Millennials were the first generation of youth with a majority to openly support gay rights. Through their vocal efforts, society as a whole has become more accepting — most Americans now support gay marriage and current culture is inclusive of the gay community. Today’s teens have picked up the mantle; “young consumers see a need to achieve the same degree of acceptance and equality for transgender individuals,” notes our Gen Z issue. Through teens’ efforts and activism around this issue, societal perceptions are gradually beginning to shift.
According to the report, nearly three-quarters of Zs aged 13-17 (74%) believe that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of gender, sex, or race. In addition, most see no problem with women playing traditionally male sports (68%) or with boys playing with dolls (57%). This new generation of youth has a different perception of gender roles; they are more fluid and less defining than in the past. They are also more likely than previous generations to have encountered gender non-conformity with President Obama raising the issue in his latest State of the Union address and with several celebrity children emerging as transgender.
This is not a concept that is over teens’ heads; rather, it’s not uncommon for teens (and tweens) to have discussed questions of gender from a young age. With their highly open-minded and accepting attitudes, they are furthering the conversation and demanding that older generations follow their lead.
With the support of young fans, the topic of transgendered individuals has infused pop culture. On the heels of “Transparent”’s Emmy win, many mainstream TV networks are shining the spotlight on their own transgender tales, including Discovery’s “New Girls on the Block,” and forthcoming programs such as ABC News’ interview special about Bruce Jenner’s transition and E!’s docu-series on the same topic, ABC Family’s “My Transparent Life,” and TLC’s “All That Jazz” about Jazz Jennings.
Recently, ABC’s “Nightline” offered an update to its 2011 episode about transgender children having followed one of the subjects of that program for four years documenting his transition. Even the government is taking notice. Last week, the White House responded to petitions for what has become known as Leelah’s Law, named for a transgender teen who committed suicide in late 2014 and aimed at banning LGBT conversion therapies. While the White House does not have plans to enact a ban at the federal level, it is supporting such laws at the state level.
As Zs’ transgender activism continues to grow, this is an area that brands cannot afford to ignore. Much as Ys demanded that marketing evolve to include the gay community, Zs are pushing for greater inclusivity for transgendered people. Even more than usual, it is critical that marketers are cautious not to simply jump on the bandwagon but to demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the transgender community.
For example, Clean & Clear just released a new ad featuring Jazz Jennings with the tagline, “See the real me,” in which the teen discusses the importance of “being your true self.” Likewise, when Redken chose Lea T as a spokesmodel, it focused on her hair and beauty inspiration rather than her transgender status. Marketers need to recognize and embrace this trend or they may find themselves behind the times in terms of social progress.