Senior Manager, Small Business Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
June 29, 2022
For the first time in two years, the DC business community was able to come together to support the DC Pride festival. Local businesses across the DMV hosted guests, promoted Pride-themed specials, and embraced the members of their community in celebration of Pride month. Moments like these remind us that the business community is more than the backbone of the economy. Businesses of all sizes have the power to bring people together and build successful neighborhoods and communities.
Recent data from a U.S. Chamber and MetLife poll revealed that nearly three in four respondents said LGBT-owned small businesses face more challenges than non-LGBT-owned businesses. We sat down with Justin Nelson, Co-Founder, and President of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), to hear his perspective on why diversity and inclusion promote success for the economy and American families.
The following interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Please describe the career path that led you to work in this position at the NGLCC.
Prior to launching the NGLCC twenty years ago, I was the Director of Federal Affairs and External Relations for the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Washington, DC. During my tenure, the organization was named one of the top 100 lobbying organizations in Washington, DC by Forbes Magazine. Prior to lobbying Congress and the White House, I spent five years as an aide in the United States Senate.
Back in 2002 my co-founder, Chance Mitchell, and I 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. So, with a few forward-thinking corporate partners and a small network of LGBT business owners willing to tell their story, NGLCC was born.
What motivates you?
Every day at NGLCC we are shattering yet another glass ceiling—in this case, the lavender glass ceiling — and adding seats to tables of opportunity for LGBTQ entrepreneurs that were never open to us before. I’m motivated by the progress we’re making at NGLCC, but also the incredible solidarity we’re forging with industries and allies across the globe. We’re working to ensure the American Dream is open to every American, and that the world recognizes that the economy of tomorrow begins with inclusion and equality for all today.
How would you describe the importance of diversity and LGBTQ+ representation in the U.S. business community?
The NGLCC is vital to the business community to showcase that 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. Business ownership thrives in the LGBT community because we have all learned to be the entrepreneurs of our own lives. LGBT business owners prove that being out and being successful do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Our goal was to create an organization that could support LGBT business owners and showcase the diversity of talent in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. NGLCC has succeeded in large part due to an amazing team and board combined with the caliber of businesses, corporate partners, and individuals that have become involved over the years. In early 2004, NGLCC created a best-in-class diversity certification program, making the organization the exclusive national third-party certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses.
Since then, we’ve certified thousands of LGBT-owned businesses, partnered with hundreds of corporations and government agencies, and proven time and again our core values that ‘diversity is good for business and that ‘if you can buy it, a certified LGBT-owned business can supply it.’ We are excited to see LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs) in every field, from construction to catering and everything in between, help grow the American economy and beyond.
What started out as one is now over 400 corporate partners strong – 400 partners across every industry who are looking to ensure their supply chains look like their customer and employee base, and in today’s world that absolutely includes LGBT. This has meant billions of dollars of business between corporations and NGLCC-certified LGBTBEs.
How have you seen the DC community support and celebrate Pride month + the Pride festival?
DC is such a diverse city with massive LGBTQ representation. At Pride, and all year long, city government and local business partners have teamed up with NGLCC and our stakeholders to not only make Pride a moment of inspiring visibility but also of huge economic opportunity.
As our community organizations and corporations plan for Pride celebrations, we can all rely on the resourcefulness of America’s 1.4 million LGBT business owners and the services they can provide to make this, and every, Pride season unforgettable. Every dollar spent with the LGBT Business Community helps all of us grow stronger – and that is something that should give us all pride.
Best of all: everything you need can be sourced directly from our own community through the vast network of Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® suppliers and affiliate chambers across America. And helping LGBT Americans grow their businesses is key to helping all Americans succeed. We can never forget that our community includes women, communities of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, veterans, and so many others with whom we must stand in solidarity for a stronger, more inclusive economy all year long.
How can business owners and community members foster a more inclusive business community?
When you look at a price tag, look for an indication that the company is an LGBT-inclusive corporation or an NGLCC Certified Business Enterprise. It has never been easier to go online or check with your local LGBT chamber of commerce to make sure you support the brands that have our community’s back. If you are an LGBT business owner and not yet certified as one, you’re leaving opportunities on the table to help your business and be counted as part of our LGBT global economy.
What does the future of business look like to you?
The future of business is inclusive, it’s equitable, and it’s full of role models that our generation needs more than ever. As I told OUT Magazine in 2017: ‘Giving queer people increased economic agency may not solve all our issues overnight, but it will allow our community, particularly our youth, to thrive mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially.’ When it comes to diverse communities — LGBT people, women, people of color, people with disabilities, and more — we must stand in solidarity as a business force. We have never seen greater cooperation and solidarity than we have in recent months. And a great deal of that is due to the recognition that LGBT people are also part of every other community.