by Chuck Colbert
In response to efforts in various states to pass laws enabling discrimination against LGBT patrons, the Washington Blade recently launched a campaign to spotlight LGBT-friendly businesses in the District of Columbia.
The Blade formally launched its LGBT Welcoming Business initiative on March 16 at Duke’s Grocery. The launch included representatives of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs; D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development; Stephen Rutgers, director of sales and marketing for the Blade; and local community business leaders.
As Blade writer Michael K. Lavers’ reporting of the launch noted, “The D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development and City Center D.C. have partnered with the Blade on the ‘LGBT Welcoming Business’ campaign.’”
“A lot of people aren’t out, and a lot of people just aren’t at that point where they’re being comfortable being out,” said Stephen Rutgers, director of sales and marketing for the Blade, quoted in Lavers’ story. “So that’s why we’ve created the program so people can go into businesses that market to them, feel comfortable, feel safe in going in there and spend money.”
Daniel Kramer of Duke’s Grocery spoke at the launch. “We’re proud to be part of this community,” he told the Blade. “We’re really happy to be a part of this initiative.”
Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, also spoke. “We want to make sure that our community not only knows they are welcome, but also that business leaders understand the value of the gay dollar and the power of the dollar,” she said.
According to the campaign’s website, washingtonblade.com/business, establishments joining the initiative “will avoid heterosexist assumptions, confront homophobia and use inclusive language.” Campaign members “believe that their business is enriched by the inclusion of LGBT people.”
Placement of the “LGBT Welcoming Business” logo in their window or website “indicates the establishment is working to create a ‘safe space’ for LGBT patrons.” Businesses that join the welcoming campaign will receive a free window-cling logo.
Altogether, the welcoming campaign is a “way for businesses to highlight their appreciation for all customers regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
“We are excited to launch a new program for D.C. businesses to highlight their support for the LGBT community,” said Blade publisher Lynne Brown, quoted on the welcoming business campaign’s website. “When a member of the community sees this logo in the window, it should make them feel welcome.”
“The LGBT Welcoming Business campaign has gotten off to a strong start with just over 100 local businesses participating and displaying the program’s decal in their window,” said Blade marketing director Rutgers in an email. “We look forward to growing the program and encourage businesses everywhere to embrace the LGBT market.”
Bob Witeck, president and founder of D.C.-based Witeck Communications, Inc., offered his perspective. “For the past 25 years, I’ve worked with business leaders and companies large and small,” he said. “Experience tells me business is a natural ally for the LGBT community, and the Washington Blade’s campaign is perfectly targeted to grow that idea. On the cusp of marriage equality, especially when anti-gay fervor wants to adopt so-called religious freedom laws, businesses are smart to freshen their welcome mat. All of us want to feel comfortable where we live and shop, and no business owner can really afford to lose any customers. As soon as I heard about the campaign, I signed up too and plan to encourage every business I know to do so.”
Witeck Communications provides strategic public relations and marketing communications services for corporate and non-profit clients.
As Lavers’ reporting indicated, campaigns are underway in other states. “Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality in January launched a campaign designed to highlight LGBT-friendly businesses in their respective states. More than 1,000 businesses in Mississippi and around the country last year joined a campaign against a state law they contend allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.”
Business owners who want to join the LGBT Welcoming Business campaign can sign up at washingtonblade.com/business.
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