If all LGBT-owned businesses in the United States pooled their economic contributions together, they would form the tenth largest economy on the planet. America’s 1.4 million LGBT businesses add over $1.7 trillion to the economy annually, and create tens of thousands of jobs along with countless innovations in every industry. And yet, despite the indisputable economic power of our communities, our basic civil rights remain inconsistent and perpetually in danger. While marriage is legal in all 50 states, more than half of America’s LGBT population live in regions where they lack or have flimsy protections in the workplace, in housing, in seeking credit for their businesses, and much more. And yet, we persevere.
Our communities’ business leaders, many of them certified as LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs) by the NGLCC, work hand in hand with corporations and government agencies to prove that being out and being successful never need to be mutually exclusive. We are creating an entire generation of glass ceiling shatterers and role models for the world to emulate.
Around the globe, especially in the more than 70 nations where simply being an out LGBTI person can be a crime, our successes in America are creating hope and opportunity. They see that when our communities assert their economic strength -- both as consumers who move brands to our side with our $917 billion in spending power and our impact on the economy as business owners and job creators — we can move the needle toward inclusion at impressive speeds. But to do it we must be visible, we must be counted, and we must always think and act with our dollars.
Without large-scale research initiatives or inclusive government programs to collect data, we undercut the ability of LGBTI people to represent themselves, their well being, and their livelihoods. Essentially, this contributes to their invisibility. In turn, this stymies effective interventions from governments, the private sector, and international organizations.
In the Western Hemisphere alone we are facing a tremendous opportunity to protect the future of our communities, and ensure their economic health. Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, asked in May 2018, “Are we comfortable with 40 million people living [in the Western Hemisphere] in a situation of discrimination, inequality, and injustice? Are we okay with missing out on the contributions those 40 million people could make to achieving greater prosperity in our region?” NGLCC and our partners are proud to answer: no, we are not comfortable with that.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, there are testimonies of both discrimination and violence and also success and achievement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. But what’s missing from these stories are the numbers to show the extent of the problems, as well as the numbers to show the extent of their contributions. NGLCC Global, the international division of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the Organization of American States Department of Social Inclusion, and the IACHR LGBTI Rapporteurship committed to a longterm project to generate the data we need in Latin America and the Caribbean to prove our communities deserve inclusion in every social, political, and economic opportunity possible. We can, and must, then replicate this kind of essential data collection to influence policy and opportunity throughout the world.
We know we have captured the world’s attention with the economic power of our communities. In August 2018 business leaders from more than 15 nations on five continents in the NGLCC global family, along with observers and future partners from Belize, Ecuador, Japan, Taiwan and more, joined the world’s largest gathering of LGBTI business owners and corporate allies for our NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference. In the months ahead we will be convening even more global business players for NGLCC Global LGBTI Business Week and the first ever LGBTI UK/EU Summit in London. The coalition to support our community through commerce grows each day, but it needs support at every level.
How can one person like you make a difference? The answer is: easily, and powerfully. As you purchase from, or close deals with, large companies check to see if they are advocating for our communities on the global stage as they should be here at home. You can check which brands overlap with the work of NGLCC Global, the United Nations’ Global Business Standards, and the HRC Corporate Equality Index. And when you travel, check to see if there are LGBT-owned or inclusive hotels, restaurants, tour guides, and more by exploring the vendor lists of the many NGLCC Global affiliates around the world, as well as the many options provided by IGLTA and other LGBT-focused travel organizations. As you interact with the LGBTI community abroad, ask how you can help by using social media or your personal network to get their goods and services in front of your followers, putting a face to a proud LGBTI entrepreneur in a distant land.
Each of us, from the individual tourist to the largest multinational corporation, has a role in strengthening the ecosystem that supports the social and economic advancements of our communities around the world. When LGBTI people and business owners are given equality of opportunity, their contributions are powerful – these communities do not create and contribute in spite of their differences, but because of their differences. Think for a minute what will be possible when decision-makers from Montevideo to Montreal to Mumbai understand that LGBTI people are also job creators with a massive the economic impact in this ever-globalizing market. An LGBT-inclusive global economy is the future.
JUSTIN NELSON and CHANCE MITCHELL are cofounders of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). NGLCC is the business voice of the LGBT community, the largest global advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people, and the exclusive certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses. Find out more at nglcc.org.