The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce brought together some 2,000 attendees and 250 corporate sponsors at its annual International Business and Leadership Conference, where LGBTQ business owners spent four days networking with Fortune-500 companies.
The sold-out conference, entitled “LGBT Unity,” was a frenzy of entrepreneurs and suppliers networking on the third and fourth floors of the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown hotel. Dozens of workshops simultaneously took place in multiple rooms throughout the hotel. Others in attendance set up shop outside the Marriott’s grand ballroom, passing out cards and connecting with fellow business owners. Attendees also made their way to the marketplace expo at the Pennsylvania Convention Center that housed every corporate sponsor and supplier.
After the expo closed Aug. 16, guests quickly made their way back to the grand ballroom to attend Martha Stewart’s keynote speech. Stewart had the packed ballroom in hysterics as she spoke candidly about her relationship with rapper Snoop Dogg, her stint at a federal correctional facility and her refusal to accept a pardon from President Donald Trump.
Stewart also spoke of the importance of being an ally to the LGBTQ community. “Being an ally is an everyday occurrence. We’ve been embracing change and inclusiveness for a long time. My magazine was the first to feature a gay wedding in 2009,” she told the audience. “I hope there’s no discrimination in my life and no discrimination in my company. We don’t look at people in terms of sexual orientation or beliefs. We look at people in terms of talent, drive and getting things done.”
The four-day conference was a marathon of networking opportunities and connection-building, but it was also “a way to showcase that LGBT people are a vital part of America as business owners and employers,” said Justin G. Nelson, NGLCC cofounder.
“LGBT business owners were, and are, an essential part of the engine that makes the U.S. economy run, and therefore deserve an equal place at the table,” he added.
Brian Sims, the out representative for Pennsylvania’s 182nd district, said the conference highlighted the political impact of the LGBT economy.
“There is strength in our purchasing power. We’ve got all of these businesses and business leaders together at a time when we’re watching a historical attack against us, and I think that the byproduct is being incredibly conscientious and proactive about how we, as out people, can impact the discussion on policy,” Sims told PGN at the close of the conference.
Jason Trimiew, head of supplier diversity at Facebook, explained Facebook’s mission to be more inclusive in working with diverse suppliers during the marketplace expo.
“We wanted to have a specific and proactive effort to go out into diverse communities, learn about their businesses and make solid connections,” he said.
Gabrielle Claiborne, cofounder and managing partner of Transformation Journeys Worldwide — a transgender diversity and inclusion-consulting firm based in Atlanta — said the conference helped her foster relationships with other transgender and NGLCC-certified business owners.
“Thinking beyond the corporate contracts as being a measure of success, there were businesses here that are ready to do work with other certified businesses. They want to team up in an effort to create opportunities that they may not have been able to attain on their own. That’s the power of this conference,” Claiborne said during the Trans Inclusion Townhall workshop.
K. Kenneth Davis, a New Yorker who owns the Trans Capitalist, a financial-consulting business, mentioned his need for other LGBTQ mentors as he gets his business off the ground.
“I believe that mentorship is crucial for small, trans-identifying business owners such as myself from other transgender business owners. I’ve heard many success stories at this conference of trans folks pushing past barriers and creating avenues of opportunity in business,” he said.