June’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month has come and gone with a flurry of rainbow-colored business promotions—notably, a Burger King chicken sandwich promoting Pride season, rainbow-colored Adidas sneakers, and Pride makeovers for official Disney and Star Wars apparel. These seemed like nice gestures but probably not the best way to support LGBTQ+–owned businesses or support LGBTQ+ employees.
After all, these promotions were merely brand awareness campaigns and were for companies that are not LGBTQ+–owned. There may have been a cut of the sales going to LQBTQ+ causes and nonprofits, but that’s not the same as supporting minority-owned businesses.
“Pride Month has been commandeered by big mainstream retailers producing Pride collections,” clothing label Kirrin Finch co-founder Laura Moffat told NBC News. She adds that these promotions may “bring visibility to the queer community” but points out that these efforts don’t “translate to small queer businesses getting more sales.”
“We don’t do anything different in the month of Pride versus any other month as we are LGBTQ+ all year long and serve that community all year long,” she said.
So how can you help LGBTQ+–owned businesses ring up more sales? The obvious answer is to shop at these businesses, but it is not immediately obvious how to find LGBTQ+–owned businesses. Still, we can find some hints through a few larger organizations that are fighting to recognize LGBTQ+–owned small businesses and helping them network and find resources to both survive and grow.
Unless you happen to know the owners personally, the methods for finding an LGBTQ+–owned business are a work in progress.
Yelp rolled out a tool in late May, just before Pride Month, to find LGBTQ+–owned businesses near you. That tool remains active, even though Pride Month is over, and lists businesses near you that chose to click on a Yelp tag identifying them as “LGBTQ-owned.” It’s hardly a scientific criteria, and the results are something of a hodgepodge of dog-walking services, houseplant stores, and personal trainers until you manually winnow down to your desired results. Still, this is a solid “better than nothing” identifier.
The US Small Business Association (SBA) has a directory of LGBTQ+–owned businesses, but its scope is limited to just businesses within the cities, states, and territories of Houston, Los Angeles, Nashville, Puerto Rico, Seattle, and Wisconsin. It is not exactly a national database. But very few LGBTQ+–owned business associations choose to make their registries public. There are, after all, discrimination concerns.
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) has more detailed and granular data in their “First Ever ‘America’s LGBT Economy’ Report.” That organization found an estimated
1.4 million LGBTQ+–run small businesses across the US generate revenue whose “contribution to the economy exceeds $1.7 trillion.”
That data is impressive, but it’s from 2017. The NGLCC will conduct the study anew next year for its 20th anniversary. And that’s important because LGBTQ+– business owners need verified data more than they need checks on social media platforms to get real government relief that targets minority-owned businesses.
There are plenty of government and private aid programs out there to help women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses. But LGBTQ+–owned businesses often do not get that kind of directed help. Some organizations are trying to change that.
The SBA has a registry for LGBTQ+–owned businesses for which your small business can sign up, and they will certify your business as LGBTQ+–owned. You can get certified as an 8(a) small business classification for minority-owned businesses, and that makes your small business eligible for a piece of the pie that awards “at least 5%of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses each year.”
The NGLCC has an even more robust system to get certified as an LGBTQ+–owned business. That particular small business advocacy group employs an “exclusive, third-party certification body that verifies that eligible businesses are majority-owned by LGBT individuals, and subsequently grants Certified LGBT Business Enterprise (Certified LGBTBE) designation to such businesses as part of its LGBT Supplier Diversity Initiative.”
“Certified LGBTBE companies 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,” the chamber adds. “In turn, Certified LGBTBE companies have access to hundreds of corporate representative and supplier diversity professional contacts.”
The NGLCC’s database of LGBTQ-Owned Businesses is not yet public—it’s currently more a tool for private industry networking and organizing. Access to the database requires you to get verified as an LGBTQ+–Owned Business, which requires successful completion of their application process.
Gay people remain a disenfranchised minority in the United States, and every LGBTQ+ small business owner in the country can tell you a story about the times they were discriminated against because of their sexual identity and who they were. The federal government has been trying to right these historical wrongs in recent years, but they’re hindered by inaccuracies in data collection.
Representation matters, and some groups are trying to get LGBTQ+ identities included on the US Census.
“It’s important for us to get this data to really understand the whole breadth and diversity of our community,” National LGBTQ Task Force communications director Cathy Renna tells NBC News. She clarifies that this is not about “diversifying the questions” or issues of “sexual orientation or gender identity—it’s also about race, economic status, and issues like homelessness.”
This blog has long offered roundups of funding resources for business owners of color and analysis of rules outlawing LGBTQ+ discrimination in lending. But in terms of LGBTQ+ business owner representation, a community’s small business owners are only as good as their representation at the local, state, and national levels. The best way to support LGBTQ+–owned small businesses beyond Pride months is not just to spend money with them but to organize with them too.