Equality Means Business: The link between LGBT-friendliness and business success

click to enlarge Equality Florida's Nadine Smith, center, and HRC's Cathryn Oakley with (left to right) State Representative Joe Saunders, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. - Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Equality Florida's Nadine Smith, center, and HRC's Cathryn Oakley with (left to right) State Representative Joe Saunders, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Businesses are realizing that their success is tied to diversity, and that includes addressing the needs and interests of LGBT employees and consumers. In other words, Equality Means Business —  the main topic of discussion at a roundtable and luncheon held at the Tampa Bay History Center Thursday.


The event was hosted by the Equality Florida Institute, the City of Tampa and Florida Blue. More than 70 elected officials and local business leaders attended the event.

Law firms, Fortune 1000 companies, healthcare providers and hospitality businesses were all represented, including Florida Blue, Bank of America, the Moffitt Cancer Center and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

click to enlarge Business leaders and politicos talked and table-hopped at Equality Florida's roundtable and luncheon on Thursday. - Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Business leaders and politicos talked and table-hopped at Equality Florida's roundtable and luncheon on Thursday.
“We have long known that protecting employees from discrimination is not only the right thing to do, but research overwhelmingly demonstrates that it is also good for business,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “Diversity is a prerequisite for creativity and innovation, and by extension, for our economic competitiveness. It is as simple as they say: ‘Equality means business.’”

Equality Means Business is a program that Equality Florida launched to spotlight LGBT-friendly employers and to improve Florida's reputation as an inclusive place to live and do business.

Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, was one of many who talked about how Tampa Bay businesses are striving to make this area a better environment for the LGBT community.

“There are so many business leaders that understand that this diversity issue is not just about making a better environment for LGBT employees,” Smith said. “It's about making an attractive environment for the people who really fire up the economy.”

Dr. Julian Sanchez, MD spoke about how the Moffitt Cancer Center is making its hospitals more LGBT-friendly by using gender-neutral language in the workforce and providing benefits for both patients and partners, regardless of sexuality.

click to enlarge Dr. Julian Sanchez, MD, who is gay, spoke about how welcomed he feels as a physician at the Moffitt Cancer Center. - Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Dr. Julian Sanchez, MD, who is gay, spoke about how welcomed he feels as a physician at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

“[At the Moffitt Center] there is a home for LGBT patients, and I think that is an attractive feature for them to know that they are welcome in a place where people know and care about their specific needs,” Dr. Sanchez said.

The Moffitt Cancer Center was recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” in the Human Rights Campaign Foundations’ Healthcare Equality Index 2012 report.

Although Tampa has done a lot to become a more welcoming, diverse community, there is still room for improvement.

It was only last year that Hillsborough County commissioners repealed a 2005 ordinance that banned county support of gay-related activities. Kevin Beckner, the county's first openly gay commissioner and the chief advocate for the repeal, was one of many who spoke at Thursday's event.

“I do believe we have taken small steps in moving forward,” Beckner said. “We have put in statements that actually recognize diversity as one of the top three strategic points that we want to promote.”

Within the last year, a County Diversity Advisory Council with LGBT representation was created. The Council is in the process of working on a strategic plan to make Hillsborough County a more inclusive environment.

The next step is to add protections for LGBT onto Hillsborough County’s Human Rights Ordinance, Mayor Buckhorn said.

“[Businesses and corporations] are starting to recognize that when people come [to Tampa], they need to not just be not discriminated against while they are at work,” said Cathryn Oakley, legislative counsel, state and municipal advocacy, at the Human Rights Campaign. “That employees are people who have 24-hour-a-day lives and that their lives are not contained to the eight hours that they are at work.”

Working at the Moffitt Cancer Center has made a world of a difference for Dr. Sanchez, who is gay.

“As a new employee in a very LGBT-friendly hospital, it’s welcoming and I felt right at home,” Dr. Sanchez said. “It makes me want to pay back, and the way I pay back is by giving to the community who needs our help.”

The Equality Means Business Roundtable was a milestone of sorts, the latest sign that local business leaders are recognizing the LGBT community as an important constituency.

“I feel like we are on the cusp of some really important changes,” State Representative Joe Saunders said. “Today is an exciting step in the right direction because we've never had this kind of support from the private sector and business community before.”