Thank you for listening to episode 74 of the podcast, my final episode of the year. In this episode I speak to Sam McClure, Senior Vice President of NGLCC. Some of you may recognize Sam’s name, as I also had the opportunity to speak with her as part of my ’30 Days, 30 Voices’ series, which you can check out here.
This time around Sam and I discuss the LGBT events in 2015 that have changed history – and we are at a point in history where there are a ton of them! We discussed everything from marriage equality to transgender students (a wonderful book, by a client and friend, on the subject can be found here), from religious freedom to the statewide inclusion bill and everything in between! What are some of the LGBT events in 2015 that impacted you the most? Please share below!
My next podcast will be on January 7th and I’m so looking forward to chatting with you then and sharing all of the exciting things I have in store for 2016. Make sure to check it out!
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AUDIO TITLE: Episode #74 – Sam McClure
Jenn T Grace: So let’s just hop right in, dive right in, and so today on the podcast we’re recording this at the end of December, 2015, and I want to share with the listeners, and with you Sam, just some of the bigger more influential things that have happened over the year of 2015 as it relates to LGBT equality. And the lens in which our discussion will naturally have is really through economic impact, business advancement, just all of the really kind of awesome things that are happening from an equality standpoint that affect LGBT, small business owners, and subsequently those who support those small business owners. So I know it would the elephant in the room if we did not start this discussion on the topic of marriage equality, because even if you’re living under a rock, you still are very well aware that marriage equality has arrived, at least in the United States. So I would just love to kind of hear your perspective, Sam, on how you feel this has impacted not just the fact that we can get married, but also from a business standpoint. And I know that you had mentioned that you were actually on the steps that day that it was announced. So I’m sure that was like a really kind of surreal experience. Could you just talk to us a little bit more about that?
Sam McClure: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah it was quite a day really. You know, we’re so lucky here in Washington that we’re physically close, we’re in proximity with powerful decisions that really alter the landscape of possibility for all kinds of people, and particularly as you said 2015 has just been a remarkable year for people who identify as LGBT. You know the day that the Supreme Court decision came, there’d been some waiting, right? You get these frames of time; well it could happen during this time, and then it doesn’t happen and everyone was just reading the SCOTUSblog every day. And we had already decided as a team that when the announcement came we wanted to be there, and we were there when the case was started, when arguments were made, and we went back when the decision came down. And it was really very powerful to see all the people there. And I sort of don’t want to sugar-coat it because really on both instances, not only were there many, many advocates there who worked for this change for decades, but there were also hate groups, there were religious extremists who were really vocally abusive to people that were in the audience. This is Washington D.C, this is a free country where we have the great spirit of democracy which allows for every point of view to be heard. But I must say despite the fact that I hold those values close and I believe in them, it was really hard to watch the sort of hateful rederick that was being launched around that space during a time of celebration. Particularly for some of our friends who had brought their whole families. We had one set of people with us, I know the parents, they’re both women, and they’ve got three young children who- I keep saying they’re young children, I actually think they just graduated high school, but I’ve known them most of their lives. They were all there together to celebrate it, and I think it was really hard for their children to see that there were people who were organized to push back this kind of opportunity for their family, and it really means the world to kids to know that their parents have access to marriage, and they have all the legal protections that they need as a couple and as a family. So yeah, it was a- surreal is a good word, you said surreal earlier, it was definitely a very surreal day, it was one of sort of emotional extremes feeling that the weight of the celebration, maybe a little bit of fatigue that this heavy lift that so many advocacy organizations had been working on for so many, many years, really was just tipped over. And so it was exciting, and it was also just sort of an emotional roller coaster that day. Of course all of us who are professionally gay, we went into a bit of a media blitz, so the next few days were quite difficult with interviews and talking to the media. But also really just talking to our different stakeholders about, ‘Hey what does this mean in the immediate term? And what should we do?’ And there was a little bit of waiting for lawyers to sort things out, and for rulings to come down. But yeah, it was amazing. Very amazing.
