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CEO Activism: Pride Month

A lot of businesses leverage Pride Month to slap rainbows on their stuff and ride the feel-good wave. That's the corporate equivalent of slacktivism if you ask me.

Yeah, I like a rainbow image as much as the next CEO (like the short vid I shot in the Castro BART station, above). But I don't post it here just to draft off the zeitgeist. LGBTQ+ rights is a cause I'm active in every month of the year.

As an agency, we donate technical support like writing and editing to organizations working to advance the LGBTQ+ agenda. We present at capacity building workshops to encourage advocates and staffers in finding their voices and communicating effectively. We sponsor events to reduce costs and raise awareness for charities. As a CEO, I pen op-eds and campaign letters to help other business leaders understand the issues, change their policies and join me in advocacy and support. I show up for lobby days and marches, and I write some checks.

Margot Lester at NCAAN's HIV Speaks on Jones Street event
NCAAN's annual lobby day (that's me back row left)

So, yeah. Pride Month isn't just a marketing opportunity for us.

It matters to me because people I love are being discriminated against by government and corporate policies. And this is wrong.

As business owners, we need to do more than leverage the rainbow for 30 days a year or change the bathroom signage to be more inclusive.

  • Make sure your health insurance policies cover drugs and procedures that support the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ employees.
  • Offer domestic partner benefits.
  • Look for and address any biased or discriminatory behaviors between co-workers, management and staff, and clients/vendors -- and especially in HR staff and hiring managers.

The Human Rights Campaign has a good primer for creating an LGBTQ+ friendly workplace.

I know this walking of the talk may not be easy for some employers. You may well turn off some customers, suppliers and others by taking a more obvious stand on these issues.

Here are my stylish folks preparing for the opening of our store in 1968.
Here are my stylish folks preparing for the opening of our store in 1968.

Back in the late 1960s, my parents lost customers at our gourmet store because some gay guys worked in the deli. The older set in our college town didn't cotton to the idea and even one of my grandmothers refused to be served by any of the guys. And it wasn't like we were a big store with enough revenue to not worry about losing sales. The margins in any kind of grocery store are tight -- even in the gourmet zone. Every sale counted for us. But what counted more for my parents was doing the right thing even if it meant we had to hustle to save more, spend less until word got out that we were a welcoming business (a term that didn't even exist) and we got a new clientele of people who shared our values. Take that, grandma!

While I wish everyone could go as all-in as I have, I get that maybe you can't. Do what you can. Provide the support and safe spaces you can at your business. In a day and time when our LGBTQ+ friends and family are under siege by government officials at every level and ill-informed private citizens, even little things make a difference.

Of course, promoting LGBTQ+ rights isn't just good for the soul. It's good for the bottom line, too. Even the notoriously conservative U.S. Chamber acknowledges the upsides in its report, Business Success and Growth Through LGBT—Inclusive Culture.

So this Pride Month, I invite you to up your game. For those you on board with the cause, identify one more thing you can do, or do more of something you're already doing. If your support is more passive, look for that first step to being more active. It's good for you, good for your business and good for your community.

Three LGBTQ+ organizations we support (and invite you to support, too):

North Carolina AIDS Action Network - donate

Equality NC - donate

The AIDS Monument - donate

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