A Conversation With Justin Nelson, Co-Founder And President Of The National LGBT Chamber Of Commerce
June is Pride Month, which commemorates the ongoing pursuit of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals. We celebrate Pride each June because this movement was ignited by New York City’s Stonewall Inn uprising on June 28, 1969.
The decades that have followed have seen great milestones and increased efforts in the pursuit of equality. There are currently 1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses in communities generating over $1.7 trillion dollars for the U.S. economy and supporting tens of thousands of jobs.
In 2002, Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell founded the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) when they realized that the impact of LGBTQ+ people on the American economy had gone largely unnoticed despite economic equality being an important component of the LGBT equality movement. Today, the NGLCC is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunities for the LGBT business community.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Justin about his current work as President of NGLCC. I appreciate him taking the time to speak with me and below is a summary of our discussion.
Rhett Buttle: Can you tell us about the NGLCC and how it supports LGBT businesses?
Justin Nelson: NGLCC is the exclusive third-party certifying body for Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® (Certified LGBTBE®) companies. Over one-third of Fortune 500 companies recognize this certification and partner with NGLCC to create fully LGBT-inclusive supply-chains. At NGLCC, we recognize that a growing business not only needs a strong local network where business owners live and work – including our more than affiliate chambers –
but also business certification and access to all the strategic growth opportunities offered by our national organization.
The LGBT business owners that NGLCC represents generate over $1.7 trillion in economic impact, create jobs, and innovate business solutions nationwide. Additionally, NGLCC is the leading public policy advocate working to include Certified LGBTBE® businesses in procurement opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels. NGLCC Global is expanding its reach to five continents, bridging economic opportunity and LGBT human rights worldwide.
Rhett Buttle: What are some of the unique challenges that LGBT businesses face?
Justin Nelson: In the 20 years of the NGLCC, we’ve endured painful attacks against our community, as well as rejoiced together at huge wins for inclusion and belonging – our entrepreneurs reflect the strength and resilience of our community, and it’s why we’ve been able to grow so big, so fast.
As is true with our social visibility, our economic visibility is essential in building a diverse and inclusive society — and the power of the LGBT dollar is becoming more and more visible every day. That was the impetus for the formation of the NGLCC nearly two decades ago. In 2002, we realized no one had truly considered the economic equality of LGBT people or the impact economics could have on the equality movement. With over 1.4 million LGBT business owners (and growing) behind our work, we have seen the LGBT community earn its rightful place at the table of economic opportunity.
NGLCC has the benefit of support from across all the certifying bodies and advocacy groups, helping us be as efficient and helpful to our communities as possible. We can never forget that LGBTQ+ people are women, people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, 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.
Rhett Buttle: What are NGLCC’s top policy priorities when it comes to LGBT businesses?
Justin Nelson: As the business voice for the LGBT community, NGLCC ensures that the LGBT business owners have a seat at the table for both federal and local pro-business policy initiatives and interests.
As we often discuss, business will continue to be the catalyst for positive change for America’s minority and diverse businesses — especially the LGBT community. We must keep the millions of LGBT business owners who grow local economies and create jobs in mind when shaping wholesale legislation that creates equal opportunities for everyone. They drive economic development, create jobs, and build stronger communities, all despite the latent, and often outright hostile, discrimination they continue to endure on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT business owners are working in every major industry, including those regularly sought by federal procurement officials.
We know this issue is already a high national priority for the Democratic Party, as was celebrated in the historic 2015 announcement that the Democratic National Convention (DNC) would officially include LGBT-certified businesses in contracting with future conventions and programs. Speaker Pelosi herself spoke to the importance of supporting and promoting LGBT-owned companies at a celebration in her honor during the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia.
Due largely to the incoming Administration’s previous leadership, coupled with the proactivity of the House under Speaker Pelosi, there are very few barriers left standing between the LGBT community and the ultimate goal of equality and equity in American life. After a vindication of the community’s right to marry, and after nearly half of the United States have adopted antidiscrimination laws, the next step is to cement this incoming Congress’ and Biden Administration’s legacy as the most pro-equality in our nation’s history through the affirmative inclusion of LGBT-owned small businesses in federal procurement and subcontracting.
An equal seat at the table, along with the aims of the Equality Act, will bring the nation in line with a long-held best practice of corporate America: treating every worker and business owner with equal dignity, respect, and opportunity to succeed.
