“We would love to show, through all these businesses, that not only do the majority of Virginia's believe nondiscrimination policies should be in place, but that the majority of business owners also feel that way."
GayRVA Staff | September 1, 2017
Currently, Virginia state law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Mean Business (EMB) program was created by Equality Virginia in 2013 to help residents of Virginia seeking business that support equality.
Equality Virginia is a non profit organization that has been working toward spreading the message of equality across the state. Their Equality Means Business program invites small businesses in Virginia to sign a pledge of equality, stating that they do not discriminate based on an employee or customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We wanted to provide, particularly for smaller businesses, an outlet and a list of [businesses] who are opening their doors to everyone,” said Joseph Papa, Communications Director for Equality Virginia.
When businesses sign the pledge, they become a member of the program and are added to EMB’s online directory. Businesses owners also receive a certificate and a wall sticker to let the public know their facility is a safe space for employees and customers.
“We signed because it is our belief that there is a significant need to improve hiring practices and level the playing field for all workers,” Jennifer Rawlings, co-owner of Lamplighter, said. “We believe that to make progress as a society, we have to take action in our communities”
Over 600 businesses have signed the pledge so far and Equality Virginia is currently working toward having one member in every city and county in Virginia.
Research conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed 73 percent of Virginia residents are in favor of a state law that protects gay and lesbian people from employment discrimination. Through this program, Equality Virginia hopes to reflect that statistic and ultimately impact legislation.
“We would love to show, through all these businesses, that not only do the majority of Virginia’s believe nondiscrimination policies should be in place, but we also want to show that the majority of business owners also feel that way,” Papa said.
To reinforce the message of and purpose of EMB, Equality Virginia, together with Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR) and Richmond Business Alliance, is hosting the Equality Means Business Symposium. The event will consist of workshops covering topics such as LGBTQ friendly policy language and how to overcome bias in the workplace.
“[The symposium] is really trying to broaden [participants'] knowledge and their gay and trans cultural competency, and empowering them to provide resources that are inclusive,” Papa said.
Workshops will be lead by experts on diversity and inclusion, and are split between two tracks. Track one is meant for participants who are pro-equality and are just starting to learn about inclusive business practices. Track two is for participants who are familiar with the LGBTQ community and are seeking to further their knowledge of inclusive and affirming business practices. Both tracks consist of three separate workshops, along with one final workshop that everyone attends. Following the last workshop is a reception hosted by HRBOR.
“Large corporations have the means to send folks to a conference somewhere for hundreds of dollars. This is a 50 dollar registration fee, and it really gives the folks the groundwork for improving or expanding what they offer in the workplace,” Papa said.
The Equality Means Business Symposium will be held on Fri., Sept. 7, from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hampton-Marina. Business owners interested in the symposium can register by clicking here.
Article by Caitlin Barbieri. Main image: the staff of Copy Cat Printing pose with their Equality Means Business certificate and window sticker.