Everyone from chef Padma Lakshmi to the “illustrious drag queen Lady Bunny” joined celebrity host Jennifer Hudson last week in New York for W Hotels’ first Turn It Up For Change event promoting same-sex marriage.
Taking place at W New York – Union Square, with the theme “Love Has No Limit,” the party raised money for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that supports public education about the LGBT community. Through the end of 2015, W properties nationwide will be hosting similar events to trumpet the HRC’s mission to get same-sex marriage legalized in all 50 states.
The formation of the Turn It Up For Change partnership began in October last year at an HRC gala where the organization’s president Chad Griffin spoke about the need to stay resolute in the fight for gay and transgender rights. Anthony Ingham, VP, North America brand management for W Hotels, was in attendance, and Griffin’s message struck a chord. Starwood Hotels and HRC have worked together for 10 years to develop internal best practices revolving around LGBT workplace equality, but Ingham felt W could do more on a public stage.
“That was the beginning of conversations about how W has become such a powerful brand, and has such a broad reach and incredible following, that it really can influence public opinion,” says Ingham. “I know that we have a huge number of associates who work for W who are part of the LGBT community…, but we don’t ever talk about it externally, and I don’t think we’ve been vocal about it enough.”
As of now, a total of 32 states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage, up from 14 states in October 2013 when Griffin spoke at the HRC event. The Turn It Up For Change parties, using the hashtag #lovehasnolimit, will donate a percentage of profits per each legalized state to HRC, with the goal that by the end of 2015, donations will total 50% when every state recognizes LGBT unions.
When that happens, W Hotels still plans to work with HRC and advocate vocally for the LGBT community. Ingham explains that the focus will then shift to raising awareness for workplace equality.
He says, “We may get to the point where marriage equality is legal in all 50 states, but there’s still a huge discrepancy from one state to another in legislation that protects LGBT people in the workplace from discrimination and being fired.”
Inclusivity as Brand & Business Driver
W Hotels is one of those large global brands with a culturally attuned consumer base that provides it the ability to take such a firm public stand on a highly politicized issue. Because W has always promoted “What’s New & Next” in design, fashion, music and nightlife, and because it’s always supported social causes to varying degrees, that brand positioning clearly communicates a celebration of diversity and multiculturalism.
That sense of inclusivity has accomplished two things that can be directly linked to W Hotels’ especially quick and successful development worldwide, and its ascent into the luxury hospitality bracket.
One, it attracts a wide range of applicants of all sexual orientation who want to be part of W’s inclusive culture, providing a broad base of emotionally engaged employees. Two, it attracts a wide range of upscale consumers, surprisingly of all ages, who want to align themselves with W’s modern mindset in design and programming.
“So kind of organically, the brand has become embraced by the LGBT community as a great place to work,” says Ingham. “And while the majority of our customer base is straight, I would argue they are an audience who really appreciates the diversity and sense of equality that exist within W…. I don’t think it was actually designed as a brand pillar, but it’s been part of W’s DNA from the beginning.”
To promote Turn It Up For Change, there’s a Starwood microsite with videos and upcoming events nationwide. W Hotels has also ramped up its Tumblr over the summer, which Ingham says will be a central platform for this initiative. With LGBT community voices from Lady Bunny to LadyFag pushing W content to promote the HRC cause, there surely won’t be a lack of shareable photos.
Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development / email: firstname.lastname@example.org