Queer Ad Folk: Good allies must call out the 'banter' that people claim are jokes

Deborah Whitfield, head of production and executive producer, Factory Studios, shares her experience.

Queer Ad Folk: Good allies must call out the 'banter' that people claim are jokes

Queer Ad Folk is a project with a mission to showcase LGBTQ+ talent thriving in adland so everyone can see people like themselves in the boardroom and beyond.

This week, Queer Ad Folk founders John Osborne and Oli Rimoldi talk with Deborah Whitfield, head of production and executive producer at Factory Studios.

Have you always been ‘out’ at work?

I didn’t come out till I was in my early thirties. That was a combination of suppressing feelings when I was younger. When I came to terms with myself, and started to figure out who I was, and realised that this is me and it’s OK to be this way. 

It took me a while to come to the realisation myself, and until the penny had dropped I didn’t feel comfortable telling everyone at work. I think it’s important to be out now. If I look back to when I was younger I would have felt much more comfortable if I saw people like me now who are out and proud in the industry because it gives that space to the people in the community, and reinforces that we exist and we’re here. 

Does being LGBTQ+ help you in your job?

For me, it’s given me a gateway to a community in the industry. I get to meet lots of different people who I may not have encountered; it’s lovely that being LGBTQ+ gives me access to that. It’s a really nice way to connect with people who are like-minded individuals. 

When you first came into the industry, were there any LGBTQ+ role models or people you looked up to?

Predominantly more men than women. I didn’t see people like me on TV or in adverts, there just wasn’t that representation. To be honest I can’t think of anyone who was in a senior management role that was out and female when I came into the industry. 

Any LGBTQ-inclusive ads that you think are great? Or ones you don’t think are great?

Factory worked on “Ban conversation therapy” with The & Partnership on behalf of Stonewall. It’s a lovely, emotive, beautiful script. Directed by Zhang & Knight through Academy Films. It’s a striking film that addresses the abuse trans people endure when undergoing “conversion therapy”. It’s a really complex topic but ultimately starting with a ban helps set in stone that it is completely wrong and hopefully change will happen. 

What advice would you give brands making Pride content?

Particularly around Pride, corporate companies need to do more than put the rainbow on their logo, they need to support the community or donate to charities. It feels really inauthentic. It would be better if they didn’t use the rainbow on their logo and donated to charities, or take on some training for their staff to actively do something.

Have you ever experienced LGBTQ-phobia at work?

In the past, I’ve heard the jokes and banter that are dismissed in everyday conversations in the industry. Being LGBTQ+ those things stick with you. I’ve definitely seen an improvement in scripts and treatments and a push in casting where directors and creatives are being much more thoughtful about having diverse cast and representation on screen. However, I do think there is still room for growth. The intention is great but we need to see much more of that. 

What's the best way for colleagues to be good allies?

The best way to be a good ally is by doing actions. Standing up for LGBTQ+ people and presenting the reasons why it’s important for representation. It’s really important to call out the banter that people dismiss and claim are jokes. By being more active and vocal you’re going to create more of a safe environment for queer people.

Any words of wisdom for queer newcomers to the industry?

Don’t hide who you are, embrace being you. Don’t feel pressure to pigeonhole yourself into a version of anything that isn’t your authentic self. Take the time that you need to explore your identity. 

Stay tuned for further chats with top LGBTQ+ adland leaders in the coming weeks. As always, we welcome suggestions from people to feature in QAF. Get in touch with us at @QueerAdFolk on Instagram or find us on LinkedIn.

John Osborne is group creative director at Cossette in Canada and Oli Rimoldi is creative director at Mother London

Campaign UK

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