Coming out is good for business, Charlotte group says

Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce President Chad Turner explains the group’s name change Thursday at the Charlotte Chamber.
Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce President Chad Turner explains the group’s name change Thursday at the Charlotte Chamber.

Chad Turner says coming out of the closet is good for business, and the president of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce president plans to emphasize his group’s economic clout.

The LGBT Chamber will push to have lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-owned businesses recognized as minority firms eligible to get city business under guidelines designed to direct funds to minority-owned companies, Turner said. County commissioner Pat Cotham said she’s already raised the idea with county manager Dena Diorio.

Currently, the city and county programs offer opportunities for certified small businesses, as well as businesses owned by women and racial minorities, to participate in local government contracts. Changing the program would require action by local elected officials.

The group changed its name this week from the Charlotte Business Guild, its name since its founding in 1992, in order to make clear who the members are and what the group supports.

“It was formed as a hiding place” to allow businesspeople to connect and network without risk of discrimination or homophobia, Turner said. “The name would mask it so they wouldn’t feel danger.”

Given the drastic shifts that have taken place since then – legalized same-sex marriage, transgender celebrities and laws banning discrimination – Turner said there was no longer any basis for cloaking the group’s identity.

“There’s no reason to hide anymore,” said Turner, who has been president of the 250-member group for two years. In that time, Turner said, they’ve gone from one corporate sponsor to 16, a sign of the business community’s growing embrace of LGBT workers and customers.

Now, Turner is promoting the LGBT community’s potential spending power. According to the LGBT Chamber’s figures, there are 92,000 LGBT individuals in the Charlotte metro region, with average annual discretionary income of $8,000.

Despite a widespread shift towards more acceptance, LGBT issues are still contentious. North Carolina voters passed a same-sex marriage ban in 2012, though Amendment One was later found unconstitutional.

And last year, City Council voted down a proposal to ban discrimination by businesses against LGBT customers and let transgender people use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Dozens of people testified for and against the measure in an emotionally charged hearing that lasted more than five hours and drew an overflow crowd.

Turner, an HR consultant, said he’ll be making the case that a non-discrimination ordinance will promote Charlotte as a good place to work. Many Fortune 500 companies already have policies forbidding discrimination against LGBT people.

“Equality in the workplace and marketplace makes money,” he said. “If we’re viewed as a fair and equitable place, we’ll draw the best employees.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo