June 1st marks the beginning of LGBTQ Pride month and although we’ve made significant strides with regards to inclusivity and equality, members of the LGBTQ community continue to face numerous struggles within the business world. So, what can we as allies do to advocate for LGBTQ entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers? In this episode, Gene Marks and special guest, Angela Giampolo, an attorney for the Giampolo Law Group, discuss the most effective strategies for supporting the LGBTQ community.
Podcast Key Highlights
- What Can Straight Business Owners Do to Support the LGBTQ
- Don’t be afraid to publicly declare your allyship with the LGBTQ community, even if it’s a simple gesture like displaying a pride flag.
- Avoid pandering to the LGBTQ community if you genuinely do not believe in equality. Any signs of inauthenticity will be met with significant backlash.
- Allies need to make sure that all their intake forms are LGBTQ-inclusive. Business owners who are unsure of how to do this should reach out to an expert who does.
- Expand your company’s benefits program to further support your LGBTQ employees. One example might be adjusting your adoption reimbursement plan to include LGBTQ employees who want to start a family.
- How Can Small Business Owners Avoid Any Legal Problems
Caused By Inadvertently Discriminating Against Their LGBTQ Customers and Employees?
- Begin by taking stock of what type of business you run and what potential problems could arise.
- Once you’ve carefully considered all the possibilities, consult with a lawyer or attorney who specializes in LGBTQ rights and find out how, from an LGBTQ perspective, you could potentially get sued. (Bringing an employee manual to your meeting would be extremely beneficial.)
- Lastly, implement all the necessary changes and plans that were discussed during your meeting.
- What Are Some of the Legal Challenges Impacting The LGBTQ Community?
- Estate Planning
- Transgender Name Changes
- Business Law
- Real Estate
- What Advice Does Angela Giampolo Have for LGBTQ Entrepreneurs?
- First and foremost, you need to have the courage to put yourself out there.
- Join your local LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce for support.
- You should also look into the IBA, the Independence Business Alliance, which offers access to additional resources and grants.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
You’re listening to the Small Biz Ahead podcast, brought to you by The Hartford.
This podcast is brought to you by The Hartford. When the unexpected strikes, The Hartford strikes back for over 1 million small business customers with property, liability, and workers compensation insurance. Check out The Hartford’s small business insurance at TheHartford.com.
Gene: Welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. We interview great experts and offer advice and tips to help you run your business better. Hey everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for joining me. This month is Pride month, so I am really, really happy to have a friend of mine from Philly where we both live. Angela Giampolo. Angela is an attorney for the Giampolo Law Group. Right Angela? Make sure I’m saying that right. Got it. That specializes in catering and helping the LGBTQ+ community, and there’s a lot of questions that I have and a lot of things that we need to know about as business owners, about this community, not only as customers but also as employees. And also if you are an LGBTQ entrepreneur, there are certain bits of advice that Angela will have for you as well.
Gene: So for starters, Angela, great to see you. I’m sorry we’re seeing each other online and I promise we will get together for a coffee when I come back into Philadelphia. I’d like to see a face-to-face, but thanks for joining me on this conversation.
Angela: Thanks for having me. And honestly, thank you for providing a platform for these topics, especially during Pride Month.
Gene: Yeah, let’s talk about that platform. So it’s Pride month. You’re speaking to many business owners right now. There’s a small percentage of them, a minority percentage that are LGBTQ, but most of them I’m assuming are not. But here you are representing that community and it can be a very important community for any business. And just give me some of your thoughts as to why that is. What should we as business owners know about the LGBTQ community?
Angela: I mean, sure. I mean I’ve been a business owner for 16 years and the majority of my allies, the majority of my colleagues are not to your point LGBTQ owned businesses like you, straight owned business, but I do business with them, right? And so just being aware of… Especially if you’re an allied, if you have the same no like and trust as I would, the fact that you would put that out there, that you would make it known to the LGBTQ community that you are an ally, that you are a friend, that you are a colleague. So many of my straight friends, I mean including you, they’re like, “Angela, I love you. I love you. There’s no issue. I mean, I believe what you believe and I think you have the rights to all the things I have the rights to.”
