The gains made by the LGBT community within corporate America have been impressive in recent years.
A record 366 businesses achieved a top rating in an annual survey by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBT advocacy group, that measures corporate policies, benefits and practices for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
In another important signal, 379 businesses — from Coca-Cola Co. to Goldman Sachs Inc. — declared their support for same-sex marriage this year by filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court.
And there have been strides in C-suites at corporations like Nike Inc., Facebook Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and most prominently, Apple Inc., where chief executive Tim Cook came out last year in an essay where he wrote: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
The achievements, however, of LGBT small-business owners and entrepreneurs have typically been far less chronicled than those made by other minority communities, even though they represent an estimated 1.4 million businesses nationwide.
In fact, small businesses run by LGBT owners are playing an increasing open role in economic and political arenas.
It can be seen with Brian Dingman, 48, co-owner of Juice Shack, which started 20 years ago as a shop specializing in blended-to-order smoothies and fresh-squeezed vegetable blends. Today, the Santa Rosa company operates seven locations in Sonoma County and employs 70 workers.
Juice Shack was recently named one of the top 25 LGBT-owned businesses in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times, landing at No. 9 in the poll on the basis of the number of local employees. Two other Sonoma County businesses also ranked in the poll: Cowgirl Creamery/Tomales Bay Foods in Petaluma, at No. 5 with 100 employees, and the R3 Hotel in Guerneville, at No. 18 with 35 employees. To qualify, the business must be more than 50 percent owned by a LGBT person or persons.
The list itself is remarkable because it is the first time such a count has ever been done in the Bay Area. Around 20 years ago, the publication tried to create a list — such rankings are commonplace among business journals — but met great reluctance from LGBT entrepreneurs who feared the publicity would lead to customer backlash and threats to employee safety, according to staff.
But times have changed. The publication found a much greater willingness to participate in its survey, with some assistance from the Golden Gate Business Association, the first business organization founded by LGBT entrepreneurs.
“We’re telling the story in the mainstream press because it’s part of mainstream business,” said Mary Huss, publisher of the San Francisco Business Times.
A few businesses on the list cater more specifically to the LGBT community, such as a leather shop or tourism agency, but the majority seek to appeal to everyone, such as a real estate firm, a coffee roaster and a law firm.
Dingman, who owns Juice Shack with college friend Doug Randolph, said he appreciated the recognition that came with the listing, including an awards ceremony. While he doesn’t market Juice Shack as an LGBT-owned business, he is out in the community.
“Our main push is providing a quality, healthy product to our community,” Dingman said. “If people ask me, yes I will tell them ... but when I hire people and talk to them I’m not like, ‘Hi, I’m your gay boss.’”