Are LGBTQ communities early adopters of technology? It’s a widely held assumption, and history seems to support it—at least when it comes to media.
The first LGBTQ publications rose to prominence in the late 1960s and became an essential way for LGBTQ people to connect as part of a burgeoning movement. After the Stonewall riots in 1969, regional newspapers helped LGBTQs keep up to date and find places and organizations where we were welcome. For decades, these print publications served their tight-knit communities, and LGBTQ magazines thrived in the 1990s as corporations sought to market to this valuable audience. But they couldn't reach LGBTQs everywhere.
As online services like AOL emerged in the 1990s, LGBTQ consumers were some of its earliest users. Gays and lesbians finally had a way to connect directly with each other—whether they lived in a big city or a small town. People who weren't yet out of the closet found a support network, love interests, and a like-minded community just a kew keystrokes away. Digital media quickly became essential to the fabric of the LGBTQ populace and has remained so ever since.
AOL channels like PlanetOut quickly found their way to the web, and other services and content soon followed. LGBT blogs like Bilerico Project arrived in the early 2000s and gave voice to a movement. Soon enough, blogs morphed into full media sites, and advertising became a viable source of revenue for these digital properties.
LGBTQ consumers were also among the earliest adopters of social networks and outpace the overall market in smartphone ownership. Why? All because digital offers an unprecedented way to connect with other like-minded individuals.
But the mobile revolution provides the starkest example of LGBTQs being on the cutting edge. Apps have quickly exploded, filling many of the same needs: GayCities helps locate friendly organizations and venues; Grindr helps connect people to each other directly (and preceded Tinder by years).
Today, most of the original LGBTQ print magazines have folded, exist exclusively online, or have seen steep declines in readership while digital media thrives. In a post-marriage-equality America, readership of LGBTQ digital media sites is higher than it has ever been before, with several properties reaching millions of consumers each month. Grindr set a record for valuation of an LGBTQ company after its recent $93 million investment.
LGBTQ digital media continues to be a growth area as the U.S. political climate now allows more and more advertisers to feel "safe" reaching a once-controversial audience. We expect traffic to all digital properties to continue to grow, and for ad dollars to follow in step.
Even as LGBTQ media becomes more mainstream here in the U.S., access to digital media is more important than ever in those countries where gay and lesbian voices are still suppressed. LGBTQs are using apps to connect and reading digital media for the same reasons American LGBTQs sought out print in the 1960s. In the next five to ten years, I expect a surge in content for these underserved communities and hopefully a business opportunity to grow with it.
From print to digital, from web to social, desktop to mobile, LGBTQs have been at the center of the next big thing in publishing over the last half-century. Smart publishers and advertisers know that, and will continue to serve them.