We can never forget that LGBT Americans also include people of color, women, those with disabilities, veterans, and every other diverse community. That’s why coalition building is critical to our work – and nowhere is that more prescient than the National Business Inclusion Consortium (NBIC). Spearheaded by the NGLCC and launched in 2011, the NBIC advocates for the business interests of a diverse range of people, including LGBT, ethnic minority, disability, and women-owned business communities, representing a total of over $9 trillion in annual consumer spending power and significant contributions to the marketplace and workplace.
Rhett Buttle: How does NGLCC’s certification help businesses navigate these challenges?
Justin Nelson: Certified LGBTBE® suppliers are routinely sought after by NGLCC Corporate Partners, who are looking to increase their spend with the LGBT business community through our internal, proprietary database. In turn, LGBTBEs have access to hundreds of corporate and supplier diversity contacts to begin building strategic relationships and making preparations to meet face-to-face with them at NGLCC matchmaking and networking events, which are held across the country throughout the year.
These businesses are also eligible for scholarship programs, mentorship and leadership training, and other business development tools following one year. This includes the ability to participate in business building education programs like NGLCC XLR8, iLEAD, Sip & Pitch, monthly industry specific matchmakers, Certified LGBTBE® virtual roundtables, and other opportunities.
Certification can benefit your business at any size. Our LGBTBEs range from sole proprietors to multinational LGBT-owned corporations, with revenues in the hundreds of millions. The LGBT community spends more than $917 billion every year on goods and services, and they are more than 75% likely to change brands when they know they are LGBT inclusive.
Rhett Buttle: What advice would you give to LGBTQ-owned businesses on working with NGLCC both at the national and local level?
Justin Nelson: I would recommend taking five key steps.
1. Be ready for opportunity
Know how to sell your business and/or yourself as a diverse leader. Work with a coach to articulate your capabilities, perfect your pitch, and do your research. Sounds daunting? That’s understandable, but as always in the LGBT community, you are not alone. NGLCC offers countless webinars and in-person training sessions to help you – including our LGBT sip and pitch events, matchmaker prep sessions, and our international business and leadership conference. We’re here to help you be ready!
2. Get involved at every level
NGLCC is proud to work with an extended network of local affiliated chambers across the country and around the world. Local membership is the key to promoting LGBT business where you are. At NGLCC, we recognize that a growing business not only needs the strategic growth opportunities offered by our national organization, but also a strong local network where business owners live and work. And don’t forget that LGBT business enterprise certification fees are waived when you join your local affiliate chamber. Odds are there is a local affiliate right near where you work and live, and many of them are already actively engaged with JPMorgan Chase to help promote opportunities and connect our businesses.
3. Use our economic power for good
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 us at www.NGLCC.org/corporatepartners or your local LGBT chamber of commerce to make sure you support the brands that have our community’s back. Use the LGBT community’s trillion dollar clout to make a difference. Support your community when you shop, seek out LGBT-owned businesses when you invest, and stand by those who stand with us. The LGBT community is an economic force to be reckoned with — and every one of us plays a part in it.
4. Be the ally our community and our partners need
When it comes to diverse communities, including LGBT people, women, people of color, people with disabilities, and others, we must stand in solidarity as a business force and a force for good in a nation of diverse citizens. We have never seen greater cooperation and solidarity than we have right now. And a great deal of that sense of unity is due to the recognition that LGBTQ people are also part of every other community. During Pride Month and always, celebrate the differences that make us better!
5. Grow the LGBTQ business community by ensuring all of your entrepreneurial friends get certified
If you are an LGBTQ business owner (or know one) 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. The NGLCC’s exclusive LGBT Business Enterprise certification is one of the most powerful tools available for LGBT businesses, opening doors of opportunity throughout the public and private sectors. It’s not just about unlocking access to billions of dollars in contracts, but also access to capital and business grants, mentorship and scholarship programs, diverse business training academies, and a global network of new B2B partners. You could join our ranks as a role model, job creator, and future LGBT business success story.
Rhett Buttle: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Justin Nelson: Want to see the incredible power of the NGLCC network in action? Join us at our 2022 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference, taking place in Las Vegas, NV. This globally recognized conference is the largest LGBT business event on the planet. The NGLCC Conference delivers innovative leadership programming as well as networking and engagement opportunities for more than 2,000 LGBT and allied business leaders. Cutting-edge educational programs include inspiring keynote speakers, the annual B2B Boot Camp for certified LGBT Business Enterprises, a local chamber development track, Marketplace Expo, one-on-one Matchmaker meetings between suppliers and Fortune 500 companies, and much more.