Where have all the women gone?

Lesbian businesses are vanishing as a result of marketing gaps, but leave room for new business to step in.

Published September 8, 2006 12:05AM (EDT)

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports that Bay Area businesses owned by or catering to lesbians are gradually disappearing, as venerable bookstores, magazines and bars with predominantly lesbian clientele close their doors. Maureen McEvoy, a member of the Bay Area's LGBT chamber of commerce, told the Chronicle that "in the 1970s and '80s, there were seven active women's bars in the city; that's what we used for socializing. Ultimately what happened was we couldn't support them financially, and one by one they went out of business."

The Chronicle notes that businesses for gay men fare better. And the difference may be demographic: "Lesbian couples tend to make less money than gay couples, they are more than four times more likely to have children, and they are more geographically dispersed, according to U.S. Census and marketing agency data," the Chronicle's Wyatt Buchanan reports.

But there may also be a gap in the marketing. Buchanan further reports that the staff at San Francisco lesbian magazine Curve "often offers advice to companies that place advertisements in the magazine that they think are lesbian-friendly, but instead show images of male couples." Curve founder and publisher Frances Stevens wonders, "Is that the 'LGBT market' or just the 'G' market? Advertisers need to learn that it's not a cohesive market, just like anything else."

Still, marketers are eager to tap into the lesbian market, which could be a mixed blessing -- an increased ability to meet the community's needs would be great, but a glut of targeted advertising might be less welcome -- especially since any such targeted marketing has to be handled sensitively. Betty Sullivan, who runs a Bay Area information board for gay and lesbian events, warned against using the lesbian label, saying she'd rather just be identified as a woman. "I think the word 'lesbian' itself is problematic. It's an old word loaded up with baggage from the '70s," she said. Where have we heard that before?

By Adrienne So

Adrienne So is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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