Angela: It goes so far in the LGBTQ community to say more than that, don’t stop at just I believe what you believe, but actually from a marketing perspective, put it out there. I mean, especially pride month, but I wouldn’t stop at that. So many companies ask me to speak at their pride launch to talk… The Fortune 500s, to talk about Pride month. But for small business owners, if you live in a community, right? Springfield, Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia, what have you, and you are not LGBTQ, but you put out a pride flag, just the warm fuzzies that that will invoke in the LGBTQ community in your area, it speaks volumes. And I just completely recommend that you vocalize it, that you don’t just say in your heart, I believe what you believe, but that from a marketing perspective that you put it out there.
Gene: The marketing perspective is interesting to me as well, and we’re not going to name names, but back in April, there was a very highly covered event where a company was marketing to a sector of the LGBTQ community, and then there was a whole bunch of backlash to that company. And I think when a small or mid-sized business sees that, they get a little bit scared like, “Oh, we wouldn’t want that happening to us, so therefore we’re not going to do something like that.” So what would you say to that business owner?
Angela: There’s authentic and inauthentic.
Angela: So just choose what side you’re going to be on. If you don’t believe that I have the right to get married, if you don’t believe that I shouldn’t be fired for being gay. So if you in any way, shape or form believe that I shouldn’t be able to do any of those things, then please don’t pander to me. Don’t try to get my money. But yet you inherently dislike who I am. It’s not what I stand for. You dislike who I am as a human, right? I am LGBTQ. And so the smell test, if it walks like a duck, talks like… Quacks like a duck, it is a duck, whatever.
Angela: What happened to that particular company is it didn’t pass the smell test. And so just the inauthenticity of it all, and then you’ll get the backlash. And so again, I say if you are an ally and a true ally, and you can speak to your allyship and all of the things, and a big piece to this is intake forms. Having gender-neutral and multiple pronoun depending on what you do for a living as a lawyer, it’s like how do you identify, he/she/they. And if you don’t know how to modify, right? Because this is very, very real if you are scared to be canceled.
Angela: This is very real. If you stumble. If you are an ally in your heart and you believe that I deserve all the same rights you do, yet you stumble over saying LGBTQ, and you don’t really know what all of those letters stand for, if nothing else, reach out to me, okay? I will educate you on that. And your intake forms, if you don’t know how to make them inclusive, they should be inclusive because if I identify as they/them, you have no idea how to make your intake forms potentially non-gendered. And you shouldn’t necessarily know how to, but you want to know how to. And so there’s that, there’s just a fear of the cancel culture and a lot of negative energy out there on both sides, and as well as within the LGBTQ community quickly canceling or yelling or just being angry at a company that doesn’t get it right. And I don’t necessarily think that that’s the right thing to do.
Angela: So if nothing else, offering myself as a safe space of this is what your intake should look like, and I do that pro bono, this is what your intake form should look like, and here’s a quick 15-minute tutorial on what LGBTQ means and is and how not to stutter or stumble on it. And I think after that, if you are minded, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go public with that.
Gene: What do you mean by intake forms?
Angela: So your business, right? And if I were to go on your website and do the contact us form, right? If it just says he/she, I won’t-
Gene: Anywhere, any place where I’m asking for information from an outsider, whether it’s an employee, a customer or whatever, that’s a form of intake of information. And that should be inclusive.
Angela: Be inclusive, both of the pronoun that I use, but also how I identify.
Gene: Right. Okay. Let me ask you, there’s actions that a business owner can be taken that are friendly towards the LGBTQ community, and then there’s also actions that they better be taking for legal reasons. So you’re an attorney, so let’s talk legal, okay? How can a business owner get into trouble by discriminating against LGBTQ customers or employees? Tell me from a legal standpoint, regardless of how we might feel about the community, we don’t want to get in any legal trouble. What advice do you have for employers?
