by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Marriage equality got a major endorsement by some power players in recent weeks.
No, we're not talking about Lady Gaga or other Hollywood stars. We're talking about the stars of big business, the superstars at Nike, Microsoft, and Amazon, to name a few. While endorsements from individuals - famous or unknown - are needed, never before has the LGBT community received such support from corporate America. While the long-term impact remains to be seen, the initial reaction from the general public is promising. With each passing week, our movement toward marriage equality - in Washington state and around the nation - receives one important endorsement after another. It would seem that big business got the memo: marriage equality is coming.
Louise Chernin, executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), the LGBT and allied business and professional chamber of commerce, knows all too well the importance of business owners endorsing political and social issues in favor of the LGBT community. Chernin and her team work with thousands of business owners and professionals - both LGBT and heterosexual - on issues ranging from marketing to the role of business in community building.
Like many in the community, Chernin was pleased with the recent round of corporate America's endorsement of marriage equality in Washington state. 'This sets an example and encourages - and gives courage to - smaller and mid-sized businesses to step up as well,' she told Seattle Gay News. 'It sends a message to elected officials that there is widespread support from those who are a major part of our economic engine.'
In addition, Chernin says it also sends a message to those opposed to marriage equality 'that there will be power and financial support to maintain this hard-fought legal right.'
Importantly, Chernin pointed out, these endorsements also give a message to the thousands of employees who work at these major corporations that their employers value them. 'This kind of thing will attract more prospective and talented LGBT employees to move to Washington state.'
As head of the GSBA, Chernin oversees the largest business chamber of its kind in the U.S. More than a chamber, GSBA is a vibrant community organization with a broad and diverse membership base.
Although the organization is the 'LGBT chamber,' the GSBA is not exclusive to the LGBT community. In other words, Chernin and company do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. And neither should any other business chamber, she said.
'In GSBA, our allied partners are true partners,' Chernin told SGN. 'They join GSBA certainly to access the LGBT community but also to support our work to achieve equality. Our allied businesses have nondiscrimination policies, which include sexual orientation and gender identity and also offer domestic partnership benefits to their LGBT employees.'
'By joining GSBA, they send a message to their employees and customers that they are promoting equality in the workplace,' she said.
On a broader scale, Chernin said, 'Civil rights cannot and have not ever been achieved solely by whatever minority group has been the victim of discrimination, for the very reason that they are in the minority. To change laws, one needs to change hearts and minds, and to accomplish that means making connections, working in coalitions, and then standing by those who support you and stand with you for your battle to achieve equality.'
As an individual, Chernin supports marriage equality because it is 'about fairness and equality under the law. It is intolerable to allow any group to be considered second-class citizens.'
'Marriage, whether you wish to marry or not, is a way that this country has determined as a way to validate loving relationships, and provide legal protections to families. Certainly, LGBT families cannot be excluded from accessing these protections under the law,' she said.
For businesses, however, in order for them to succeed in this world, 'they must recognize the value of equality, diversity, and inclusion,' Chernin said.
'This is no longer a world in which straight white men control everything. If you wish to attract the most talented employees, have employees who will be loyal and productive, and bring in a diverse customer base, it is imperative for businesses to create an inclusive culture in which all employees have the same rights and are treated respectfully.'
'This cannot happen if the person's identity is not accepted for who they are and their families are not afforded the same access to protection and benefits,' she added.
Chernin said that equality is good business and 'marriage equality is an opportunity to raise important revenue for our wedding industry businesses, our tourism industry, and our entire state.'
'More weddings, more folks from out-of-town attending weddings or traveling here to get married - all this means hotels, florists, photographers, caterers, DJs, accountants, estate attorneys, and many other professionals will benefit,' she said.
In addition, Chernin pointed out that increased revenue and tourism means increased tax revenue as well. 'Research shows that the states that have approved marriage equality have raised over $88 million in new revenue in a three-year period - a nice byproduct of doing what's right.'
When speaking with Chernin about the GSBA, you can tell that, as the organization's executive director, there is no one prouder of the chamber than she. 'GSBA members have always been courageous and taken a leadership role around equality, starting with our founding 31 years ago. As an LGBT chamber we know that equality is right and fairness is essential, but as a business chamber we also know that equality is good for business,' she said. 'Many straight-owned businesses have courted the 'pink dollar' but now we are asking them to not only want access to our resources but to stand with us and support our equality. These are exciting times for our community.'
There are still many challenges around the country and on the federal level, reminded Chernin. 'GSBA is actively working to overturn the Federal DOMA and working with our Congressional delegation on federal tax equity issues,' she said. 'As LGBT families, we expect all the rights and benefits still currently enjoyed by everyone else in the country.'
'We'd also like to protect our partners/spouses and be able to leave them our Social Security; or not have to pay extra taxes for our domestic partnership benefits; not pay unfair transfer-of-property taxes, and on and on,' Chernin concluded. 'We are not there yet but the victory in Washington state and California is a huge step in our journey for equality. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, it's back to organizing.'
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