Jenn T Grace: So I was not on the steps, although I feel like it was just as an emotionally kind of toying day; and of course June 26th is my birthday so I feel like I’m somehow a lucky charm in this situation. But I know that we were headed to- it was a Friday, we were headed to a friend of ours wedding actually that evening, and it was actually really interesting to be at someone’s wedding- a straight wedding mind you, but at their wedding and for there to be so much chatter about the fact that equality was here, and it was a very positive chatter at least, so that was really good. I wonder if you could shed a little bit of light on kind of what I saw anyway, as the discussions that started unravelling after. Like the post-marriage equality world. I know that there was a lot of people talking about it, a lot of people writing about it, and I did see a fair amount of opinions that were saying like, ‘Marriage equality is here, now we don’t have any work to do.’ You and I both know that is far from the case. But what did you see, and what did you experience kind of from that angle of people saying like, ‘We have marriage equality, so our work here is done.’ Did you hear that personally from anybody? Or were you having kind of a different conversation because you are in the nation’s capital?
Sam McClure: Yeah, that’s a great question. It was a little bit of both, really. I mean there were some people- and frankly there was at least one organization that’s sole mission was marriage equality, and they did close up shop right after the ruling. And I have to say I really respect that decision; they had a singular focused mission, they achieved that mission, and they concluded what they came to do. And I think for an advocacy organization, it’s really important to sort of work towards the time when there’s no need for your work, but I appreciate that they did that. However if you look at the broad landscape of what is the experience of an LGBT person, even just limited to here in the United States, where frankly we have a pretty high level of privilege. Marriage was really important, and I think it was something that became a high priority in the movement, maybe the highest priority some time ago, and one could question whether that was the right decision or not, or whether non-discrimination protection should have come first. It’s sort of moot at this point because marriage did capture the imagination of the nation, and it really unified a lot of people to- just sort of understanding what’s the day-to-day experience of a couple who don’t have access to the protections offered by marriage, and what a really unjust dynamic that is. And it was a- we talk about it as a long journey, but I mean if you were looking at social movements, it actually came quite quickly in the overall scheme of things if you compared it to other struggles. And yet, it came in such a visible way, and such a large campaign movement for lack of a better word, and then resolved by the Supreme Court. I think there was so much drama to that, that it was actually easy for people to perceive the size of the win could easily be translated to, ‘Well this is the win,’ and we did have to remind people that there’s a lot of work that’s not done, and there’s work that one would almost assume had already been done if you didn’t know any better, but non-discrimination protections is a big one. There are still a lot of places here in the US, and again this is probably- we do have a very high level of privilege compared to many other countries where LGBT people are far more oppressed. But you wouldn’t think that in the United States of America one could still be fired from their job just because of their sexual orientation. And it’s even worse than that, it’s like the perception of someone’s sexual orientation. So I think many people remain quite vulnerable in terms of employment protections, and frankly not only LGBT people, but people who are different in any way on the gender spectrum. There are a lot of people who don’t identify as LGBT, but may express themselves in a way that is not necessarily sort of in the center of the spectrum of their gender, and they may be treated completely differently because of that, and that creates a lot of vulnerabilities in the workplace. So we have a long way to go to help change hearts and minds so that people understand that LGBT people remain vulnerable in many ways, and to have the will to pass laws, make policy changes that would offer protections to those folks.
Jenn T Grace: I remember in 2013 when we had DOMA and we were tackling that issue, also having a decision on June 26th, I remember that there was an onslaught of people changing their profile pictures to the HRC equal sign that was the red and pink. And I remember specifically that it was about three or three and a half million people who changed their profile to that. However in just two short years from 2013 to 2015, I read an article that Facebook had put out that 26 million people changed their profile picture to have the rainbow filter to celebrate marriage equality. So I feel like just from that kind of standpoint in a matter of two years, to go- and mind you the HRC is obviously an organization that not everybody is aware of, versus Facebook saying, ‘Hey change your profile to a rainbow.’ But that is still a very, very big difference I think in terms of just kind of the impact and the fact that so many people were willing to express their support for marriage equality, even something as simple as changing a profile picture on Facebook. It seems like such a small thing, but at the same time I feel like there’s a lot of significance to the massive amount of people who were willing to change that, even if they may have somebody in their lives that may or may not have actually agreed with that decision.