Angela: So I just a few hours ago spoke to someone who called me up and he had just gotten fired from a restaurant. He’s a daytime bartender, and he went back into the kitchen to get some food and miscommunication. I’m not quite sure what, but the chef, it ended with, “Get out of my kitchen.” Right? So nothing good, right? But what happened from there was the owner of the business, so obviously the owner of that restaurant had no say in what took place between these two employees, one who was homophobic and one who was gay.
Angela: What you then have control over is how you handle that. And so this particular person recorded, which in Pennsylvania we’re a two-way consent state, so his recording is not admissible, but regardless, it gave me enough information to believe him, right? Just as a lawyer in the world, and he had a feeling that it would get turned back on him, and sure enough, they didn’t know what to do between the two. And the chef in the kitchen is of a minority status. So they felt as a business owner, stuck between two minority statuses coming together. I get it. I get it. It’s like, “Well, if I believe the wand, then the other minority status could sue me for…” It’s so real. But at the end of the day, the recording showed that they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, and they were asking him as the white Caucasian male of a certain minority status to just let it go.
Angela: And so for all business owners of just taking stock and because the name of the most recent Supreme Court case is Bostock. So I always laugh when I say that, but just stopping for a minute and taking stock of what type of business that you have, what type of altercations or situations like this that could come up, how could you get in trouble? That’s always what I ask. If that business had contacted me and said, Angela, I want you to protect me in some way, shape, or form, from any type of lawsuit. I would say, “Okay, what do you do for a living?” “I’m a restaurant.” “Okay, what types of altercation situations? How do you think you could get in trouble?”
Angela: And then from an LGBTQ perspective, then I come… So if you just come to me, you have your employee manual already figured out, already have it, you’ve done that type of due diligence, then you reach out to someone like me and you say, “Okay, here’s all the due diligence that I’ve done, but from an LGBTQ perspective, how could I also potentially get sued?” Right? “What are your bathroom situation?” Like what type of bathroom accessibility do you have? If someone asks for an individual versus being in the communal bathroom, do you allow it? A transgender person, it has not yet gotten a name change legally. Will you still allow them to go on the schedule with their identified name instead of requiring a name change, the actual decree? Basically it is very business specific, but what do you do? And then how the LGBTQ community… How can I help you figure that out from there?
Gene: It sounds like… I’m thinking on behalf of many of my clients. I mean, many of my clients are family owned businesses. They’re all in mid-Atlantic area, Philly, in the suburbs, whatever, if they even have a human resources manual, and that’s questionable. They probably have had it since the time of Kennedy. So I think one big takeaway obviously is that all that needs to be readdressed. And it does sound like…
Gene: Yeah. Do you think companies like payroll companies are a good place to get updates to a human resources menu when it comes to LGBTQ issues? Or do you think that it really makes more sense to involve someone like yourself that specializes in these issues, to take a look at a company’s HR manual?
Angela: 1000% have an actual LGBTQ attorney look at those because they change so often. And we have the Supreme Court case, we have Pennsylvania, we have the city of Philadelphia. If you’re in another county in Pennsylvania, you may be governed by something else. So there’s no way that anything like a Z-benefits or those types of companies are keeping track of it. They just can’t. It’s state by state by state, actually within the marriage equality case there, out of the Fortune 500 companies, 319 of them filed amicus briefs, not because they’re like, Google is not LGBTQ-friendly as a company per se. They were just like, “We can’t have benefits that are different for all 50 states.” So even if you are a local company, which you know Jean, here in Philadelphia, I have an office in New Jersey.
Gene: Yeah, completely different.
