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Published Jun 29, 2020 by Kelsey Seeker
June is LGBT Pride Month, celebrated each year to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred June 28, 1969. This June, another milestone was marked for the LGTBQ+ community when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace based on sex.
In light of this historic milestones, we asked the Tammi Wallace, president and CEO of Houston's LGBT Chamber of Commerce, about what's changed for the local LGBT business community.
Talk if you can about the history of Houston’s LGBTQ business community. How has it evolved over the years?
Historically, the LGBTQ business community has been connected to Montrose, where many LGBTQ-owned businesses have been located. Today, we certainly see many LGBTQ-owned businesses still located in Montrose, including many chamber members. However, we see businesses in other parts of Houston, Harris County and the region for that matter. We also see more LGBTQ business owners willing to come out as business owners and not just on a personal level but proudly acknowledging they are an LGBTQ-owned business. And we see consumers and corporations that are actively seeking to do business with LGBTQ-owned businesses on a level we've not seen in the past.
What’s the current landscape of LGBTQ and allied businesses in Houston look like?
As a chamber, we are dedicated to supporting a thriving LGBTQ and Allied business community in the region. Historically, there had not been this type of connection and network and certainly not on the level we see now. The chamber is working every day to build and empower this network of business owners, who, as a whole, have a tremendous opportunity as more and more consumers demand to do business with LGBTQ friendly companies. Consumers want to spend their dollars with companies whose values align with their own in terms of LGBTQ inclusion. We expect the support of LGBTQ & allied businesses to continue to grow exponentially.
What events and policies – here in Houston and elsewhere in the country – have had the greatest impact on Houston’s LGBTQ business community?
The LGBTBE® certification, created by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), is a tremendous opportunity for LGBTQ owned businesses to participate in supply chain opportunities in many Fortune 500 companies. Companies, such as our corporate partners like Bank of America, Chevron, Shell and United, have led the way through their strong commitment to supplier diversity and the inclusion of LGBTBE® certification.
We've seen some incredible wins across the country with the LGBTBE® certification, such as the inclusion of the certification by many state and local governments, but not in Texas. Part of our advocacy work is focused on getting the LGBTBE® certification recognized locally and at the state level. I love highlighting Super Bowl LI. This event is such a prime example where LGBTBE® certified businesses were able to participate in the NFL's Business Connect program using the certification.
The LGBTBE® certification fee is waived by the NGLCC for any business that is a member of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber.
What challenges do LGBTQ business owners face today?
LGBTQ business owners certainly face many of the same challenges that we see with other business owners. However, there is an added layer for LGBTQ business owners in terms of being out. If you are considering whether to be out personally or as a business owner, you have additional considerations for your business such as: Will I lose customers? Do I highlight that I'm an LGBTQ-owned business? Will I face discrimination when working with customers, vendors or prospective clients? I see with many LGBTQ business owners that they simply choose to take the risk to be able to live fully and authentically, but it’s not always easy.
Based off of the businesses you’ve interacted with at the chamber, what are some common characteristics of a successful business? What do you think is the key to their success?
In many cases, LGBTQ business owners spent a number of years working for others, and we experienced discrimination, harassment or the deep pain of having to be closeted in the workplace. Living like this day-to-day has been a catalyst for many LGBTQ business owners, who opted to take a risk and go out on their own, in order to, again, live fully and authentically. These experiences have created a resiliency among LGBTQ business owners that serve them well as entrepreneurs.
How can businesses in this community differentiate themselves from their competition?
Absolutely heavily market that the business is LGBTQ supportive! For example, highlighting the LGBTBE® certification logo on a website or member badge from the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber or by joining the chamber and being included on the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber directory. Embrace inclusive messaging in your marketing and send a message that this business is open to all.
How does the chamber empower LGBTQ businesses? What resources do you provide?
One of our goals is to empower LGBTQ business owners and give them the tools and resources to be successful. When we founded the chamber, we were adamant that we did not need another networking organization, but one that could create economic opportunities and focus on economic inclusion for the LGBTQ community. Economic inclusion happens when businesses have access to economic opportunity. This is why it's critically important that the LGBTBE® certification is recognized at all levels of government. Economic inclusion is key to create empowerment for marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
We give our members a collective voice for the LGBTQ business community. Our members participate in the Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce advocacy day each legislative session so we can ensure there is a strong LGBTQ business voice in the state capitol. In terms of resources, we offer educational workshops, work with businesses to get LGBTBE® certified, create B2B connections with other members, both in Houston and across the state, and corporate partners, engagement with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce as an Affiliate Chamber, and, of course, networking events.