Sam McClure: Yeah, I agree and I think that’s such an astute observation really, and such an important thing to talk about. Because if you were going to sort of analyze that a little bit, I think what you’re looking at in the difference of those statistics is the journey of changing hearts and minds one at a time. One family, one relationship, one friend, one colleague, one neighbor, one public official; whatever it is. This kind of change really happens at the places where we experience emotion, and in just a short amount of time, the imagination and the compassion of a nation was really captured, and pushed in a direction that created a much higher level of equality for LGBT people in this country. And frankly I think we need the same kind of journey on employment non-discrimination. We need to keep talking to people and help them understand what vulnerabilities exist, and to put those in really tangible stories- human stories that people can understand. I mean I actually have an example sort of in my mind, if you don’t mind me taking a little bit of a pivot.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, please.
Sam McClure: I was at a gathering yesterday where I had an opportunity to talk to some of my most respected colleagues here in Washington about issues that they were working on, and actually ran into my friend and colleague Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality. You should totally interview her sometime, by the way.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I would love to.
Sam McClure: She’s a giant in this work. And she was talking about how we’re waiting for some particular rules and guidance to come down from the Department of Education on sort of the experience of transgender students in public schools. And it was just a brief conversation, and I was sort of overhearing her have a very direct dialogue on the policies with some officials who could affect that change. And you know, she was just trying to explain what vulnerabilities are created for these children during this time when people are kind of going back and forth on different issues, how do we accommodate all students in a way that’s acceptable for everyone? And she pointed out that where they are in the current policy journey, young students- we’re talking about adolescent children, have been put in a position where they have to go and be interviewed by the Board of Education to talk about how they’re experiencing their gender. It was very heartbreaking to hear this story because I just know how dehumanizing a process like that can be for people.
Jenn T Grace: Especially a child.
Sam McClure: Exactly. A lot of times we think about transgender issues, and we immediately start thinking about adults because of different popular culture icons that get more attention or whatever. But at the end of the day when we’re talking about protections for people, we have to remember that this often affects children, and these are probably the most vulnerable children in America right now, and I think it’s just a perfect example of what you were talking about before. We can’t really allow there to be this thought that we’ve somehow completed the work that we’re here to do, because there still are many, many people including children who are very, very vulnerable right now. So I just want to put that out there, because I think it’s something people need to be thinking about, and remembering that we talk about policy issues sometimes in very obtuse terms, but at the end of the day they all relate to some specific human experience that’s being had by a person, and we all need to take pause and remember what that’s like, what that person’s experiencing, and what impact that experience is going to have on their lives.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. I find that until someone knows someone that is directly impacted by some type of policy, there’s just no human component to it. So I feel like to really- and again with the marriage equality, I think it was a lot easier to humanize marriage equality, because marriage is marriage, and it’s so common. So to add the LGBT component to something that’s so mainstream and so common as marriage, I feel like that’s a lot easier to humanize versus trying to humanize the struggle that a transgender child might be facing. That’s I feel like a much more difficult task, but certainly something that has to be tackled, because we need to put faces with names to make sure that we’re really pushing these policies forward, and getting people who may or may not otherwise have known that such a policy were on the table, or maybe there is one that needs to be revised, or whatever it happens to be, I feel like it needs to be kind of a very grassroots movement. And going back to Facebook and kind of the power that Facebook has in so many ways of getting 26 million people to support marriage equality with a simple rainbow, and everybody knew what that meant, and if you didn’t know, you knew somebody to ask because it was so- I remember looking through my friends list on there, and out of like 600 people, like 450 of them had changed to the rainbow within a matter of like an hour. So until we can find I think some kind of recognizable icon or figure or something to really kind of align with these other movements that are all kind of going concurrently, that you and I know about because we’re professionally in this sphere, but the average person, or even the average person who would consider themselves to be an ally, may or may not actually know enough about the issue to really kind of be a pivotal, or an influential role in making that more of a reality for people. Would you agree with that, or any other thoughts?
