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By Javier Palomarez and Justin Nelson
There is a political adage that goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” As a city respected for its diversity and forward-thinking, it’s time for a commitment to nondiscrimination that invites one and all to do work and thrive in Houston. As two of the nation’s leading economic advocacy organizations, we know that a thriving economy requires all people to have a seat at that table. Nondiscrimination ordinances like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) are essential to ensuring a fully inclusive economy that attracts and retains the very best of our diverse country.
Every year America’s corporations, state governments, and all federal agencies spend tens of billions of dollars in procurement contracts for everything from office supplies to jet engine parts. It’s time that Houston—a city famous for being “The Big Heart”—demonstrates a place in that heart for everyone who wants to make the Houston economy stronger than ever. When every citizen is welcomed equally and openly, Houston will witness unprecedented business growth, allowing those diverse business owners to back the community as role models, job creators, and industry innovators keeping the economics of Texas strong and vibrant.
In 2013, The NGLCC brought its International Business & Leadership Conference to your neighboring City of Dallas. The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, with the help of the Destination Marketing Association International, estimated the economic impact of our 2013 conference at just over $1.2 million. The conference brought over 700 attendees including corporate executives, lawmakers, and small business owners—all of whom regularly seek conference and convention space for their own organizations.
A major factor in selecting Dallas was the existence of a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees and to foster a fully inclusive business culture. Our stakeholders—both the small business owners and large corporations—want to do business in cities and states that value and welcome all people. They recognize that a fully engaged workforce is one where employees can bring their full selves to work every day without fear.
Houston, as the nation’s most diverse city, is also a magnet for conferences, tourism, and emerging industries. This past September, the USHCC—representing the interests of America’s 4.1 million Hispanic-owned firms—brought its annual National Convention to the city of Houston and held it at a city-owned hotel. Known as the largest gathering of Hispanic business leaders in the country, record attendance and revenues were accomplished at the 2015 event. It is clear, however, that there is still untapped economic potential when it comes to doing business in the Bayou City. Further business and conference recruitment would rise exponentially when such powerful protections through HERO are announced and implemented.
Houston is currently the only city of its size that does not have a human rights ordinance of this nature. Without HERO, Houston will not be considered an attractive and welcoming place for new firms or a best in class workforce, especially when compared to major business hubs like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York. People want to live and work in communities where they see themselves, their friends, and family members welcomed and embraced.
Businesses across the country, from Fortune 500 to small local businesses, consistently affirm that discrimination aimed at any segment of the population is bad for business. In fact, many major companies actively recruit diverse employees, market to diverse consumers, and include diverse-owned businesses in their supply chains. LGBT inclusion is associated with higher levels of entrepreneurship and is linked to GDP growth, whereas LGBT discrimination often goes hand-in-hand with a culture of corrupt practices and a lack of openness. This has repeatedly been proven true for the intentional inclusion of other women and minority protections nationwide.
The time has come for the City of Houston to join the greatest cities in America in protecting those that need it the most. The time has come to support HERO and to start letting every Houstonian participate fully in the economy and in society.
Javier Palomarez is the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Justin Nelson is the co-founder and president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.