For the past 15 years, the Colorado Business Council has been working to support GLBT professionals and gay-friendly businesses. This week, the organization came out of the closet and changed its name to the Denver Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Wednesday marked the Colorado Business Council’s 11th Annual Gay & Lesbian Business Awards, where individuals and businesses working to support and advance the GLBT business community were honored. The theme of the night was “We’re Coming Out,” because the organization was shedding its vanilla name for a more accurate and honest one.
“It was kind of our coming out party,” said Adam Crowley, executive director of the newly christened Denver Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to be very clear about our mission and goals without having to have some kind of undercover name.”
Those honored with awards included both gay and straight professionals. J.D. McCartney, an openly gay man and CEO of Xtatic Public Relations, won an Entrepreneur of the Year award. Lannie Garrett, a straight ally of the GLBT community and owner of Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret, was also given the award.
The organization didn’t look at whether a person was gay or straight, but at whether he or she had stepped up to support GLBT businesses and employees, Crowley said.
Members of the Denver Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce aren’t just GBLT business owners, either.
“It’s really important that we make if very clear that we’re an organization that’s welcoming to everyone,” Crowley said.
Its roughly 450 members range from individuals looking to network to corporations reaching out to the gay community.
“We have businesses who just want to say, ‘Hey, we’re here and we support you,'” Crowley said.
But across the board, members of the organization are GLBT-friendly, and there are a number of ways that can be defined.
“Treating gay employees equally with any other employees,” Crowley said. “And making sure they also feel welcome within your organization.”
Having strong anti-discrimination polices, offering domestic partner benefits and making sure diversity is valued in the corporate culture are all ways businesses can be more gay-friendly.
Crowley pointed to Wells Fargo and CH2M Hill as two large companies that go the extra mile to create welcoming environments for their gay and lesbian employees. He noted that CH2M Hill, for instance, is not what one might consider a “gay business.”
“It’s a construction company,” he said. “These are straight people who are really pushing the envelope.”
Creating a corporate culture where diversity is appreciated is important, Crowley said.
“They [GLBT employees] can go to work and feel valued and feel they can be open and honest about who they are.”
Although small businesses don’t have some of the resources of larger employers, there are steps they can take as well. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce recently released a guide called “Small Business Basics: How Small Businesses Can Create Fair Workplaces for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Employees.” The 36-page guide addresses implementing domestic partner benefits, recruiting in the gay community, and creating an inclusive and welcoming work environment.
“It’s all about being treated the same,” Crowley said. “We want to be treated with respect as the good, hard workers that we are. That’s really all we’re asking.”