It’s time for another Ask Queer Abby, where you submit your questions about any and all things LGBTQIA+ and I offer my perspective with the goal of building bridges and not burning them to a flaming crisp.
The following question has been condensed from the person’s original message and shared with their permission.
Is LGBTQ+ Allyship Bad For Business?
Dear Queer Abby,
What do you think about mixing business with the LGBT? I am a mama bear to a queer child and an ally of the community. When I mentioned this to a new guy in my networking group whom I was considering partnering with for an event, I received immediate energy that was just shy of aggressive but borderline passive-aggressive and judgmental. He used words like, “Well, it’s wrong, but we can set up a 1-1 to discuss how I feel about this, and this is wrong but…”.
His response gutted me. I immediately backtracked and placated. “Oh no, don’t worry. My professional side is not mixed with my personal side.” But then I thought about it and I cried. On one hand, I’m in the southeast US in a conservative area. If I want to start my business, perhaps I can’t be THAT transparent. I am going to shoot myself in the foot with potential customers just because they don’t agree with my beliefs.
On the other hand, I WANT to work with open-minded people. I want to create a safe space for everyone to come and build a safe community, no matter race, ethnicity, gender (or none), sexuality, etc… EVERYONE.
By stating that I’m an ally, I’m effectively turning some people off to my services. My transparency is alienating me from potential business and networking. I could back off, but then I would be stifling my passion and love for my kids and their friends and all other teens and adults who are stifled and alienated because of who they are. So… pros and cons of both sides, please?
Queer Abby's Thoughts and Emotions
Wow! It’s almost like I can feel Christ’s love emanating out of that fellow through his words. I bet he’s going to be so excited when he gets to Heaven’s gates and meets white Jesus, who will pat him on the back and hand him an American flag and the newest Joel Osteen book and say, “Thank you for allowing me to work through you as we judge and exclude those misguided LGBTQIA souls… even if I did happen to make them that way and they’re just living the truest, most honest expression of whom they were created to be.”
Oops. Seems I’ve mixed my personal feelings with my business as well. Let’s get this train back on its track, because the reality is that you asked an excellent question and one that many businesses have to consider. Should we bring our beliefs into our business? Do we have to separate them? Can there be a balance?
Let’s start with the beliefs that people bring into their business. Religion is probably one of the most common ones we see. Sometimes people bring their political beliefs into business, though that’s a risky one nowadays. Sometimes people express their beliefs in being zero-waste, carbon-neutral, or environmentally sustainable.
Bringing beliefs into a business can be a great thing. It can help you find your people. And if you do it in a thoughtful way, it doesn’t have to necessarily be exclusionary of anyone. I can go to my Muslim auto mechanic who has a copy of the Quran in his waiting room because that’s important to him. I can stay in an Airbnb that has a picture of the Ten Commandments on the wall because that’s something the Airbnb owner wants to share. I don’t have to read or believe either, nor do I have to sign a Statement of Faith saying I do. They can have their beliefs and have it be a part of their business, without affecting me as a customer.
It’s a little thing folx like to call tolerance.
Being LGBTQIA is not a belief, though. Just like being black isn’t a belief. Being diabetic isn’t a belief. Your child being LGBTQIA is who they are. May I just say that it's awesome and inspiring that you’re a proud mama bear trying to do the best for your child. I wish all parents were supportive and loving toward their LGBTQ+ youth and understood that it’s as much a part of them as their eye color and individual talents. And networking fellow’s feelings about whether your child’s identity is right or wrong is not even something that warrants a discussion. (But, I can tell you already know that.)
But What About Business
Let’s look at this from a business perspective. (Because my resume doesn't just say "Fabulous Gay." I graduated from business school a few eons ago and have run several businesses since then). One of the most important things for a business, their guiding light, is the mission and vision statement. It is the business’s reason for being and what they hope to create or provide. Mission and vision should be at the core of any major business decision.
Now, let me re-pluck the words right from your question:
"I WANT to work with open-minded people. I want to create a safe space for everyone to come and build a safe community, no matter race, ethnicity, gender (or none), sexuality, etc… EVERYONE."
Fantastic! This is what comes from your heart. This is your passion and one of your motivating factors. This is what you want your business to be and the direction you see yourself going.
Now ask yourself this question: Does partnering with this guy align with the mission or vision of your business?
You can use that question as the Magic 8 ball for any major business decision you must make, really. And I think the answer will be pretty clear. If you stay true to your mission and vision, the right customers will be drawn to you.
With that said, does offering an open-minded and welcoming space mean you need to have a Pride flag in the window or let people know openly that you are an ally of the community? No. Not at all. Just by being your wonderful and accepting self, you will create a community within your business that lets people feel welcome.
And you can signal allyship in subtle ways. Being thoughtful in your client paperwork when it comes to gender options, relationship types, and pronouns is one way to demonstrate that commitment.
But consider this…
Allyship versus Advocacy
As parents and entrepreneurs, we wear a lot of hats during the day. The one hat I never take off, though, is “Mom.” My decisions, whether in business or otherwise, are based on creating the best possible present and future for my children. As a newly-out queer person, I have realized how much fear I still have as a grown adult when it comes to going to new medical offices, restaurants, or other places where my orientation may be known, and not knowing if I will feel safe in that space. Seeing a small rainbow sticker near the door, on a name tag, or on a sign that lets me know the business is an ally, immediately puts me at ease and makes me more likely to stay loyal to them.
Because feeling unsafe stinks.
My dentist doesn’t need to sponsor a float in the Pride parade or be able to chat about the newest episode of Queer Eye with me during my appointment. But knowing that I can safely reveal that my emergency contact is my same-sex partner or that the person with me is not “my friend” is worth so much. And they get all my dollars.
So, with that said, what kind of world do you want for your child? And how do you see that change happening?
Homophobia thrives in silence. We need brave people to be allies. It doesn’t mean you have to shout your position from the rooftops. (There are passionate advocates who will happily do that). Just be brave enough to say, “You are safe with me.” And once somebody is the first to do just that, it becomes easier and easier for each person thereafter.
Who knows, you may find there are more allies in your conservative community than you initially expected! (And this Harvard Business Review article supports why more national and multinational businesses are now taking a stand for LGBTQ equality).
Some Final Thoughts
The reality is that this fellow will most likely not lose customers for his beliefs about the LGBTQIA. He may keep his homophobia silent, thus not alienating anyone. Conversely, you will lose some customers by being a known ally of the LGBTQIA. This is the world we still live in.
But the people you lose are not your people. They’re not part of your business vision. Your people WILL find you. They are out there and YOU may be a game-changer in their lives. That is something he may never be.
The decision ultimately comes back to you and how you want to run your business. Are you making your decision based on love or based on fear? You get to choose your own adventure and that means realizing that you get to CHOOSE not to work with HIM, not the other way around. You didn’t lose any power or any business by not having that connection. Your realization gifted you a clearer sense of purpose as to how you want to run things.
Want more articles that support why allyship in business may be good for you?
So, what do you think? Has allyship harmed or helped your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
If you have a question for Queer Abby, please email it to Jill@JillWritesWords.com and I will happily feature it in a future post. Thank you for being a part of these important conversations.