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The City of Orlando Leads The Way in LGBTQ+ Inclusion

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Last year was a banner year for the LGBTQ+ community in the city of Orlando and throughout Central Florida. Not only did Orlando receive a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide evaluation of equality in municipal laws, but Orange County adopted the city of Orlando’s resolution to better integrate with certified LGBTQ-owned businesses in Central Florida. 

For Orlando, showing its support to the LGBTQ+ community is not just an act of civic responsibility. According to Felipe Sousa Matos Rodriguez, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Senior Specialist for the City of Orlando, supporting LGBTQ-owned businesses is an important economic development strategy. 

“The City of Orlando is a city for everyone and we are proud of our diversity. [The LGBTQ+ community] is the backbone of our economic growth,” he said. “The goal of our diversity program is to support minority, women, and now LGBTQ-owned businesses by giving them educational opportunities and exposure to potential contracts.”

With this resolution, Orlando recognizes the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s certification process which certifies that LGBTQ+ individuals own at least 51 percent of a business, tracks the city’s contracts and spending with certified LGBTQ-owned businesses, and commits to increased outreach with the Pride Chamber, Orlando’s local chapter of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. 

“Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando City Council truly believe in making sure that our residents have equal opportunity to thrive in our city,” Rodriguez added. “This is yet another clear example of how the City Beautiful leads the way in Florida. Our message to LGBTQ+ business owners is simple – the City of Orlando wants to do business with you.” 

Cities across the nation have given underrepresented minority groups an opportunity to land public contracts. Now there is an effort to include LGBTQ-owned businesses in that process. Felipe Sousa Matos Rodriguez shared with us the value of becoming an LGBTQ-certified business in Orlando and marketing tips for businesses and their allies. 

What are the benefits of becoming a certified LGBTQ+ business owner? 

Felipe: “The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce offers a network of over 200 corporate and government partners seeking to do business with LGBTQ-owned businesses. They also have more than 1,000 certified businesses ranging from technology to professional services and newly-certified businesses will have full access to this incredible network. Additionally, the LGBTQ+ community spends $917 billion annually, and 75% of these individuals are likely to buy brands that are LGBTQ+ inclusive. The certification can lead to greater business exposure and greater appeal to consumers looking to spend money on businesses known for welcoming and inclusive nature.”

How many LGBTQ+ owned businesses does the city of Orlando have? What industries are represented? 

Felipe: “As we are only able to track the businesses that choose to get certified, we don’t have a definitive number of how many LGBTQ-owned businesses there are. We estimate that there are hundreds in Orlando and the surrounding area, if not more. Businesses who get certified are usually business-to-business because of the benefits involved, and a majority of our local LGBTQ-owned businesses are directed to consumers. Some of the industries represented are hospitality, professional services, technology, construction, and real estate, to name a few. 

Whether they make delicious treats like the ones sold at Se7en Bites or provide incredible event pictures like the ones taken by J.D. Casto Photography, our LGBTQ+ community is thriving with innovation. We encourage all LGBTQ+ owners to get certified. Our local Pride Chamber is happy to help anyone interested in the process.”

What are your best marketing tips for businesses that want to identify as LGBTQ-owned or friendly? 

Felipe: “The typical LGBTQ+ consumer is very engaged and they never forget positive inclusionary steps taken by large corporations or small businesses. Businesses seeking to attract them as patrons should consider financially supporting local LGBTQ+ nonprofits, sponsoring LGBTQ+ events, and placing ads in their local LGBTQ+ publications. Other steps could include using symbols such as the rainbow and transgender flags inside their business and creating nondiscrimination policies to protect their LGBTQ+ employees from workplace discrimination.”

What does Pride mean to you? 

Felipe: “As an immigrant and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, there is never a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on the meaning of ‘pride.’ When I first came out my mother did not accept me and when I moved to the United States, I learned firsthand the obstacles faced by immigrants. These experiences shaped who I am today and I believe they made me stronger. I am grounded in our long history as a community and our fight for equal rights. Pride is not just a month of the year; it is our collective commitment to continue working towards a world where children won’t have to experience discrimination or family rejection. We come from a long line of leaders who fought before us. It is our duty to continue their legacy. Pride is walking in our neighborhoods, holding our loved one’s hand and hoping that one day that won’t be a sign of courage, but simply a display of love. I chose to work under the visionary leadership of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Commissioner Patty Sheehan because they truly believe in inclusion. They have never shied away from doing the right thing for our community, even when it wasn’t popular. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity and we are working hard to make sure our LGBTQ+ residents have a voice in their local government.”

Orlando’s inclusive policies date back to the 1973 non-discrimination ordinance. Since then, it has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusion. The city became the first government agency in Central Florida to create a domestic partnership registry in 2011; enforced City and Federal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations; supported multiple local LGBTQ+ organizations such as the Zebra Coalition and the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida; created programs in support of LGTBQ+ youth; and provided resources for those affected by the Pulse tragedy; among many other initiatives, you can learn about here

Through their inclusive efforts, Orlando has paved the way in advancing LGBTQ+ acceptance and, in turn, has attracted new businesses to the area and helped their bottom line. PRSA Orlando has a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we believe that efforts such as the ones taken by the City of Orlando are essential to creating a thriving culture of belonging.