The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce has partnered with three other Texas chambers to form a statewide coalition that advocates for LGBTQ issues.
The Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce––launched in January by the Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio chambers––is the first of its kind in the nation and represents over 1,000 LGBTQ-owned and ally businesses, according to Tammi Wallace, cofounder and chair of the Greater Houston chamber.
“This coalition ensures that we now have a voice at the state level,” Wallace says. “For the first time, LGBTQ- and ally-owned businesses across Texas are being represented, including many [owners] who may not even be out because of the potential repercussions they may face.”
Texas’ lack of protections for LGBTQ people inspired the Texas chamber’s formation. In 2018, the Lone Star State received the lowest rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 State Equality Index. The report, which assesses how well states protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, categorized Texas as “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality” because it does not have a non-discrimination ordinance.
However, a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that a majority of Texans support anti discrimination laws. Wallace says the Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce believes it is time for lawmakers to pass pro-equality legislation that would erase the risk of folks being fired, evicted, or denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Enacting basic protections for LGBT Texans is not only the right thing to do from the perspective of equality, but it’s also the right thing to do to ensure Texas continues to attract and retain equality-minded workers and employers,” Wallace says.
The new coalition’s first plan of action was its inaugural Advocacy Day at the Capitol on February 20. Several chamber members and leaders spoke with lawmakers about the new coalition, its legislative agenda, and how to support Texas’ LGBTQ community.
Although the chamber has not taken any positions on specific bills, the group is watching for preemption bills that would permit LGBTQ discrimination. The organization is currently monitoring two bills, SB 85 and 444, which would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers based on the owners’ religious beliefs.
The coalition also backs legislation that promotes economic vitality, Wallace says. A legislative agenda (available online at texaslgbtchambers.com) describes the chamber’s position on regulations that impact education, healthcare, transportation, local government, and public safety.
Along with Wallace in Houston, Texas LGBTQ chamber founders include Chase Kincannon, board chair of the Austin Chamber, Tony Vedda, CEO of the Dallas chamber, and Renee Garvens, board chair of the San Antonio chamber.
Vedda was heavily involved in helping Wallace and cofounder Gary Wood launch the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016. The group celebrated its third anniversary at a mixer in February.
The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber’s next socials include a Brewing Up Business event on March 13 and a happy hour on March 28.
Wallace hopes the new Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce will encourage lawmakers to see things through an LGBTQ business lens.
“There is a group within the LGBTQ community who are business owners,” Wallace says. “[The larger LGBTQ community] is typically thought of as an activist community, or a voting bloc, but we are more than that. Not all legislators are aware of our work or our challenges. This is what the coalition is aiming to change.”
This article appears in the March 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.