On March 4, 2019, Woodbury Community Pride held its first economic development/business-attraction program geared toward LGBTQ business owners and entrepreneurs.
It was the result of a two-year, intentional and purposeful effort driven by two core beliefs. First, LGBTQ people must be given the opportunity to participate in the economy to build wealth and influence in order to erase systemic marginalization. Second, LGBTQ people must be allowed to be who they are, where they are.
I am talking about the kind of wealth that can be used to shape leaders, fund LGBTQ-driven innovation and support programs that lift up our community. Wealth as a community gives us greater control over business and jobs. It increases our ability to access capital, attract talent and build influence.
And when I say influence, I mean becoming a constituency who cannot be ignored, forgotten or marginalized. If the homogenous white evangelicals who only comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population can do it, LGBTQ people who span every race, age, creed, nationality, sex, gender and ability can certainly do it better.
People have criticized me in the past saying we have more pressing issues than getting rich. And they are partially right; as a community, our plate is full. But this is not about getting rich. This is about creating a sustainable foundation to transform the lives of an entire community. I don’t pretend any of this is a luxury. With no federal protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace, the never-ending parade of policies intended to repeal years of progress and corporate giants like Chick-Fil-A contributing millions toward anti-LGBTQ causes, wealth and influence isn’t a luxury, it’s self-preservation.
It’s not as bleak an outlook as it once was. The list of players and their initiatives working to help our businesses participate in the economy to build community wealth and influence is long. LGBTQ Chambers of Commerce like Independence Business Alliance and the NJ LGBT Chamber work hard to create opportunity, drive growth, and shape leaders for our business community. The national LGBTQ chamber (NGLCC) established the Certified LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) initiative to promote supply chain diversity. Even the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia got in with their CEO Access program that includes LGBTQ businesses. But it’s not just chambers of commerce; some businesses, like Comcast and Atlantic City Electric include certified LGBTBEs in their supplier diversity efforts. And more cities and state governments now include LGBTQ-owned businesses in their public contracting minority-owned business programs.
Remember I said LGBTQ people must be allowed to be who they are, where they are? Our entrepreneurs too frequently find the challenges of living authentically unmanageable in small towns. They leave to find acceptance and protections in urban areas where the cost of living and doing business is higher. These higher costs are prohibitive for LGBTQ entrepreneurs to realize their full potential. This is a casualty of systemic discrimination. There are a million reasons to pay a premium for location, but fear from discrimination should not be one of them. By the way, if you want that government contract, or certification, or opportunity to be paired with a titan of industry, you need to have capital, adequate accounting systems and a history of growth.
So we need to focus on getting our businesses there, and I believe the answer lies in small towns. The NGLCC reports the highest concentration of certified LGBTBEs exist in the consulting, marketing and professional services sectors. This thing called the internet revolutionized accessibility, making it easier for these types of businesses to operate outside of the urban areas. Right now, small towns need us, and some, like Woodbury, N.J., put protections and resources in place to welcome LGBTQ-owned businesses. This creates an opportunity to get our businesses in on the ground floor of growing economies to not just be part of the upward trajectory, but also to help stimulate it. This way we are maximizing returns getting in on the low end of the market and shaping an economy. Imagine if every small town’s economy was built on inclusion.
I blew past my 500 words a while ago, but I contend the topic warrants further discussion. We hear so much about how we need full equality. Well, our business community is not just part of that, but a driving force to help us realize that goal. Before I close, I don’t want to miss the most obvious way to help our businesses build community wealth and influence. I’ll say it loud enough for the people in the back: Support LGBTQ owned businesses! Our businesses span every sector of the economy and they deserve consideration and support from us.
Tony Doran is a Woodbury native who has come home after 25 years with his husband Rick and dog Moxie. Tony has a deep love for LGBTQ people and culture, which inspired him to start Woodbury Community Pride in 2017. The organization’s collaboration with the city, recently earned Woodbury a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index.