How Small Businesses Can Engage the LGBTQ Community


Many celebrated when same-sex marriage was constitutionally recognized nationwide in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. But the LGBTQ community still has an uphill battle when it comes to discrimination. They are not included in the federal laws that make discrimination illegal, and only about half of the states in the US include them in their own anti-discrimination statutes.

As social issues like LGBTQ equality gain increased visibility, businesses are left with a decision: remain neutral, or take a stand. Increasingly, companies are choosing the latter. From Ford and Lyft speaking out against immigration bans, to Starbucks and Chevron pronouncing support for LGBTQ-friendly policies––major companies are putting their money where their mouths are. This can put small business owners in awkward positions, as they want to make an impact but don’t have the resources or recognition that these big brands have.

There are real, practical benefits to becoming a small business that is welcoming of LGBTQ people. For example, we can all relate to having an all-star employee eyeing greener pastures. If it’s simply because they are gay and are looking for a more accepting environment, that is something every business can avoid––and be a better business for it.

Luckily, there are four things small businesses can currently execute to be welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people:

Implement an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. If you value diversity and inclusion, this one is a no-brainer. According to the Small Business Majority, of small businesses with a nondiscrimination policy, 80 percent said they added the policy because they believed employees should be treated fairly, 72 percent said it was the right thing to do, and 40 percent said the policy helped to retain and attract employees. Those small business owners also found little or no cost to implementing these policies. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal nondiscrimination law and has provided sample language to implement into your website and recruiting materials.

Create an LGBTQ employee resource group. Employee resource groups (ERG) are opt-in, employee-led internal groups that foster inclusiveness in the workplace. In addition to creating a space that fosters a sense of belonging, they can provide tools for an employee’s journey on career development and goal setting. An LGBTQ ERG can also provide valuable feedback on policy changes or how business decisions might affect LGBTQ employees or consumers. Many large businesses have ERGs, but even mid- and smaller-size businesses can support these employee-led efforts.

Be vocal about your support of LGBTQ issues by showing up to Pride. Pride is one of the best uses of your marketing dollars and time, and you are guaranteed to reach a large and diverse audience. For smaller budgets, renting a booth is recommended. For those with larger budgets, event sponsorship is the way to go for premium logo placement and brand building. Pride can also be an opportunity to boost employee morale by marching in the parade––with company swag, of course.

Stand up for legal equality by joining with others working for it. No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or whom they love––but it happens every day to LGBTQ people. And in most states, there’s nothing they can do about it. The voices of businesses are critical; just because most small businesses lack the bandwidth and recognition that their larger counterparts benefit from doesn’t mean they can’t make their voices heard. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, and lawmakers listen when they band together and speak out.

When someone can be fully themselves at work, they are happier, more productive and better ambassadors of your business. That goes a long way in creating a company culture that is not just a workplace, but a family.


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Alana Jochum
Board Member, Ohio Business Competes

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