Advancing LGBT businesses in 2016

Posted on 19 Feb 2016 at 6:45am

North Texas GLBT Chamber’s priorities include considering impact of marriage equality

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Ron Waterson, left, and Larry Paschall at the 2015 Chamber banquet.

 

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JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

The North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and now it’s back to business, with Executive Director Tony Vedda and chamber members working to continue advancing the interests of LGBT business owners in the region throughout 2016.

Popular networking programs continue as well, including the chamber’s regular lunch program featuring area leaders discussing topics relevant to local business owners. The first lunch program in January featured Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and local business owner Jeff Youngblood discussing the state’s new law allowing licensed handgun owners to openly carry guns, also known as the “open carry” law.

The Pitch Perfect program also returns this year, giving LGBT-certified suppliers a chance to practice their sales pitches before a team of corporate purchasing executives. Suppliers will get five opportunities this year to pitch their products to chamber members.

This year’s hosts include American Airlines, Brinker International, FedEx Office and Southwest Airlines.

Thanks to increasing popularity, the Business Exchange Group has added a new after hours program. Vedda described the Business Exchange program as a “closed category” business program.

As group members become acquainted with one another, they develop a trust for one another.

“[The groups] allow members to develop networking skills and build a referral network,” Vedda said. “The idea is to teach people to talk about themselves and their businesses to develop a network.”

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North Texas GLBT Chamber Executive Director Tony Vedda

Because the North Texas chamber is one of the most well-known LGBT chambers in the country, Vedda said, “Over the years people have contacted us for help” in either creating or organizing new LGBT chambers. Calls have come in places as far away as Kansas City, Mo., he said. The calls are continuing to come in this year.

Right now, Vedda said, North Texas chamber members are working with a group of LGBT business owners in Houston to restart the LGBT chamber of commerce there.

“Starting a chamber of commerce is like starting a business,” Vedda said. “But it’s tax exempt and not-for-profit.”

Members also need to be engaged and recognized. The chamber’s annual Business Excellence Awards is one of the model events that does just that.

On Friday, April 15, the chamber will honor businesses, and three legislative advocates for LGBT equality are among those receiving awards. Recipients include former Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the Texas Association of Business. (A fourth award winner has yet to be confirmed.)

Whether at the statehouse or at city hall, each recipient defended LGBT equality in the face of pressure from its opponents, Vedda said.

The Texas Association of Business, for instance, during the most recent session of the Texas Legislature, “came out in full force,” alongside Equality Texas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, against a proposal that would have allowed business owners to deny services and goods to LGBT people and others based on the business owners’ “sincerely-held” religious beliefs.

“It was a big step for them to come out against an anti-LGBT bill,” Vedda said of the business organization.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s largest business trade group, is seen as traditionally conservative and “they don’t normally step into social issues” like LGBT equality, Vedda said. But as LGBT rights become mainstream, the business community is realizing that discrimination hinders economic growth and drives away potential employers.

“I would say the LGBT business movement has made strides in the past seven years under President Obama. A change in access is dependent upon who is president,” Vedda said.

“But if all business and politics is local, the chances are what’s happening in D.C. is not happening here,” Vedda said. “When you have states or cities taking strong stances against the LGBT community, you are telling LGBT groups and people as well as businesses and visitors that they are not welcome.”

And the impact of such statements trickles down, affecting all businesses — whether LGBT-owned or not.

One thing is for sure, Vedda said: Marriage equality will no doubt have a huge economic impact, and the chamber will be tracking that impact.

“It’ll be interesting to see where we are at the end of the year and if the community continues to be one of leaders” Vedda said.

“It’ll be interesting to see the impact on welcoming communities compared to unwelcoming communities too.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

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