NGLCC co-founder Justin Nelson is celebrating the organization's 15th anniversary. Washington Blade photo Michael Key

NGLCC Celebrates 15 Years of Supporting LGBT Businesses

BY MARK LEE, WASHINGTON BLADE

The historically unparalleled accelerated advancement in LGBT cultural acceptance and civil equality has been successful and strengthened in large part due to the engagement of the business community. No greater ally has served as a more effective advocate for fair treatment and evenhanded opportunity.

A disproportionate engagement in commerce by the LGBT community is a primary contributing hallmark of this accomplishment.

The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce will be celebrating both that legacy and the organization's 15th anniversary next week in Las Vegas.

More than 1,000 entrepreneurs, corporate decision-makers, leaders from 52 affiliated local chambers nationwide - alongside federal, state, and city government officials from across the country and representatives from around the world - will gather Aug. 1-4 at the 2017 NGLCC International Business and Leadership Conference.

This benchmark is the result of a shared vision by co-founders Justin Nelson, NGLCC president, and Chance Mitchell, who serves as CEO.

An organization literally launched around a coffee table is now the voice for the nation's 1.4 million LGBT business owners and the $1.7 trillion those enterprises add to the national economy each year. NGLCC enjoys the support and participation of more than 150 corporate partners as well as prominent executive leadership in striving to promote pro-business and LGBT-inclusive policies.

"Back in 2002 we realized that too few government leaders and corporate executives had considered the economic equality of LGBT people or the impact economics could have on the future of the equality movement," notes Nelson. "So with a few forward-thinking corporate partners and a small network of LGBT business owners willing to tell their story, NGLCC was born."

Co-founder Mitchell describes those early days, recalling that "word began to spread about NGLCC very quickly, thanks to outlets like the Washington Blade and Out magazine recognizing the previously underreported strength and promise of the LGBT business community. That proved what we, and our NGLCC corporate partners, always believed: economic and social visibility go hand-in-hand as we march toward equality and opportunity for all."

"We needed a way to showcase that LGBT people were a vital part of America as business owners and employers," Nelson emphasizes. "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."

LGBT businesses have always represented a uniquely large proportion of the community, contrasted with other demographics. An estimated 10 percent of lesbians and gays are among the ranks of corporate owners, small and moderate-sized business operators, and leadership in commerce.

"Business ownership thrives in the LGBT community because we have all learned to be the entrepreneurs of our own lives," explains Mitchell regarding this modern gay metier. "LGBT business owners prove that being out and being successful does not have to be mutually exclusive."

Mitchell hastens to add, looking to the future, "the American workforce will be younger, more diverse, and more inclusive than ever before in the years ahead, and with that comes the opportunity to innovate and collaborate across communities in ways that continue to shatter stereotypes and misconceptions. LGBT people exist in every community, and as industries modernize there will always be LGBT business owners at the forefront delivering the goods and services this country needs to stay competitive in a globalized economy."

NGLCC is continuously connecting with LGBT businesses throughout the country, and increasingly interacting with owners and operators in localities large and small. In order to better reach them, NGLCC has initiated regional "road shows" and digital interfaces to provide communities new service platforms.

In 2004, the organization introduced a best-in-class diversity certification program that, according to NGLCC senior vice-president Jonathan Lovitz, distinguished "the organization [as] the exclusive national third-party certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses. LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) Certification is now in use by more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies, as well as federal, state and local governments."

Mitchell added, "the positive responses received when we began certifying LGBT Business Enterprises showed us we were on the right track. In the little more than a decade since, we have certified nearly 1,000 companies. The spikes in certification and the influence of the LGBT business community and our business allies parallel the milestones in LGBT community advancement. That will only be further strengthened as more corporations intentionally stand with the LGBT community by including our businesses in their daily operations and supply chains."

More than 150 corporations now seek out LGBT suppliers and recent changes to the HRC Corporate Equality Index, fully implemented last year, now measure LGBT supplier contracting policies as a stand-alone scoring criteria. This motivates more than 500 large enterprises to interface with LGBT businesses in order to attain a positive ranking or preserve a perfect rating. In addition, several states now require or promote inclusion of LGBT businesses in contracting.

Four years ago, the organization launched NGLCC Global, connecting LGBT-owned and allied companies, multinational corporations and international affiliate chamber leaders and members on five continents.

NGLCC this year released a groundbreaking "America's LGBT Economy Report" - the first-ever exploration of the economic impact of LGBT-owned businesses on the U.S. economy.

Beyond its signature role as the business voice of the LGBT community, the largest advocacy organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunities for LGBT people, and the exclusive certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses, NGLCC and its affiliate local chambers provide direct B2B networking opportunities. Resource sharing, skills training, corporate collaborations and business policy advocacy make membership a value-added premium proposition for local LGBT enterprise.

Nelson looks to the future first by looking back at the successes so far, pointing out that "NGLCC has spent the last 15 years helping more LGBT Americans gain access to the American Dream than ever had it before. And yet, we've barely scratched the surface of what we can do. As more corporations and government agencies intentionally include our certified LGBTBEs, more opportunities to create jobs and innovate industries will spring up in every state in the country. NGLCC-certified companies are continually proving one of our favorite mottos true: 'If you can buy it, a certified LGBT Business Enterprise can supply it.'"

"Every single day our community is building equity by opening new local businesses, and by expanding operations of larger LGBT-owned companies to countries around the world," Mitchell adds.

Nelson confidently predicts, "The next 15 years will be focused entirely on gaining more ground for our community to thrive economically - in America and around the globe."

Additional information on NGLCC programs and activities, membership opportunities, and identification of local chamber affiliates nationwide is available online at http://NGLCC.org.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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