Angela: And for the longest time, Pennsylvania and New Jersey had very different laws. They still do around LGBTQ issues. But before marriage equality, New Jersey recognized civil union, Pennsylvania didn’t. So it was like even if you were a small… A small business doesn’t mean small, but a small business, even if you were just PA Jersey, you had significant differences in rights just across the bridge. You throw a rock and you could hit New Jersey, but thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars difference in terms of benefits and rights.
Gene: Your whole practice, your whole livelihood, it’s focused on the LGBTQ community. I have to know, so would the majority of your work be related to some form of discrimination against that community?
Angela: Not at all.
Gene: What is that?
Angela: No, I don’t know. Estate planning. Estate planning is so many of my clients, even though we can now get married, we’ve only been allowed to get married for eight years. You’ve been allowed to get married in this country for going on 400 years. But before marriage equality, the only way that we could create a relationship, a legal marriage if you will, was through revocable living trusts and basically estate planning. And I got passionate around estate planning with the Terry Schiavo case, here was a straight SIS couple from Laura Marion, but moved to Florida and the accident happened there, brain aneurysm. And they didn’t have any healthcare powers of attorney in place. And as a straight couple, he had no more power over his wife’s medical decisions than the mother did. And Terry Schiavo languished on life support for 12 years and that was what it was.
Angela: So estate planning, hands down. Transgender name changes, so a lot of transactional work around that. Family law. We’re not having kids in some way, shape or form unless we plan to have kids. I had two adoption meetings yesterday and then with a gay male couple today regarding should they look at surrogacy versus private adoption versus foster care and the varying costs of that. But any way that we’re doing family planning, there’s an adoption in some way, shape or form. So estate planning, transgender name changes, adoptions by way of family law as well as uncontested divorces. If you are LGBTQ and you want to get divorced, but you want to throw Tiffany Vases at one another that you can’t afford, I am not your lawyer. There’s a lawyer out there for you. But for me, I only will do uncontested divorces and then business law with real estate because they go hand in hand. So you likely have a lease for some sort of business that you own. So basically I go by Philly gay lawyer, people reach out to Philly gay lawyer, I may or may not be able to do what you… Bankruptcy tax law, there’s a lot that I don’t do, but I have trusted individuals that I would use for myself and then I refer them along.
Gene: I ask you that question really for if you’re watching this, you’re listening to this, these are the unique issues that your LGBTQ employees have that many of us are probably not aware of, that there are unique estate planning issues and marital issues and adoption.
Angela: The most amazing companies, Jean, like the two of the meetings I had yesterday, one Penn… Well this is good… companies but CBS and Penn, those have amazing adoption reimbursement plans. And so they already know they’re going through this process. They can’t form a family any other way. And there are companies that they work for know that. And so they have adoption reimbursement as well as for straight couples, right? Because while 3% to 5% of straight couples are infertile, a hundred percent of LGBTQ folks need to adopt in some way, shape or form, need to form a legal connection between one parent and another.
Angela: So obviously the company doesn’t discriminate in the sense that they don’t deny their straight employees the same benefit. So I have a colleague, a lawyer friend of mine that just reached out last week and they said, “Do you know a lawyer in Jersey that does pre-birth orders?” My wife and I used a surrogate and we’re about to give birth and da da da. And I’m like, “Me? What are you talking? This is what I do for gay folks.” And he is like, “Oh my God, I never put the two together, then I might as well be gay because I don’t have this.”
Gene: It’s funny that you bring up that adoption as well because again, a lot of employers that have different types of benefits that they offer. And again, if you’re watching or listening to this, you can check with your accountant, but you can get up to a $13,750. I think that’s the exact amount of a deduction by helping out your employees with the cost of adoption. And some employers, some of my clients actually make that available as a benefit. You don’t have to do the entire amount, you can do a portion of that amount, but if you are hiring LGBTQ or if you want to attract, I mean this is an environment of very tight labor and we’re all looking for good people. And one way to attract good people, particularly if they’re LGBTQ, is to say, we do offer adoption benefits and you do have a tax incentive for doing just that, and it’s an important benefit for LGBTQ people. And it could be the difference between hiring a great employee or losing them to somebody else.
