Ben Conard was named one of 2019’s 40 LGBT Leaders Under 40 by Business Equality Magazine. Ben is the Founder of Five North Chocolate, a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® and the first brand ever to feature the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Seal on a packaged good.
This article first appeared in Business Equality Magazine’s September 2019 Issue
Ben was also one of the TOP 5 finalist at the RAHM Contest in Toronto 2019.
No matter where you are – a professional or personal setting – there are things we can be doing every day to be more LGBTQ-inclusive. You don't need to be in a position of power to make a difference. You just need to be you.
It is often argued that LGBTQ+ citizens have all the rights they need. Same-sex marriage was legalized, right? So why do we need to increase inclusivity? Because in reality, full equality is far from reach. You can still be fired for your sexual orientation, same-sex couples have a harder time adopting, and the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ groups are making headlines.
So, while we do need to change laws and policy to better protect LGBTQ+ people, we also need to change the hearts and minds of each other. Here are 4 things YOU can be doing to do just that.
1) Be vulnerable.
This year I launched a new package design for the company I founded, Five North Chocolate. Without even feeling fully comfortable with it and certainly without knowing the repercussions (good or bad), I included in the design a seal that has never touched a packaged product on the market before. Proudly stated on our package is our Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® seal and membership with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. And each package being signed by yours truly meant I had no escape.
“What if I lose business because of this seal?” “What if I get bad press?” “What if my extreme visibility provokes people to seek me out?” These questions kept me up at night. But I did it anyway.
Though still a challenging path to navigate, I am hopeful that this vulnerability will give confidence to aspiring entrepreneurs in an identity crisis and I am encouraged by the light it shines on a marginalized yet powerful business community. Being vulnerable allows others to feel less so.
2) Come out.
4 years ago, I told my family and friends that I was gay. And 1 year ago, I came out to the world: my extended family, acquaintances, colleagues, and everyone in my professional sphere learned who I was. All of me.
No matter the situation I am in or the people I am with, I need to be prepared knowing they very well may know something particularly personal about me. And while it can be exhausting coming out regularly, I will continue to do it.
Maybe the most obvious way of increasing visibility and connecting people of all backgrounds is actually coming out. Yes, perhaps as LGBTQ+. And/or even as someone who has a history of addiction, mental illness, or a tough, but worthwhile, story to share. The more we come out of closets the more we open people’s minds, humanize unlikely characters, and increase empathy.
3) Listen more.
For me, I must admit when I am in a place of naivety and need to seek clarity. This happens every day in my work life, having started a company in an industry I knew nothing about. But this also needs to happen for me to better understand the needs of other marginalized communities, allies of these communities, and even those who are opponents to them.
Active listening and challenging questions that incite deeper conversation can help you practice empathy and appreciate the complexity of someone’s situation.
4) (But also) speak up.
As a gay, white, able-bodied, cisgender male, I realize I can’t have the luxury of feeling marginalized without recognizing my lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and non-binary siblings in the community who face different challenges.
Countless times I have worked hard to explain why someone might use pronouns other than the ones they were assigned with at birth or pronouns other than he or she. I try my best to help people empathize and put themselves in someone else’s high heels. Because there was a time in my life when empathy would have gone a long way. And since I am coming from a place of privilege using the pronouns that most obviously fit me, I feel it is my responsibility to speak up when I see, hear, or experience an injustice against others.
We all need a bit more courage to do these four things. So, I challenge YOU! How will you be more inclusive in your everyday life?
**Bonus Challenge: How will you transfer this inclusivity in our society to people of color, disabled individuals, immigrants, people marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and veterans, too?
Let us know how you engaged with the challange that Ben proposed!
Join our RAHM Community or apply for the RAHM Contest 2020: To the application form!
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