How have Tampa Bay businesses changed their attitudes about LGBTQ people in the workplace?

The business of equality.

How have Tampa Bay businesses changed their attitudes about LGBTQ people in the workplace? - via Jim Nixon
via Jim Nixon
How have Tampa Bay businesses changed their attitudes about LGBTQ people in the workplace?

Things sure have changed in St. Petersburg since the Johns Committee Days. The Johns Committee, for those of you blissfully new to this world, was another name for the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, and also a splendid show of intolerance. Its stated mission? On a statewide scope, to “investigate all organizations whose principles or activities include a course of conduct on the part of any person or group which could constitute violence, or a violation of the laws of the state, or would be inimical to the well being and orderly pursuit of their personal and business activities by the majority of the citizens of this state.”

Among other groups, the Johns Committee targeted anyone who was gay. Or anyone who might be gay, or who looked gay, or businesses run by a gay person, or a business run by people who might be gay.

Yep, things sure have changed here on Walton Mountain — as of October of last year, the United States has more than 1,000 businesses that the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has certified as LGBTQ Business Enterprises®. St. Petersburg — home to the largest Pride celebration in the state — welcomes businesspeople of all ilk, and, as LGBTQ enterprises become known as such, the city by the bay, once dubbed “God’s waiting room,” has evolved into a city of acceptance. And no wonder — no shortage of LGBTQ businesses exists in America.

“The NGLCC is the exclusive, third-party certifying body which verifies that eligible businesses are majority-owned by LGBTQ individuals and to date, NGLCC has over 167 corporate national partnerships,” Jim Nixon, St. Petersburg’s LGBTQ Liaison, tells CL.

And that’s not all — this week, for Pride, major businesses in Tampa Bay will hoist the Pride flag, including Raymond James and Wellcare. We thought it was past time to chat with someone in the know about the business of equality in Tampa Bay. Who better than a city-appointed LGBTQ liaison? Nixon’s career is inextricably tethered to these issues, so we went to him for more information.

What does your position entail?

As LGBTQ Liaison, I work to bridge the LGBTQ community with city government, and as a part of the mayor’s cabinet, I work on LGBTQ initiatives important to the mayor. From LGBTQ business and community development, LGBTQ relocation to diversity, and inclusion in tourism and the arts, both important to our city’s success. Recently we rolled out welcoming guidelines to museums throughout Tampa Bay. This half-day discussion with museums from St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota reviewed different ways to apply standard visitor experience, best practices to LGBTQ patrons. 

Why are LGBTQ-owned businesses attracted to St. Petersburg?

Since issuing the “Points of Pride” in 2014, Mayor Kriseman has worked hard with the leadership of St. Pete’s City Council to help ensure the sun shines on all who come to work, live and play in St. Petersburg, and that is the foundation for successful LGBTQ business in St Pete. Operating on a platform of diversity and inclusion drives business and attracts both Fortune 500 companies and a capable and well-trained workforce.  

It is impossible to know precisely how many American businesses today are owned and operated by LGBTQ individuals. What we do know, of course, is that these individuals work in every field and are found today in almost every significant workforce. 

What’s the best example of LGBTQ acceptance you’ve seen in the St. Petersburg business community? 

The number of businesses that embrace diversity today. Companies like Tech Data, Wells Fargo, and Bristol-Myers Squibb all work hard to embrace and enhance the diversity within their companies and the lives of their employees. You can’t attend Pride without being overwhelmed by the number of corporate sponsors and companies that participate and they are all active in the LGBTQ community here.

Why hasn’t St. Petersburg seen any cases regarding “I don’t want to bake a cake for gay people” or other LGBTQ-biased issues? 

I think this goes back to the history of Pride. For 16 years we have seen a welcoming community that embraces Pride. Every year there are samples of our community’s inclusiveness. For 30 years, Tampa Bay has hosted an LGBT Business Guild, now known as the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce and this is the 28th anniversary of the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. [This] all supports a diverse and welcoming community. 

What do you think has been the biggest hurdle for businesspeople who didn’t grow up knowing they knew gay people? 

I think that’s only a perception. Business is about overcoming hurdles. I also think it is necessary for businesses to reach out to as many potential customers as possible. The economic impact of the LGBTQ community has been well-established and to exclude a particular community is bad for business.

What would you say to an LGBTQ businessperson looking to move their business to St. Petersburg?

We’re open for business. The city is dedicated to helping businesses succeed by providing such resources like “The Greenhouse,” formerly known as the Business Assistance Center. These resources are useful to companies of all sizes from sole proprietorship to Fortune 500 headquarters and everything in between. 

Why do you think the LGBTQ community has a higher level of acceptance and welcome in St. Petersburg as opposed to other communities across the country?

I think there is a general shift in acceptance throughout the country. With national legislation like marriage equality, we are part of the discussion. I think it’s highlighted more in St. Pete due to acceptance from city and county government. I think the days of seeking acceptance are behind us; we are here and we are a part of the community. 

Contact Cathy Salustri here.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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