State of the Chamber 2009

I stand here before you tonight on one of the most historic days in the history of the United States. With President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration this afternoon, we can now start the hard work that comes with both the promise and premise of hope and change. And while that work crosses all social and economic lines, there is a very real job for us here in the LGBT community of Austin. The list of problems is long… alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide, apathy and isolationism… fear of physical harm, fear of rejection from friends and family, fear of losing one’s job and homelessness. While these challenges seem daunting and without solution, there is a growing army of leaders, volunteers and grassroots participants working towards equality. The AGLCC is a part of that team. Tonight I’m here to tell you it’s time for all of us to work together with renewed focus and increased vigor.

A chamber of commerce represents the less-than-sexy end of the fight for equality, which at times can often fail to capture the imagination of the community. When larger LGBT organizations fight for equality at the National and Federal level, when Equality Texas fights for our civil rights here in Texas, or when OutYouth crusades against bullying in our schools … when TENT leads a vigil in Austin for our transgendered friends taken from us, or when ALLGO speaks out for the minorities within the minority, people feel a kinship and sign on to the fight. But what about the everyday and personal choice for equality? While sometimes it may seem unobvious to us, very easy and simply decisions can be made in our daily life,… it’s choosing a supportive business over an exclusionary one, it’s spending money with our allies instead of our enemies, it’s showing up and being proud where pride is rewarded and embraced, not repulsed. 

Especially now, with the nation in a deepening recession, how we choose to spend our dollars makes a significant difference. President Obama was elected on a campaign of hope and change… but it takes real dollars to make change. You had a single vote on November 4th, but you cast thousands of votes throughout the year in where you spend your hard-earned dollars. Those dollars matter. Prop 8 was passed in California not because a majority of voters there are anti-gay, but because of the misleading propaganda campaign financially supported by those with the means to hate. Dollars matter. In a time where jobs are scarce, we need to shop where hiring practices welcome and accept our LGBT friends and family. Dollars matter. When our own pocketbooks are thin and every penny is pinched, it’s even more important to make wise choices where those dollars go when they leave our hands because it determines where those dollars go next. Dollars matter.

This is not just about making gay-owned businesses successful. This is about the 17, 18, 19 year old who has been kicked out of their home and needs to find a job and accommodations where they will be accepted. This is about the queer person, gay, lesbian, transgender or straight, who is fired because they don’t conform to outdated and unnecessary social norms. This is about that moment when a business owner decides where to spend their marketing and philanthropic dollars and making sure those that support us have more of those dollars than those that don’t.

Identifying these businesses is not as simple as going where your best gay or lesbian friend happens to work. Just because the cashier at your favorite store is “gay” doesn’t mean that their partner is welcome at the company Christmas party, or that they aren’t automatically disqualified from promotions or healthcare provisions, or even that the business itself supports our community. That’s where membership in the AGLCC helps separate those who support us and those who would take advantage of us. An open and accepting workplace does more than just create opportunities for LGBT people… it educates employees who have not supported our cause. Adding an LGBT-supportive business to our community means one less place to work for a bigot, one less place to institutionalize hatred, one less place to reinforce negativity and divisiveness. When we create greater economic opportunities for our community, we are building the resources we need to win the fight for civil rights.

Last year, we had a salesperson at a company join the chamber… and then just weeks later the owner demanded to be removed from our membership directory because their listing with the “Gay and Lesbian” chamber appeared in online search results. While this business owner may not have had a “problem” with hiring an LGBT salesperson, clearly they were not a company deserving of our support. 

Just as an individual coming out is a necessary step in the fight for social equality, a business “coming out” is an essential part of achieving economic equality, regardless if that coming out represents gay ownership or a straight owner who affords their LGBT employees full acceptance and equality in the workplace. Community businesses with LGBT ownership need to come out… businesses with LGBT employees need to come out… businesses with LGBT customers need to come out… and a business with no LGBT owners, employees, or customers are the ones that need to come out most of all… that is, if you can find any!

It’s time to get to work. Last January we formed the Pride Coalition, a partnership between the 8 major demographic groups representing our diverse community, not just for communication, but real economic partnerships designed to make the work that we do more efficient and affordable. In May, we signed our newest major corporate sponsor, Aetna, as they launched the first domestic partner health benefits program for small businesses in Texas, their sponsorship not only funding our work but their products closing the inequality gap in the workplace. And in October, the community came together and decided to combine the Pride Festival, which flourished under Equality Texas’s leadership for over a decade, and the Pride Parade, started by the AGLCC in 2002. This new unified pride celebration, to be held on June 6th, will be managed by the AGLCC but with leadership from the member organizations of the Pride Coalition, insuring that the event remains by and for the community it celebrates. Let me express my thanks to ALLGO, Atticus Circle, Equality Texas, HRC, OutYouth, PFLAG and TENT for your continued visionary leadership as we shape the future of our community. Thank you.

It’s time for AGLCC to get to work. We will be reorganizing the Chamber leadership this year to improve focus on our mission of cultivating and promoting LGBT-owned and friendly businesses. We will continue to improve on our business-focused programming, both in networking and education, and continue to expand our outreach to businesses including new efforts in supplier diversity and corporate contracting and working towards inclusion in minority and women-owned business classification. Under a new position of Executive Vice President, all of our business-focused programming will be coordinated to stay focused on serving our membership. New positions of Vice President of Pride, Forward Austin, Pride Coalition, and Tourism will provide more consistent leadership to these important programs. Finally, board positions of communications and membership will make sure that all the work the Chamber does is consistent in message and focus.

It’s time for you to get to work. This is a call to action for all of you in the LGBT and allied community. We need your help and full participation. The first step is making sure you spend your dollars with chamber businesses, but that cannot be where it ends. While chamber board members work goes above and beyond the call of duty for the community, there are many opportunities for involvement that require far less dedication and involvement. Just one night a month, and you can be involved in the committee that runs the Pride celebration. Just one night a month and you can be on the Forward Austin editorial board, helping shape the message for this important community publication. Just one night a month and you can help develop better and more innovative programs for business owners and LGBT professionals. Just one night a month and you can be a part of the movement for social change, not just a recipient of its benefits.

It’s time to get to work and fulfill the promise of change we made to ourselves this past November. If you’re a business owner, join the chamber. If you work for a small business, talk to your boss about membership. If you work for a large business, help us get them involved as a corporate partner. And if you’re a person of conscious, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, creed, color or disability… stand up and join us, participate in the realization of your own civil rights as equal rights, vote not just on election day, but every day with the dollars you spend and the businesses you support. There is much to be done, but together we will get it done. Let us do it together with a renewed sense of purpose, civility and unity, for America, for Texas, for Austin businesses, for our community.

Thank you, now let’s get to work.



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