Angela: So it’s one of the most legitimizing benefits because it says that the company understands that this is how I form a family and out of the 13 7, whatever the number was, 5,000 is like the go-to.
Gene: Yeah. Yeah.
Angela: And/or if they’re going to be twins, we can talk about that. But basically 5,000, you don’t necessarily have to go all the way that much. The standard is five, and that is enough to make an employee feel 1000% validated.
Gene: Great. That is great. All right, so just a few more minutes that we have left. Let me ask you to talk directly to LGBTQ entrepreneurs. I mean, you’ve been doing this for a long time and you are one because you are a business owner of your own business. What advice would you have for anybody that’s part of the LGBTQ community that wants to start a business? Should they start it, and you’re in the neighborhood in Philadelphia, do you recommend starting a business where you’re among friends and allies versus not? Is there a type of business? Are there any communities, business organizations that cater, they can become members of? Just take a few minutes out and give me some advice if I were starting up a business and I’m LGBTQ.
Angela: Sure. So first and foremost, I would say location wise, it doesn’t matter where you are. Wherever you are, there are LGBTQ folks and they will want to feel recognized, acknowledged, and normalized by whatever it is the service that you provide. And even if it’s an e-commerce business that you want to then market to them. Okay, so hands down, you do not have to be in the heart of the neighborhood like I am, going by Philly gay lawyer, I joke that I’m gay for pay, right? You don’t have to be all in like that. Just ultimately, if you’re in Bryn Mawr, Broomall, Fort Washington, wherever you happen to be, that you ultimately put yourself out there as an LGBTQ owned business. That in and of itself is more than literally the statue of 70% LGBTQ owned businesses, they actually hide that, okay? So if you put yourself out there first and foremost, yes, there may be homophobic folks that don’t patron you, but you’ll have so many more Allied and LGBTQ, it will even itself out, okay?
Angela: So first and foremost, just putting yourself out there and then to Jean’s point about organizations, join the local LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce in the area that you are. And if you are in the Philadelphia region, still join the IBA, the Independence Business Alliance, which is the Philadelphia LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. Even if you are in Montgomery County and there is a Montgomery County 1, join both, it is absolutely worth joining both. The IBA has the resources of the National Chamber. You’ll get emails about grants and things that you otherwise, there was just a grant that when COVID happened and restaurants got decimated, that Uber Eats and all of these other DoorDash and Uber Eats came together and provided a grant $25,000 specific to LGBTQ own restaurants.
Angela: You wouldn’t have known of that.
Gene: Remember that organization, they should become aware of that. And this is the national, it’s not just Philly, so there’s-
Angela: Well, the IBA is local and then the NGLCC, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, but it’ll trickle down. So definitely becoming members of all of that across the board, even if there’s a local one in your county of going to Philadelphia and then joining the national.
Gene: Fair enough. Fair enough. Angela Giampolo is an attorney that specializes in LGBTQ Community. It’s the Giampolo law firm based in… Law group, sorry, based in Philadelphia. Angela-
Gene:… It is always great to speak with you and again, we will get together face to face, so thank you so much for joining me.
Angela: Thank you. Thank you again for providing a platform.
Gene: Sure thing. Everybody you’ve been watching and listening to the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you need any tips or advice or help in running your business, please join us at smallbizahead.com or sba.thehartford.com. My name is Gene Marks. Thanks for listening and or watching. We will see you again soon. Take care.
Gene: Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your range reviews and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.
Download Our Free eBooks
- Ultimate Guide to Business Credit Cards: The Small Business Owner’s Handbook
- How to Keep Customers Coming Back for More—Customer Retention Strategies
- How to Safeguard Your Small Business From Data Breaches
- 21 Days to Be a More Productive Small Business Owner
- Opportunity Knocks: How to Find—and Pursue—a Business Idea That’s Right for You
- 99 New Small Business Ideas