Sam McClure: I mean yeah, I definitely agree. I think we talk about grassroots work, and it really is- the work really is changing hearts and minds one at a time. And I think it means being present to conversations, being willing to answer questions when asked, and always try to help people understand that these aren’t abstract issues. We’re talking about someone’s day-to-day experience. And you know, it’s interesting that while so much progress is happening, we are going to see a lot of backlash behavior in the movement in terms of policy, and I don’t want to get too wonky on this because I do work in policy and advocacy, and I know the language of bills, and laws is not interesting to everybody. But I would just throw something out there, that in 2016 I fully expect to see close to 100 bills, interviews in the US in different states that try to assert a religious freedom end goal, and they’ll all be framed up differently, but every single one is aimed at one particular community to be divisive and polarizing, and to disrupt any potential additional progress that would be made for LGBT people. And one could also argue that they will be equally aimed at women’s access to healthcare. And you know, it’s really important that we keep having conversations with people, and that they understand what this kind of political activity really is. Because it will come masked, and not be obvious sometimes. I mean today’s political discourse has got a level of rancor that is really despicable. And we have to be mindful and make sure that people are ready to translate, because people will hear many messages, contextualized many different ways, and we always need to aggressively point out when something is dehumanizing or demonizing of any particular community. And this will be used against not only LGBT people but difference in general. I mean we see a lot of really polarizing conversations in the electoral space right, and it’s something I don’t pay as much attention to, some of my colleagues do. But I will say just hearing news posts, and hearing chatter, conversations, it’s very clear that some candidates and some legislators, they will appeal to people’s most base emotions, and really to their dark secret sides, and their fears, and use those things to really amplify divisiveness and hatred in a country that’s really based on the opposite of that.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely.
Sam McClure: It’s a nation that’s based on welcoming all people, and this nation is a rich, diverse tapestry of every ethnicity, every community of faith, LGBT people, non-LGBT people, people with disabilities, all of the many, many complex and beautiful identities that make up the fabric of this nation. So I think we just have to be prepared that there’s going to continue to be a lot of rancor out there, and we need to be prepared to speak to it, and not be afraid to tell the truth, and remind people what the specific pieces of legislation do to individual people, and families, and children. Important.
Jenn T Grace: How do you see America’s reaction to the bills that you fully anticipate are going to start coming down the pipeline? Because I just refer back to earlier in the year with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and all of the- I don’t even know a delicate way of putting it, but the shitstorm basically, that swept through Indiana and the governor there for his decision around this. So I know that there are so many corporations in the Final Four, and Silicon Valley CEO’s, people standing up saying like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ So do you foresee I guess that type of reaction? Or do you think Indiana for some reason was more of the anomaly to this larger issue at play?
Sam McClure: Well so tricky question, good question. First I just want to talk about something ironic about all the shitstorm that you’re talking about happening in Indiana. I that should officially be the technical name now.
Jenn T Grace: Good.
