Natalie Hinckley, the founder of the video production company Hinckley Productions, didn't make the decision to “come out” as an LGBT-owned enterprise lightly.
“Any LGBT person would tell you there’s some degree of hesitation,” said Hinckley, whose company has worked on projects for the likes of Land’s End, the Duluth Trading Company, Wyden Enterprises and the American Heart Association. “Like, what are my clients going to think?”
Hinckley ended up joining the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce and got national certification as an LGBT enterprise. Now, she and her team of producers will be among a handful of LGBT-owned and LGBT-allied businesses in the state participating in a Pride Business Showcase on Madison’s east side on Tuesday, June 5.
Hinckley said that while it’s possible there are would-be clients who decide to not hire her because of her identity, the positives of going public as an LGBT-owned enterprise outweigh any of the negatives there may be.
“It’s hard to quantify...but I think it’s true in our field, where we’re storytellers, or we try to represent brands, that authenticity is valued,” she said. “Companies are looking for not just having a diverse employee base, but also evaluating the vendor you’re working with.”
Jason Rae is the president and CEO of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the group that’s organizing Tuesday’s showcase at the Goodman Community Center. He said that there’s a hunger in the LGBT community to find businesses that are LGBT-owned or that reflect “values of fairness” in their culture. That hunger is reflected in the 10,000 unique searches the chamber fields on its online directory each year, he said.
“(Those businesses) let customers and clients know that they can be themselves the moment they walked through the door,” he said.
Hence the showcase: It’s an opportunity for connecting consumers to such businesses, while letting businesses network with each other, said Rae.
“We really wanted to expand to connect businesses and let individuals showcase their products to the community at large,” he said.
So far, the chamber has listed 13 companies who will be at the showcase, including Craft Brewed Suds, an artisanal soap company in Madison; The Crystal Room, an event and banquet hall in the Wisconsin Dells; the Richards Group Allstate Agency, an insurance firm in Waukesha; and institutions like Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW Credit Union.
Rae said the event will feature tables with demos and samples from each of the exhibitors, a networking component, and an open bar.
The showcase reflects the six-year-old chamber’s ongoing mission to create a business community in Wisconsin where companies treat customers “equally and fairly,” and where LGBT individuals have “access and opportunity,” said Rae. To accomplish that mission, the chamber has created initiatives to promote welcoming and inclusive business practices — including a college mentorship program and a program that gives away signage promoting inclusivity — and has built out a directory of 553 businesses.
The chamber has also operated on a political level. Recently, it campaigned against a bill in the state Legislature that blocks local government from enforcing their own labor and employment rules, including ordinances protecting transgender people from discrimination in the workplace.
The state Legislature ultimately passed the bill, which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law in April.
“That’s a bad business case,” said Rae. “It’s similar to North Carolina with HB2.”
HB2 was a controversial state law that prevented trans people from using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. An Associated Press analysis estimated that the bill ended up costing the state billions of dollars in economic impact.
Despite state-level policies he sees as disheartening, Rae said he’s optimistic on the whole about the direction the state is heading in when it comes to creating an LGBT-friendly landscape, in metropolitan areas and smaller communities alike.
“I think Wisconsin is moving forward and becoming a welcoming place for all business owners,” he said. “We are in Appleton and Green Bay in a regular basis and get tremendous support.”
Tuesday’s showcase Pride Business Showcase starts at 5:30 p.m. at Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa Street, and lasts until 8 p.m. It’s free to attend.