LGBT Chamber of Commerce looks to give entrepreneurs a boost

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights has come a long way, but according to some LGBTQ entrepreneurs, not quite enough when it comes to business.

“I would say the difficulties or challenges would be if someone is a small business owner, they identify as LGBT, and they notice they may be some hindrances with their opportunities to leverage,” said Tamara Fleming, co-founder of the New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

The New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce says their goal is to help position LGBT entrepreneurs to get even better opportunities by being certified as an LGBT owned and operated business, and introducing them to larger contracts and opportunities.

“So just remember business is business, dollars are green, that’s all this is about,” said Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle.

A panel of experts focused on teaching LGBTQ business owners, women and minority entrepreneurs how to effectively position their business to become a preferred vendor or supplier to large corporations.

LGBT small business owners say the goal is to have an equal opportunity to do business anywhere and with anyone in the state.

“I think because I’m newer and a small business owner it’s tougher to get through the channels and to connect with the right people in these companies. Like I didn’t realize there was such a procedure to get in with the paperwork and the different ways of doing it, so that’s why I came here to learn that,” said Jerry Arduino, owner and founder of Beardsley Events in Cedar Grove.

Despite New Jersey having laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBTQ owned and operated businesses are still fighting for diversity in corporate America. Earlier this year, in an effort to ensure equal opportunity, Gov. Phil Murphy appointed the state’s first chief diversity officer.

“One of the things that I would say, because often times I do get that question if we’re favoring one group over another, and I think that data is very instructive. So by way of example, if we find that the state does business, but of the business that it does less than 1 percent of that business goes to minority- and women-owned businesses, or to LGBT businesses, and that percentage does not represent their percentage within the market, that’s not a matter of favoring one group over another. That’s a matter of saying why is that?” said Hester Agudosi, New Jersey’s first chief diversity officer.

“I think we’re getting there and we’re making progress, but a lot of companies aren’t aware of the fact that there’s supplier diversity programs to be had. There’s a gentleman out there who is creating one for his company as we speak,” said New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce President Laurie Seliger.

“I remember my friend, she did very well on an interview for a company, on the phone, there was no video. But when she came to the interview in person, as soon as they saw her, suddenly they said the position was filled. It was such a glaring example because she definitely looks more, I would say ‘butchy.’ Her whole persona was already judged just by the look, not by her ability to handle the responsibility,” said Ferlie Almonte, president and CEO of Ferlie Life and Image Coach Consultant.

The chamber hopes to connect the roughly 20,000 LGBTQ businesses in the state, and in doing so, magnify their positive impact.