Aug 26, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 34

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Diversity sells: Seattle hosts LGBT business leaders
Diversity sells: Seattle hosts LGBT business leaders
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

As the visibly of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender-owned businesses continues to grow, American is waking up the reality that such businesses occupy not only Wall Street, but the Main Streets of Anytown, U.S.A. It is estimated that there are over 800,000 LGBT owned businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide.

"Our LGBT business chambers and organizations are fast becoming a very powerful voice in Washington D.C., in large part because of the hard work that the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has been doing over the past couple of years," said Greater Seattle Business Association spokesperson Brad Davis. "Its work involves advocacy and a new but already successful diversity procurement program for Gay and Lesbian owned businesses, which already has brought contracts into our community valued at nearly $15 million and growing rapidly. The list of major Fortune 500 corporations involved in launching this program is impressive and it speaks to a modern business climate of inclusion."

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest LGBT business development and economic advocacy organization, has paved the way for many firsts during its three years of operation. The organization has become the first LGBT organization to sit on the United States House of Representatives' Small Business Committee Roundtable and to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Last month, the organization also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Interior, marking the first time a federal government agency and an LGBT advocacy organization have sought to collaborate for purposes specific to business opportunities.

"When we first came on the scene& I don't think anyone was glad that we were there," Justin Nelson, NGLCC co-founder and executive director for programs and advocacy, told the Seattle Gay News. "There is a business case for equality. In fact, that is probably one of the biggest fears of Tony Perkins or one of his right-wing cronies. This is an argument not even they can argue with - although they are trying."

Recently, the president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, condemned the Department of Interior agreement with the NGLCC, saying that it amounted to "preferential treatment" and "special access to over $2 million in Interior contracts, money earmarked for small and disadvantaged businesses." The FRC has called on Congress and President George W. Bush to intervene.

"Mr. Perkins doesn't understand the difference between equal treatment and preferential treatment. It is obvious he hasn't read the [memo] or the Small Business Act," said Nelson. "The federal government is required by law to educate and work with small businesses. Small disadvantaged businesses, Women-owed businesses and veteran owned business. As we all know in the LGBT community, we represent every segment there. Even if we weren't a part of those other diverse communities, we are American small businesses, which is a part of the Small Business Act."

Nelson was in Seattle for the Western Business Alliance Leadership Conference last week. Representatives of 10 different LGBT chamber of commerce came from as far away as Toronto, Canada for the conference. Together, they hope to send the message: Diversity sells.

"The purpose of last weekend's WBA Conference was to again bring together the leadership from other LGBT business chambers and organizations in our region, which hadn't been done since 1998," said Davis. "Our conference was very successful and was for most, if not all, attendees a great opportunity to collaborate on ideas and share best practices.

"In fact, NGLCC Executive Director Justin Nelson commented that LGBT chambers and organizations in the western states are presently stronger than similar organizations in the Midwest and along the East Coast. So, those organizations are looking to our regional and local organizations in the West to use as a model for strengthening the LGBT business community as a whole."

The Western Business Alliance includes LGBT chambers of commerce in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. However, the 63 attendees at the five-day conference also included representatives from LGBT chambers of commerce in Minnesota and from the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario.

Local dignitaries such as Mayor Greg Nichols, State Rep. Ed Murray and City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen where on hand to welcome the conference attendees to the Emerald City. Sen. Patty Murray also sent a video greeting. The Task Force's Russell Roybal, director of movement building, and Dave Noble, political director, also attended conference events.

In addition to workshops and topical discussions, the conference featured an elegant reception at the Columbia Tower Club on Friday, dinner at Brasa's on Saturday and a brunch aboard Argosy Cruise's Royal Argosy.

Nelson building your business and advocating on behalf of the LGBT community are no longer mutually exclusive. "As a community, we typically don't put economics and activism in the same sentence& It's okay to use economics as activism," said Nelson. "When the decision makers in Washington [D.C.] know that we are business women and men - that we employee people, pay taxes, provide healthcare and really are contributors to the overall health and life of this economy - it is very hard to argue against some equality issues& A lot of people in mainstream America and on Capitol Hill [in Washington D.C.] don't know that we are business owners - that we have a life outside this mystical 'Gay-lifestyle' that everyone talks so much about, but know nothing about."


Caption: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (right) welcomes attendees of the Western Business Alliance Conference. Louise Chernin (left) had introduced the mayor. Courtesy: GSBA

Caption: National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Courtesy: New York Stock Exchange

Caption: Headshot of Justin Nelson, NGLCC co-founder and executive director of programs and advocasy
copyright Seattle Gay News - DigitalTeamWorks 2005