When President Barack Obama took office, he sent a memo to all his department heads telling them to make sure LGBT inclusion is part of their everyday mission.
One of those departments is the Small Business Administration, which made history last month when the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce signed an agreement with the Georgia district office of the SBA to work together to boost LGBT-owned businesses in the state—the first time the SBA has teamed up with an LGBT chamber.
“This agreement is part of an initiative from President Obama to have the federal government be more inclusive with LGBT businesses,” says Andria (A.T.) Towne, president of the AGLCC.
“This agreement will help us grow and support LGBT businesses here in Georgia. Right now, we’re still formulating the details of the relationship,” she says.
While the federal government has a long history of working with minority businesses, this is the first time LGBT businesses have been part of the equation, Towne explains.
The AGLCC boasts 275 member businesses, from sole proprietors to global corporations such as the Coca-Cola Company.
In the U.S., there are more than 1.4 million LGBT-owned small businesses, according to the SBA.
“And small businesses are the engines of our economy,” says Mark Gibson, the national LGBT communications director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Gibson, based in Atlanta, says working with the AGLCC will provide opportunities for the SBA to make its resources available to LGBT-owned businesses in ways it hasn’t in the past.
This includes loans, mentoring programs, lunch-and-learn sessions, and even Google hangouts, where those with questions can connect with those who have answers.
“We’re getting ready to launch an economic empowerment series. We’re planning lunch-and-learns from the Georgia district office for entrepreneurs,” says Gibson.
“The spirit of inclusion brought an intersection of equality and equity,” he adds. And that’s what the SBA wants to do as part of its relationship with the AGLCC.
‘Cannot separate fight for civil rights from the fight for market rights’
As part of its mission to embrace diversity, the SBA has also just launched an “LGBT Business Builder” initiative with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, focused on LGBT business owners. This is the first of its kind as well.
The Washington, D.C.-based NGLCC is an official third-party organization that verifies businesses are majority-owned by LGBT individuals, granting those businesses an “LGBT Business Enterprise” designation. With this designation, these businesses receive a hand up when it comes to partnering with NGLCC corporate sponsors, for example.
The initiative will bring together expertise and resources from staff at SBA district and regional offices, NGLCC’s 38 U.S.-based affiliate chambers, and other resource partners.
The “LGBT Business Builder” will include day-long training sessions over the next two years for LGBT business owners in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.
“Businesses will learn how to leverage NGLCC’s LGBT-owned business certification and explore opportunities through SBA’s suite of services around government contracting, exporting, and other SBA initiatives,” according to a statement from SBA.
SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet says the agreement will help LGBT entrepreneurs in all 50 states have the support needed to ensure success.
“I’m here because we cannot separate the fight for civil rights from the fight for market rights and economic power,” she says.
Justin Nelson, president and co-founder of NGLCC, says the partnership ensures LGBT people will have a seat at the table.
‘Reinvesting in our community’
For Towne of the AGLCC, fighting for LGBT businesses is just as important as the fight for marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination, or even against bullying in schools.
“The passion I have for this organization is because one of the strongest voices we have is how we spend our money,” she says.
“We are trying to educate people that it’s not only about making money for yourselves but also about growing your business and hiring employees from your community and investing in your community.”
“The chamber is on an incredible growth track. Membership is up. I think people are realizing it is important to do business with each other and provide employment to our community and reinvest in our community,” she adds.
Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Small Business Administration