Outward Explainer: What’s With Lesbians and Subarus?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 2 2014 2:56 PM

Outward Explainer: What’s With Lesbians and Subarus?

Kate McKinnon as Billie Jean King
Kate McKinnon as Billie Jean King in the Dec. 21 Saturday Night Live.

NBC

When Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon channeled Billie Jean King on the Dec. 21 “Weekend Update” segment right after King was named to the official U.S. delegation to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the tennis great declared herself “President Obama’s big gay middle finger” to Vladimir Putin. She then promised to “drive my Subaru Outback into Red Square, doing doughnuts and blasting Melissa Etheridge.” We all know that Melissa Etheridge is a lesbian singer-songwriter, but why are Subarus so closely associated with lesbians?

Some would like to think that there’s some special Sapphic significance in the name, since Subaru is Japanese for Seven Sisters—albeit in the sense of the Pleiades rather than historically women’s colleges. In fact, though, the car company’s place in the roster of the righteous among the LGBTQ nations is a result of some very canny niche marketing.

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Subaru is by no means the only car company to target gay and lesbian buyers—in fact, Saab was the first to advertise in the gay press, back in 1994—but it is arguably the most high-profile and has waged the most sustained campaign for the pink dollar. Subaru was one of three charter sponsors when the gay-themed TV channel Logo launched in 2005, and the company has gained recognition for “gay-coded” ad campaigns, including one that featured custom license plates like "XENA-LVR," "P-TOWN," and "CAMP OUT."

Those ads weren’t targeted exclusively at lesbians, however. The "Lesbaru" connection seems to have been cemented when Subaru featured out tennis player Martina Navratilova in a 2001 campaign. Then in 2004, the company supported a another lesbian tennis player: Dana Fairbanks of Showtime’s The L Word. When the fictional Fairbanks was forced out of the closet, the show’s storyline had the real car company rolling out a campaign with the slogan, “Get Out. And Stay Out.

According to Subaru’s research, lesbians are "four times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to own a Subaru." But what kind of Subaru? NPR’s Car Talk found the Outback to be the No. 1 car among lesbians, with the Forester coming in second.

Izzy Rode is a Slate intern.

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