June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, but the pressing issues this community faces don't disappear come July 1st. Shoppers can offer a vote of confidence year-round by patronizing, boosting, and advocating for LGBTQ+ priorities in all seasons.
To learn more about ways to do this, we spoke with Andres Wydler, executive director of StartOut, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. The organization provides active, hands-on support, including a mentorship program with more than 750 matches; a portal that helps connect entrepreneurs with 300+ angel and institutional investors; training and education programs; networking events; and other resources.
“Equality is not a one-month-a-year job," Wydler says. “It's a consistent job that benefits society as a whole."
Supporting LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly businesses is not only the right thing to do; it also works to make the economy stronger — especially vital in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Discriminating against any group of entrepreneurs who could help kick-start the economy after COVID-19 makes no sense," he says. “Utilizing all the entrepreneurs is central to how a society should work. And when it works, it's incredible to see the results."
Using your consumer voice to be an advocate
Consumers may think of themselves simply as “customers" without much power, but they actually have tremendous influence, both through their purchasing decisions and in their ability to inspire and sway others.
Studies show that 69% of shoppers are prompted to learn more about a brand or topic after hearing peer recommendations. And 78% of shoppers trust online content that's created by friends and family in their network. This shows that simply expressing enthusiasm about a brand or the values of a brand can have a strong influence on how open your friends and family become to that brand and its priorities.
There are a number of ways to use your position as a consumer to be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Wydler offers three ideas:
1. Patronize LGBTQ+ Businesses and Other Supportive Companies Year-round
The best and easiest way to support LGBTQIA+ businesses year-round is by using their products and services consistently, as well as making it a priority to buy from companies that support LGBTQ+ causes.
The latter can be easier to do than the former, simply because it can be difficult to identify which businesses are owned by LGBTQIA proprietors. In 2016, the U.S had nearly 28 million small businesses, but only 909 of them were certified LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs). Of those LGBTBEs registered, almost 67% were owned by a gay man. These numbers indicate not only that business owners in the LGBTQ+ community are generally hesitant to identify with these identities publicly, but also that lesbian, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, and other queer proprietors are particularly reticent about announcing themselves to the world.
This hesitancy makes it generally more difficult to identify LGBTQ-owned businesses, but also adds a particular power in supporting those that publicly identify this way. It also means that the average consumer may find buying from corporations that voice support for the LGBTQ+ community a more accessible way to vote with their dollars. Look out for companies that advocate for LGBTQ rights and concerns proactively and consistently in months other than June.
2. Make Your Support Public
Wydler also advises that consumers' making their support of particular brands or companies public is a good way of advocating for those businesses and the broader LGBTQ community. This can be done most effectively on social media and review sites, where the average consumer can have an outsized megaphone, and where brands can pick up on and amplify those messages.
“It can be as simple as sending a shout-out on Twitter," says Wydler. “It can be making a Yelp review, or sending a quick note through an app. Most organizations really try to do the right thing, but they get so little help."
When that “help" comes in the form of unsolicited kudos from real customers, it can make a huge difference to solidifying a company's reputation as a trusted ally. And a business's inclusive stance will be reinforced by hearing customers say things like, “I bought your product because you feature LGBTQ people authentically in your ads."
If a company's actions on LGBTQ+ advocacy and portrayals of LGBTQ+ people are authentically about inclusion — and not a version of pinkwashing — then the shout-outs will be well deserved.
“There's nothing wrong with economic gains from being open and inclusive," says Wydler. “It's earned, I would even say."
3. As a Last Resort, Boycott
While Wydler advocates positive and supportive actions such as buying from and boosting inclusive companies, there's one other option for those who are aggrieved by a particular organization's stances or actions: A boycott.
“If organizations are specifically acting against your ethical or moral beliefs, you might as well stop frequenting them," says Wydler. “You could just stop spending, or you could organize."
The organizing part is what makes non-buying a boycott; getting many people to withhold purchasing power via a public campaign can force real changes on a company. Independently deciding not to spend your own money there will not do so, though it may allow you to sleep at night.
One danger of boycotts is that they can be counterproductive. As the phrase “there's no such thing as bad publicity" suggests, the problem with boycotts is that elevating an issue gives an organization tremendous visibility, which often increases sales. A boycott may inspire new customers who start buying simply to make the point that they are against the boycott.
A well-placed, well-planned boycott can be a powerful tool in publicizing an issue and changing a company's behavior. It's just important to use it as a last choice for particularly prominent or egregious situations and to plan an effective campaign.
The resilience of LGBTQ+ businesses
While consumer and public support of LGBTQ-friendly companies is badly needed, the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the remarkable resilience of this sector of the business world. The entrepreneurs in the StartOut network quickly swung into action creating lemonade out of lemons when the world went into lockdown.
“Many of them were incredibly innovative, adjusted quickly, pivoted quickly," says Wydler. “We've seen a lot of our entrepreneurs doing remarkably well. I've seen the ingenuity, and positive spirit, and forward-looking mindset that's required in situations like this, and that's been very uplifting."