTQ Pubs

Fortunately, ad tech companies are working towards getting ad dollars into LGBTQ publishers’ pockets. Colossus SSP, for example, is a supply-side platform that presents a diverse marketplace and enables brands of all sizes to connect with multicultural, underrepresented, and general market audiences at scale.

As a minority-owned SSP, they take pride in opening the floodgates for diversity within programmatic advertising. Currently, they work with LGBTQ pubs like Revry and

“Colossus SSP has a strong focus on supporting the underrepresented publishing community,” says Anthony Dominguez, Director, Publisher Development, Multicultural at Colossus SSP. 

“So, we actively recruit LGBTIQ publishers to join our roster. Not all of these publishers are large in reach, but they target a vital audience that our brand clients recognize as valuable. In turn, we provide these publishers with the technology, access to premium programmatic ad spend, and expert sales and operational, programmatic consultation.”

The Gay Ad Network also works to connect pubs to ad spend by delivering targeted display, video, and native ads across popular LGBTQ websites and dating apps. Gay Ad Network is gay owned and operated and is a Nation Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce certified LGBT Business Enterprise.

What Does the Future Look Like for LGBTQ Publishers?

Despite the constant pushback and laundry list of dilemmas hindering monetizing LGBTQ publishers, there is still much opportunity in the future, both in programmatic and direct-sold.

Strides have been made. Today, you see a lot more advertising creative featuring LGBTQ people. Many more brands are committing higher percentages of their budgets toward underrepresented media. And effective ad targeting techniques are directly reaching LGBTQ audiences. But often, LGBTQ media is still being bypassed and not receiving any of those programmatic dollars.

“Democratizing programmatic starts with education, intention, and access starting with the agency/demand side,” Dominguez explains. “At the same time, it is critical to empower LGBTQ publishers with the necessary resources for them to succeed.”