Sam McClure: Thank you for that, Jenn. So there’s something really ironic about all that, right? So all of that public backlash that happened, much of it coming from Corporate America; I know we were very vocal in the early days around that, as well as were many of our corporate partners, local chambers, business owners. But all of that noise and pushback came after it was already done. Like there was actually very little done in a timely manner that could have pushed back those outcomes. And from sitting at my desk here in Washington D.C. where I get a lot of calls from a lot of different places on these types of issues, while we were answering hundreds of media calls, wanting to talk about what had already happened, we were also getting calls from other states like Georgia and Nevada, where these bills were still in motion, and if there was work that could be done to slow, stall, stop or even kill these bills. And in my office I had to make a conscious decision to have just one person taking all those media calls, and having the rest of the team connecting to local advocacy efforts in these other areas to say, ‘Hey what can we do right now to bring this very same conversation, which is these bills are incredibly bad particularly for the economy because they’re so polarizing. What action can we take to push back on those types of efforts?’ So I guess- maybe I’m not answering your question exactly, but I guess I would just want your listeners to know that it’s really important that we’re proactive, and that we do react to this kind of bills- these introductions, but that we do it in a right timeline. It’s really easy for everybody to jump on the bandwagon and demonize something that’s already happened, and then hundreds of thousands more to sort of coattail on that. And everybody could be loud and aggressively saying, ‘This thing happened and it was disgusting, and now we’re going to punish you for it.’ And that’s good, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that, but I think we should also think about, ‘Well what can I do when a bill is first introduced? What action can I take to go and talk to a legislator and help them understand why this is bad for my community, my state, our country?’ And I think that’s what we have to stay focused on, is to not let these things get so far that they gain the kind of momentum where they’re not stoppable. I mean the way this nation is run from a policy perspective, it’s very complicated. States have a lot of authority to make their own decisions on issues, and a federal policy may or may not influence or change those things, and at the end of the day this is a democracy where every voice can have huge impact, and people can’t sit quietly while the government is being taken over by any particular type of extremist. The very principles under which this nation was founded, had a lot to do with religious freedom, but that freedom was about not oppressing anyone, and not forcing anyone to acquiesce to the will of the state. And now this religious freedom concept is being delivered in a very, very twisted manner that is literally the opposite of that. So it’s something to be mindful of, and I think it’s also just as important to really listen to communities of faith, welcome communities of faith, and really respect people’s- the freedoms and the independence that they do have around their faith. But we can’t let faith communities dictate one dominant point of view that oppresses others. So it’s very complicated, but it’s also very simple because these bills are laser focused on polarizing and dividing, and effectively prohibiting people from getting what they need.
Jenn T Grace: You know, I wonder if- going back to our conversation about humanizing things, I wonder if the backlash came post-decision, because now it was easier to demonize the governor of Indiana specifically. So now there’s a very clear villain for everybody to hate, versus while the bill is in some sort of state of progress, there’s no one person that everybody’s like, ‘I hate that person. That person’s the one who’s causing this problem.’ Versus when you have somebody who physically signs the bill and puts it into motion, now you have a person to actually hate. So I wonder if that might have something to do with- and not just specifically for this, but just in general in terms of I think just lack of awareness from a public education side of things is that the general public just does not understand, because these things are built so divisively, and because they’re so filled with language that the average person just cannot wrap their head around, versus now the dirty work’s been done, you have people who have analyzed it, and now the media is spreading the message of, ‘We now have to go after this person or this particular issue or party because they’ve done this.’ Now there’s a clear villain in the situation. I don’t know, it just makes me wonder.
Sam McClure: Well yeah, I think that’s fair. There’s no question really. I’ve even heard people talking to other governors, and using this particular governor as an example. It’s like, really? ‘Do you want this to happen to you?’ There’s something to that. I guess I would just say from a ‘what can we do’ lens, that it’s really important to remember that the legislators work for the people at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day. Sometimes we have to remind them of that. But for a bill to go through the process that it takes to become a law, and then to get to a governor’s desk, and then to get a signature, I can tell you there were a lot more people working on that than those legislators. There was an organized political push, and one has to be just as organized, and just as vigilant when we’re on the side of stopping this type of legislation. And we can blame that governor all we want, but at the end of the day, every citizen in this nation has to take responsibility for their own role in the process.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely.
Sam McClure: If one side’s going to show up, the other side has to show up too. And it’s not just about having public demonstrations, although I would argue that does have value. But it’s also about asserting one’s influence. I think sometimes our expectations for elected officials are just too high. We really want them to be leaders, and-
Jenn T Grace: They aren’t always.
Sam McClure: They aren’t always, and frankly by design, we’re supposed to be the leaders. We’re really supposed to bring the voice of the people to our representatives, and they are to represent the will of the people in the way they govern. And very often a legislator needs a reminder of who the people are. There’s all these- so there are so many examples where legislators- I’ve even heard this. It’s been a while, but I remember hearing a legislator say, “I don’t have any LGBT people in my district.”
