Those in the Lehigh Valley who would like to turn back the clock on gay rights can pack it in right now. Game over. The fat lady has sung.
I say that because the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce – not exactly a charter member of Queer Nation -- is holding a kick-off event Friday morning for its new Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Business Initiative. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn Allentown Bethlehem Airport at 1787-B Airport Road in Allentown.
It’s the first step toward starting an LGBT council within the Chamber that would provide networking and other opportunities and resources for LGBT business owners and employees.
I can think of few more solid indicators that the gay rights movement has arrived than to have such a bastion of the establishment embrace it. The LGBT council will join other groups within the Chamber, such as the Women’s Business Council and the Young Professionals Council, as a sort of chamber within a Chamber.
Tony Iannelli, president of the Lehigh Valley Chamber, which he says is the ninth largest in the nation, acknowledged that establishing an LGBT council has “raised a few eyebrows.” But he said it is both good for business and the right thing to do.
“What has made us successful is when we feel there’s a demand…we try to recognize that market and build a partnership with it,” he said.
Some of the larger companies in the Valley, such as PPL and Air Products, already have gay and lesbian resource groups that meet in the workplace.
“When PPL created domestic partnership benefits for their employees it really came out of requests from this group,” according to Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, a nonprofit advocacy group for the LGBT community. “It’s not controversial anymore to say that the business community supports the idea that people should be employed based on their talent, not their sexual orientation. It’s in their best interest to have a top, talented workforce.”
If only Harrisburg would catch up. “Just about everyone else is leaps and bounds ahead of our state Legislature who has yet to vote on a non-discrimination law,” said Shanker, who worked with the Valley Chamber on Friday’s LGBT council kick-off.
A poll last year showed 69 percent of Pennsylvanians support prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, yet the Legislature drags its feet.
Iannelli told me that many Chambers around the country don’t join forces with groups representing a certain demographic, as his organization does with the Lehigh Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “You have got to be open and flexible to building partnerships to these varying communities,” he said.
Maybe that’s how the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber got to be among the largest in the country – by avoiding backward thinking.