Starting a business and maintaining it is one of the most difficult tasks an entrepreneur can face. For those in the LGBTQ+ community, finding the resources to support their business ventures can be more challenging than what their heterosexual counterparts have to contend with.
However, there are organizations for LGBTQ+ business owners to connect and find support. One of these organizations is Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CLGBTCC) based in Charlotte.
“Traditionally, chambers were a membership organization that allowed small businesses to come together, network and bring visibility to their particular business communities and industry,” says Chad Turner, president and CEO of Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. “However, chambers have evolved from that traditional aspect of networking to becoming organizations that educate, empower, bring visibility and also leverage their memberships and constituencies to get legislation and ordinances passed that make small businesses and thriving workplaces better for employees and employers across the region.”
Inside the CLGBTCC’s operations
The CLGBTCC was founded in 1992 as the Charlotte Business Guild “out of a need for a safe space for LGBT+ business owners and professionals to network and thrive,” according to the organization’s website. The guild then became the Charlotte LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce in 2015, before settling on their current title and and extending their service area to provide resources to 50 western North Carolina counties and almost all of South Carolina.
The chamber is divided into seven different regions: Charlotte Metro, Blue Ridge, Gate City, Twin City, Grand Strand, Low Country and Midlands. All of these areas encompass North Carolina’s 50 western counties and almost all of South Carolina, according to Turner. The rest of North Carolina is covered by a separate and unrelated LGBTQ+ chamber called Harmony LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which is based in Raleigh. In South Carolina, there is another LGBTQ+ chamber — Upstate LGBT Chamber of Commerce — which covers Greenville and the counties around its headquarters.
Each region under the CLGBTCC umbrella has its own leadership team, with the exception of Gate City and Twin City. All of the regions, however, follow the direction of a general board of directors made up of 20 individuals from across the Carolinas.
Within the board of directors, there are three committees: marketing and communications, education and programming and events.
The marketing and communications committee works to “inspire and engage audiences, both internal and external, by leveraging innovative marketing techniques and through compelling authentic messaging,” according to the CLGBTCC website. The committee also works to share public policies it wishes to see come to fruition and amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ advocates in the chamber’s service area.
More from the website: Through collaborative efforts, we strive to build meaningful relationships, amplify brand awareness, and achieve measurable results, positioning our organization as a leader in LGBT+ communities across North and South Carolina.”
As well, the education and programming committee of the organization aims to assist in the “development of educational programming opportunities and crafting impactful experiences that drive personal and professional growth.”
“You can attend educational workshops, you can learn how to access funding through grants, have a voice in your legislature in your city government or county government, participate in community based service projects … it’s a lot more than just that member based organization,” Turner offers. “The mission has evolved to be all encompassing, making sure that we are focused on supporting minority small businesses and minority professionals throughout the workplace and marketplace.”
The events committee is in charge of organizing monthly and annual networking events for CLGBTCC and is made up of regional subcommittees to organize hyper-local events for each service region. Some of the events this committee organizes include the Pride in Business Expo and Career Fair, the annual THRIVE Gala and Awards Ceremony and various monthly activities such as mixers, casual meet-ups and more.
CLGBTCC is working to expand its service capabilities, including building more offices in each region. In fact, the chamber recently opened its first brick and mortar office in South Carolina, which Turner said would be beneficial to their mission and operations.
“We do have an office there, so all of our leadership and board members from [the region] can work with our members in South Carolina,” he explains. “We are working to offer programming throughout the regions that we’re in and ensuring that we provide the same quality of service around the region that we do here in Charlotte.”
Providing resources for the marginalized
LGBTQ+ business owners are more likely to face obstacles when applying for financing, such as loans, to start a business. According to the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research (CLEAR), 46 percent of LGBTQ+ business owners didn’t receive funding via grants or loans they applied for, which is a stark difference from the 35 percent of non-LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs whose applications were also denied.
Turner says the CLGBTCC aims to help close that gap and provide an equal playing field for LGBTQ+ and ally-owned businesses in the Carolinas.
“There’s a lot more discrimination, a lot more misunderstanding about [the] LGBTQ community, especially among trans business owners,” he says.
Additionally, the discrimination can differ depending on other factors, including race, gender, disabilities or veteran status.
“Forty-seven percent of our chamber is Black and Brown business owners, 56 percent of our chamber is women-owned and eight percent of our chamber is veteran-owned businesses. When individuals … say they’re an LGBT person, we have seen funding drop across the board,” Turner continues. “Let’s say you’re a veteran, Lesbian, Black business. You’ve got the trifecta there — the discrimination level they’re facing is insurmountable when it comes to going to a bank for a traditional loan or applying for a grant.”
This is where the CLGBTCC comes in. Turner says the chamber helps to provide grant funding to these LGBTQ+ and ally-owned businesses, as well as teach members about loan applications, financial wellness and more.
“Wells Fargo just released a study for Pride Month that their economists did [identifying] states and localities that have more of an out LGBT population,” he explains. “Their economy tended to trend upward consistently, versus areas that suppressed or did not have larger populations because they had discriminatory laws and people moved out.
“We know that LGBT folks can drive economies to be positive and to trend upward … if they’re allowed to thrive and be open and have access to these things.”
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the LGBTQ+ business community is made up of around 1.4 million business owners. CLGBTCC has just over 600 members, ranging from individual professionals to small businesses owners, as well as 45 corporate partnerships such as the Charlotte Hornets, Wells Fargo and even NASCAR.
“We’re the first LGBT organization in the nation that NASCAR has ever been corporate partners with … and now we have an annual LGBT day in October at the Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Turner says. “And we are currently working with the state of North Carolina as well as city councils and county commissions in our areas, to get them to begin to count how much they spend with LGBT businesses.”
Turner says CLGBTCC is also working with state, municipal and county governments in its service areas to document how much money each entity is funneling into LGBTQ+ businesses across the Carolinas. He said this is to help create an inclusion plan for government agencies to allocate funds to be spent specifically at minority-owned businesses.
“Moving forward to the future, we’ll get into [a] disparity study so that … LGBT owned businesses will be listed in the inclusion plan, they’ll set yearly goals [towards] that amount of money from the city and county governments across the state,” he explains.
It’s important to remember legislation around LGBTQ+ rights does have an economic impact, according to Turner. House Bill 2 was passed in 2016, which stated people had to use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth and specifically targeted North Carolina’s transgender residents. The passage of HB2 resulted in an estimated $3.76 billion loss for the state’s economy.
Turner said CLGBTCC is going to continue to advocate for policies promoting equity and diversity in the business-sphere, which he said will only positively impact the state’s economy.
“We learned that type of law [does] not work when it comes to the economy, and North Carolina is a thriving place for small business, a very diverse place. It’s a place that focuses on upward mobility and we’re going to continue to do that,” Turner emphasizes. “We can’t have voices trying to marginalize one group or another — it doesn’t matter whether it’s Black and Brown women, veterans, disabled, LGBTQ. Everyone can fit into the marketplace and everyone can work in the workplace without discrimination.”
How to join CLGBTCC
Who can join?
LGBTQ+ identifying or ally individual professionals, LGBTQ+ or ally-owned small businesses, nonprofits and corporations can join the CLGBTCC.
How much does it cost to join?
The cost to join the chamber varies on the type of membership.
Individual professional: $100 per year
Nonprofit: $100 per year
Small business: $200 per year
Corporation: Varies based on the amount of employees, $500-$750 per year.
For more details
More info on the CLGBTCC can be found on its website at https://www.clgbtcc.org/.