You don’t have to be LGBTQ to join the chamber and welcome allied businesses to join the chamber!
What resources do LGBTQ business owners have at the local, state and federal levels? What resources are still missing?
Here's where we begin to see significant gaps and an overarching reason why we launched the chamber. It's one reason we launched strategic partnerships with the U.S. Small Business Administration, HCC and NGLCC, as examples, to provide more resources for LGBTQ business owners. When we launched, we identified collaborations and partnerships as key focus areas to bring resources to the table for the LGBTQ business community. Also, collaboration helps us serve another purpose to break down walls and create an understanding of the LGBTQ community as a whole and vice versa with other communities.
Our work is ongoing to get the LGBTBE® certification recognized at the local, state and federal levels. Where a governmental entity has a supplier diversity program, there is an opportunity to include the LGBTBE® certification as part of that program. Our economy simply does not work without full participation. Social progress cannot be achieved without economic progress. More diverse suppliers are simply good business for governments and taxpayers.
What was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month? Why is it significant?
The 6-3 SCOTUS decision stated that employers can no longer discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a landmark case for the LGBTQ community, and even more impactful when considering the wider implications for every LGBTQ person. From a job to our livelihood, being able to provide for ourselves and our families is a fundamental need and the Supreme Court drew a line in the sand by adding protections for LGBTQ workers in the workplace. This decision will require employers to evaluate at their core how LGBTQ inclusion will be instilled in their culture and ensure all employees are valued and respected.
Where do you think we’ll see the most immediate impacts of the Title VII ruling?
The most immediate impact with the ruling is the thousands and thousands of companies across this country that are now evaluating what this means in terms of their business and how LGBTQ workers will be treated in the workplace, such as with HR policies, etc. Those companies that embrace this change and that work towards LGBTQ inclusion will benefit in terms of talent recruitment and retention, positive brand visibility, etc.
What does it mean for Houston employers? What does it mean for LGBTQ employees?
As the most diverse city in the country, Houston businesses must evaluate their workplace culture and inclusion strategies. Companies that want to recruit the best and the brightest and younger workers in the most diverse city must be LGBTQ inclusive...period. Oh, and did I mention that LGBTQ inclusion is just good business?
As the only major city in Texas without a nondiscrimination ordinance, this ruling is only one step to legally protect LGBTQ people. While we celebrate this ruling, it does not eliminate discrimination that is prevalent in workplaces across Houston. LGBTQ workers will still experience painful discrimination, but now, LGBTQ employees will have protections in place and legal recourse. With that, LGBTQ protections are still lacking in housing, public accommodations, and healthcare. There is still much work to do to ensure that no one experiences discrimination in the workplace or any other part of their lives.
What do you see as some of the long-term implications of the ruling?
I believe we'll see more LGBTQ people willing to come out in the workplace and more visible LGBTQ leadership from the C-Suite down. This ruling will be a catalyst for some companies to start their LGBTQ inclusion journey and that will benefit both LGBTQ workers over the long term and the company itself from positive brand recognition to talent recruitment and retention and ultimately a positive impact on the bottom line. Also, at the local, state and federal level, there will be an evaluation of impact on existing policies, statutes and even future legislation.
What are some best practices for companies as they implement strategic and sustainable inclusion policies?
LGBTQ inclusion is a journey and it goes beyond a training course, an HR policy, a rainbow washed logo, or a Pride Parade. Companies need to invest in the LGBTQ community, internally to support LGBTQ workers and create an inclusive environment not only with words but deeds, including training, C-Suite authentic commitment, policy alignment to externally through an inclusive brand story and marketing, understanding the wonderful differences within the LGBTQ consumer market, LGBTQ talent recruitment, implementing diverse supply chains that include LGBTBE® certified businesses, boards that reflect LGBTQ representation and authentic LGBTQ community involvement. LGBTQ inclusion is a journey and it starts with one step. One authentic step.
To learn more about the Chamber and the LGBTBE® certification at houstonlgbtchamber.com.