Dozens of businesses in the Reading area are opening their doors to the LGBT community.
At the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Annual Breakfast Summit Oct. 7, Reading Pride and tourism officials rolled out a new initiative to promote the city as an LGBT-friendly locale, to both residents and visitors.
Companies were asked to sign on to a statement advocating for LGBT equality and in turn received a rainbow flag decal inscribed with Greater Reading to display at their business. More than 30 businesses have already signed on, with a number of others planning to follow suit.
The statement reads: “We celebrate human diversity and we are happy to do business with individuals, companies and/or organizations who identify as or serve lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender members of our community, and offer workplace security and equality for the employees.”
Bureau president Crystal Seitz said the agency began discussions about expanding its LGBT tourism efforts more than two years ago.
“We recognized that the LGBT market is a tremendous market for tourism and we started really thinking about how we can become a friendlier market for the community,” said Bureau marketing manager Lisa Haggerty. “So Crystal reached out to Reading Pride and we started working with them and it kind of snowballed from there.”
Seitz said the business-initiative idea was conceived as a way to both educate the local community and send a message to visitors.
“When we started talking with Reading Pride, the first thing we all decided we wanted to do was educate the local community about what being LGBT really means and why it’s so important to treat all people equally,” Seitz said. “The second piece we started looking at was how to get business on board to understand this is right thing to do and then finally how to build LGBT initiatives around this idea for tourism. It’s been a nice collaboration and we’ve built great partnerships where everybody wins here.”
Businesses participating in the initiative range in both size and focus and include everything from hotels to restaurants to churches to the Reading Phillies and the Reading Royals hockey team, which will be hosting its first LGBT night Feb. 28.
Haggerty noted that backers of the initiative were impressed by the feedback; she said they haven’t seen any negative pushback at all.
“To be honest, we were a little nervous at first. This is Berks County, it’s a staunch community, old-world, Pennsylvania-German. But we have not had any pushback at all,” she said. “Which is really wonderful because it showed me that our community is much more accepting than we ever really thought they would be.”
Reading Pride president Richard Spangler said that participating businesses are agreeing to not just treat customers equally, but also employees.
“Whoever has this displayed will also be accepting of hiring LGBT people,” Spangler said. “That was really important; we want to show the businesses that are not just supportive of the community but also supportive of equal rights in areas like employment and housing.”
Seitz said that, in addition to working with Reading Pride to enlist new partner businesses in the initiative, the agency plans to meet with Pride officials and the city of Reading to plan for new LGBT-focused tourism initiatives, such as specialized trip itineraries.
Haggerty noted that, being just an hour outside of Philadelphia, Reading has a wealth of tourism opportunities to offer local LGBTs.
“Our outdoor rec is wonderful. Greater Reading sits in a nice valley, with mountains, countryside. You can really take in a whole different world and we’re looking forward to people starting to pay attention to our proximity and everything we have to offer.”
Among its other recent efforts, the Bureau launched an LGBT-focused page on its website and worked successfully to get several area hotels TAG approved, a designation from Community Marketing Initiative for LGBT-welcoming accommodations. Additionally, the city of Reading has brought on an LGBT liaison and the Human Rights Campaign gave Reading an 86 score on its Municipal Equality Index, and Seitz said the city is working to revamp policies to heighten that rating.