Hampton Hosts Equality Virginia’s First LGBT Business Expo

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LGBT leaders, allies and organizations will gather at the Hampton Roads Convention Center tomorrow for the area’s first business expo.

The “Equality Means Business Expo” is the product of Equality Virginia (EV) and Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR), a coalition of LGBT owned and supportive businesses and professionals.

“Equality was framed a lot toward marriage but there are a lot of places that need it,” said Geneva Perry, HRBOR president and Williamsburg resident. “There’s a potential for discrimination in the workplace, which isn’t good for the community.”

The expo is part of the “Equality Means Business” campaign, which aims to protect LGBT employees from discrimination and help business be welcoming to gay and transgendered customers.

EV started the campaign in January 2015 to build a database of LGBT-friendly small businesses in the state. Information originally was gathered by EV workers and volunteers talking to small businesses owners whenever they ran across one.

Since then, the campaign has shifted the way it’s gathered information by hosting this expo. The Hampton Roads one is the first in the state, according to EV development manager John Coleman.

“The LGBT brand market is one of the most loyal,” he said. “This is a way for small businesses to get their name out there.”

Small businesses attending the event will fill out a form detailing basic information and sign a pledge saying they don’t discriminate against customers or employees based on sexuality orientation or gender identity. They’ll then be added to an online directory on EV’s website.

Similar to veteran and women-owned business, initiatives and connections exist to support LGBT-owned businesses through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

“HRBOR can be your point of access,” Perry said. “Our focus is really on economic growth and diversity through LGBT allies and business owners.”

This event is similar to HRBOR’s typical monthly meeting in that a member of the organization hosts at his or her respective business.

Hampton Convention & Visitors Bureau and Embassy Suites are hosting the expo due to the connection with HRBOR member Charles Waddell, who is a group sales manager at the convention center.

Waddell joined HRBOR about five years ago.

“I joined to establish a networking community with LGBT leaders in the area and I found it to be lucrative in more ways than just dollar exchange,” Waddell said. “We thought it was important to have it at the convention center to show what it can do for our community.”

Other Peninsula businesses with employees that are members of HRBOR include the Mariners’ Museum, Tysinger Automotive and Countryside Gardens.

HRBOR has more than 200 members spread out across Hampton Roads, but attendees to the expo don’t have to be a part of the organization.

“We’ve been really excited about doing something bigger,” Perry said. “The reality is many people come into contact with LGBT business owners. This event creates a sense of welcomeness and improves our area overall.”

If you want to go

When: Registration opens at 4:30 p.m. The event starts at 5 p.m.

Where: Hampton Roads Convention Center Ballroom A at 1610 Coliseum Drive, Hampton.

Cost: The event is free for HRBOR members and $20 for guests.