Media Release on #EqualityChallenge Jan 2018



South African Advertisers Embrace New LGBTIQ-Equality Initiative

Advertisers in Africa have an opportunity to be on the forefront of LGBTIQ(1) equality, says AIDS Accountability International (AAI). The organisation, through its Advertisers Activists Collective (AAC)(2), has just published a set of five “#EqualityChallenge” guidelines (3)intended to help advertisers, marketers and businesses in Africa improve the depiction and representation of LGBTIQ people in ads.

“Besides the exciting and powerful opportunity that advertisers have to promote equality, advertisers and business leaders also have a clear responsibility to avoid any messaging that discriminates or stereotypes,” says Lucinda van den Heever, Project Manager of AAI’s Destabilising Heteronormativity project. Van den Heever says that the protection of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities and expressions (SOGIEs) is outlined in key global and regional commitments, resolutions and legal frameworks including the South African Constitution(4) , the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Resolution 275(5) and the Advertising Code of Practice of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa(6).

Violent hate crimes are rampant throughout Africa. The AAC argues that the advertising industry is well-placed to reduce stigma, and ultimately to help reduce discrimination and hate crime. “The advertising industry is strongly influential in how society views the world and those around them,” says Czerina Patel, AAC Initiative Manager, “Ads can create stigma and further discrimination by perpetuating stereotypes and making fun of LGBTIQ people, or they can help promote equality by honestly and positively reflecting society’s diversity which will break down stigma and help end the marginalisation of minority groups.”

“It is imperative to engage with powerful institutions and shift the way they think about gender and sexuality,” says van den Heever, “We must recognise that we do not live in a world of only two genders – male and female – and only one sexual orientation. The heterosexual bias and narrow gender binary repeatedly depicted across most advertising is a false and incomplete picture of what the world actually is.”

The #EqualityChallenge asks advertisers to 1) do no harm (not to stereotype or stigmatise); 2) show the world as it really is (showing a diversity of SOGIEs); 3) push LGBTIQ diversity in culture and religion (and in ads that depict cultural, faith, religious or spiritual settings; 4) build their LGBTIQ teams and alliances; and 5) further education amongst themselves and the public about LBGTIQ rights and issues.

AAI launched this collaborative effort with advertisers when they convened creative directors and executives from nearly a dozen of South Africa’s top advertising agencies in Cape Town in 2016, seeking to create a dialogue and partnership to end LGBTIQ-stereotyping and stigma inducing advertisements and to inspire advertisers to become change agents for equality.

The King James Agency, a 20-year old independent South African creative agency, was the first to endorse the guidelines. Founding Creative Partner, Alistair King, has been an ambassador for the AAC since 2016 and has pledged to help motivate other agencies to follow suit.

“Over and above its responsibility to its clients, the ad industry has a greater obligation to humankind as a whole,” says King, “We have such immense media power at our disposal, and we absolutely must use it to challenge conventions, reframe harmful and archaic social norms, and ultimately help create a more progressive and enlightened view of our world. There has never been a more essential time for advertising to be a positive and embracing force for good.”

“We’re so proud to have Alistair and King James Agency as partners and ambassadors in this work,” says Patel, “This work has to have advertising leaders at the helm for it to be sustainable, expansive and impactful.”

Another South African advertiser which has welcomed this effort is Joe Public United. The agency was recently in the news for creating a groundbreaking and inclusive ad for Nedbank, which has since gone viral, and which includes many diverse characters – including a woman with disabilities and a trans woman(7) .

Joe Public’s Chief Creative Officer, Xolisa Dyeshana, promises that Joe Public will be an ally to the work the AAC is doing with advertisers, and says this effort “is paramount and will go a long way in ensuring that advertising and marketing people who shape so many attitudes in society are conscious of inclusion, equality and diversity in the messages they put out to the public.”

Earlier this month, AAI and the AAC presented the first-ever training on the #EqualityChallenge guidelines to 35 members of Joe Public’s creative and human resources teams.

“I was amazed by the impact the training had and how people were engaged with the subject,” says Joe Public Art Director, Tshepo Mogorosi, who participated in the training, “People should learn about these things, especially people in the advertising industry because we are the people that can change other people’s behaviour and influence it…I feel it’s important for me as an advertising individual to familiarise myself with some of the people who are not being represented in ads and try to change that because we are all equal as human beings.”

Dyeshana says the #EqualityChallenge guidelines training in which Joe Public staff were taught everything from what’s the difference between gender identity and gender expression, to why terms like “corrective rape” are harmful and should be avoided, to the importance of not putting society into male/female binary boxes, was “an eye-opener” for all of the staff who participated. Dyeshana also said that it was refreshing to hear words like “androgynous”, “transgender”, “intersex” and “LGBTI” being used freely in Joe Public’s corridors following the training: “I believe it is a sign of great things to come.”

AAI and the AAC are welcoming all advertising agencies and businesses to endorse the guidelines and will be reaching out to agencies and businesses working in Africa in the coming months, offering trainings on the #EqualityChallenge and on how they too can be allies in the movement for LGBTIQ equality.

Patel says King James and Joe Public are instrumental partners in this work as they will help guide the effort to make the #EqualityChallenge accessible for the advertising and business world and they will help bring other agencies on board: “Ultimately, we want every advertising agency in Africa to take the #EqualityChallenge pledge, to embrace and endorse these guidelines, and to work to further LGBTIQ equality. With the support of inspirational, committed, justice-oriented and talented creatives like Alistair King and Xolisa Dyeshana, and the agencies they represent, this ambitious goal feels reachable.”


Czerina Patel
AIDS Accountability International (AAI)
Advertisers Activists Collective (AAC) Initiative Manager


[1] AIDS Accountability International (AAI) and the Advertisers Activists Collective (AAC) use the shorter and well-known abbreviations “LGBT” or “LGBTIQ” to refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer and Gender Non-Conforming people (LGBTIQGNC) and all people of minority sexual orientation and gender identities and expressions (SOGIEs).

[2] AAC is an informal body of NGOs, activists and advertisers who meet and collaborate to promote LGBTIQ equality in advertising. NGO partners include AIDS Accountability International, AMSHeR, Gender DynamiX, House of Rainbow, INERELA+, Southern Africa Trans Forum and the University of the Witwatersrand. The AAC is part of AAI’s Destabilising Heteronormativity Project and is supported by the Ford Foundation.



[5] Resolution 275 on Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity: