Research by the LGBT Chamber demonstrated the economic might of the LGBTQ business community and led to political change that created more opportunities for its members.
Business • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Many marketers and others in the business world know the power of the LGBTQ community as a consumer segment. But “they don’t think about us as business owners, as taxpayers, as providers of healthcare, as employers, as contributors to the economy,” says Justin G. Nelson, cofounder and president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, NGLCC set out to change that perception, starting with some number crunching.
Data about LGBTQ-owned businesses is scarce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest keeper of data on the U.S. economy, doesn’t ask about the sexual orientation of business owners. But NGLCC did have data from members who had been certified as LGBTQ-owned businesses, and it had a community of affiliate chapters around the country that could contribute their own information and spread the word about the research.
The results revealed a business community with serious economic might: The more than 900 certified NGLCC members alone contributed $1.15 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015—a number that grows to an estimated $1.7 trillion when extrapolated to include all LGBT-owned businesses. Member companies were responsible for 33,000 jobs, the study found, operated all over the country, and tended to stay in business longer than other small businesses.
For Nelson, who’d worked as a U.S. Senate aide and lobbyist before joining NGLCC, the dollar figures in particular demonstrated that he was helping to lead a community with some real political clout. “I’ve been in Washington over two decades, and when I saw that number come out, it was a wow moment, to be able to show that we are that important to the U.S. economy,” he says.
To that end, NGLCC has used the survey as a lobbying tool, reaching out to municipalities to ensure that its member businesses have a seat at the table when it comes to bidding. For instance, in 2018, Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey, implemented an order requiring the inclusion of LGBTQ- and veteran-owned firms, as well as those owned by people with disabilities, in contracting and procurement opportunities. Chicago, Los Angeles, and more cities followed suit with similar declarations in 2019.
Persuading those communities was partly a matter of showing the numbers. “They realized, ‘Oh my God, LGBT people do something other than just be LGBT,’” Nelson says. But the job also required a lot of one-on-one meetings for NGLCC members to make their case.
“It involved a lot of shoe leather, not just from NGLCC but from our local affiliate chambers,” says Nelson. “They’ve been active, inspired, and determined to make sure that their communities enact these sorts of legislative efforts. When [lawmakers] see the collective effort, they want to know more, and suddenly it makes a difference in what they do legislatively.”
NGLCC’s membership enjoyed a boost too: Nelson says that after the survey was announced, the association saw certifications among its membership double. “There are people who may not have known about us before that realized, ‘Hey, there’s an organization for my business in my community, and I want to be a part of it.’”