Jenn T Grace: Yeah.
Sam McClure: And I would be like, well this is sort of awkward since I live in your district.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah.
Sam McClure: And I have an entire group of people here to lobby you today, and they all live in your district. Well the reality is that you just don’t know everyone in your district, and how could you? But here we are today to talk to you and help you understand who we are, and why this particular policy is important to us. And I think the same could be true for any type of diverse community, that sometimes the legislator doesn’t know- they haven’t had personal contact with a particular point of view, or a particular identity. And we all have to make those connections happen, and it does help to again, humanize issues and remind people that at the heart of every public policy issue is an individual person, and their journey as a citizen, and the experiences that they’re having, or the things they don’t have access to.
Jenn T Grace: And it’s our responsibility to- as just American citizens to be part of this discussion. And if we aren’t part of the discussion I feel like we don’t really have any right to be complaining about what’s happening then. That’s my personal opinion anyway.
Sam McClure: I think it’s true, and it can be exhausting, and sometimes we all have to tune out the politics because it could hurt your soul a little bit. But I also think we have to tune in at other times when our voices are important. At the federal level we have the introduction of the Equality Bill, which I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to review it, or if others have, but it’s really the largest bill we’ve ever seen that pushes for real equality in this nation for LGBT people. It’s a complicated and dense piece of legislation, but it would cover employment protections, it would eliminate discrimination in housing and public services, and many, many areas where LGBT people are still experiencing really extreme vulnerabilities. And I think the bill is going to have a really long journey, but it’s a really important step, and I was honored to be in the room the day the bill was announced in the press release- or the press conference I should say. And it was amazing to hear all the speeches from progressive legislators who have fought for the civil rights of multiple different communities who are now being aggressive leaders to ensure that the road to equality- full equality doesn’t stop just because of marriage equality. So that’s really important.
Jenn T Grace: So I feel like this is kind of a really good segue, because I have not talked about the Equality Bill here. I have at one point or another talked about the Employment Non-discrimination Act. But I know that we’ve been a little bit ho-hum in terms of talking about like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and kind of some of the negative that’s happened. But I know NGLCC, and you personally have a huge, huge victory, which I have not yet actually talked about on the podcast. So I’m really excited, because we can kind of change the direction of the conversation from talking about what Indiana did or did not do properly, to talking about Massachusetts, and the Executive Order in Massachusetts. I would love for you to kind of maybe give a high level overview of what the Executive Order was, and what NGLCC’s part in that was, and yours personally, and then how that actually impacts so many LGBT businesses.
Sam McClure: Yeah, absolutely and thanks for bringing that up. I’m super proud to talk about this, it was a little bit of a labor of love for me, and- I don’t know why I say that because I think most of my work is indeed a labor of love.
Jenn T Grace: I think it all is.
Sam McClure: Yeah, as I often say to people, I have the best job ever and I’m one of those lucky people that gets to do work I’m really passionate about. So the Executive Order in Massachusetts, this is very historic, first of its kind anywhere. As you know very well, and I think I’ve talked to your audience about this before. The NGLCC, we’re the certification body, we certify LGBT-owned businesses, and we created the LGBT inclusion in supplier diversity. And I think we’re very well known as the industry standard for this type of trend shaping in supplier diversity. If you look at our certification, and the kind of success we’ve had in just- it was created in 2004, so a fairly short amount of time, and you fast forward to now when we’re accepted by over a third of the Fortune 500, they recognize our certification, and they actively seek out certified LGBT business enterprises to add to their supplier diversity programs. So basically creating contracting and procurement opportunities intentionally for this community just as they do for women and ethnic minorities. And that’s a great success, we’re very proud of that, and I think it’s these Corporate America opportunities are really largely what we’re known for. A few years ago we recognized and started talking about the fact that yeah, the marketplace, the private sector, they were doing great with increasing inclusion for business development opportunities. And I think Corporate America just really understands why this is important for building sustainable economic strength in diverse communities. People have to be given opportunities for more than just jobs. Jobs are great, and I would continue to fight for job creation everywhere in America, but if we want true equality and equity for all people, then we have to make sure that people who are in diverse communities and have less access to opportunities are intentionally included, and that efforts are made to make sure that they have access to business development and contracting opportunities which will help them scale and take some real equity in the economic experience here in this country. Now what I realized is that the private sector was doing a really good job of this. The public sector, government, lagging far behind. So we’ve always worked to increase opportunities for contracting in the federal government space, and we continue to chip away at that. And at the same time we’ve been working in states and municipalities all around the country to do what we can to sort of move that needle on inclusion in a meaningful way. And you know, we were contacted by the governor’s team in Massachusetts back in May, and they were exploring ways to improve their supplier diversity programs in the state. This is all coming from the Department of Access and Opportunities and the Commonwealth. And it became apparent that they were aware of some of the work that we had done in California and other places, and they were really looking for a partner or an organization, just work closely with them to help them work through the policy internally, an administrative policy change. And I agreed to do that, and I really became a trusted member of the team there working for this change. To make a long story short, the governor did recently announce in November an executive order that not only added LGBT business enterprises to their supplier diversity programs state-wide, government procurement, but it also added businesses owned by people with disabilities, and businesses owned by our veterans. And these are three layers of very progressive inclusion, very, very important, and at the same time that they were doing this, they not only added more diverse businesses to the pool of people who would bid to bring innovative solutions to those procurement opportunities for the commonwealth, but they also increased the spending goals for all of the businesses that were already included. So sometimes we hear people say, “Well if we add another diverse segment there will be less opportunities for the people who are already in it.” And they really prove that wrong in such a demonstrable way because they added three more numerating classes, and also increased all the spending goals for the women and minority-owned businesses that were already in the program. Is was really a very bold and innovative move, and at the same time they also increased the acceptance of third parties certifications. So organizations like the NGLCC can certify a business, and our certification will be recognized by the state. Versus the state requiring a duplicate certification. This has been a big problem in supplier diversity. Sometimes there’s duplicate requirements that really create barriers for business owners instead of creating opportunities for them, which is not what it’s intended. To get a change there was really just monumental.
Jenn T Grace: Now I was living in Massachusetts back in 2004 when marriage equality became the first state to be legalized in Massachusetts. So does it surprise you in any way that Massachusetts would be the first one to stick the flag in the sand to say, ‘Listen, we are now including- we are now doing this, and now rest of the country, get on board too.’ Do you think that it was some kind of concentrated effort by just the governor and his team to say, ‘Listen, we were on the forefront of this before, we want to be on the forefront again.’ Or I don’t know, is there any I guess information that you could share around why Massachusetts I guess versus another state?
Sam McClure: Yeah I won’t speak for the governor or the governor’s team, I have to be really careful about that.
Jenn T Grace: Of course.
Sam McClure: But I think that the narrative you just described would be hard to resist. Massachusetts has been a leader in really creating the roadmap to equality in many respects. It’s not a perfect state, they have other work that needs to be done yet. They also don’t have adequate public accommodation protections as of yet, that’s something that’s in progress. But I do think- and it’s also just from a respect to policy, it’s very different to do something legislatively than to do it administratively. I think this was something that the governor’s team could do with an administrative policy change that would not only make a policy shift that improves their supplier diversity program and includes more people, but it’s something that they could do proactively in a precedent setting way without having to go through a legislative battle, or even a controversial public discourse. This was literally just negotiating through an administrative policy change, and making a conscious decision to say, ‘I want to be a leader in this space, and I’m going to use my executive authority to do that.’ And it’s a very elegant piece of policy, the executive order, and I just can’t give enough credit to this team who really wanted to do something big, and they found a way to do something big. And I think it’s worth pointing out if maybe- hopefully not all of our listeners are a partisan in their politics, but I know many people are. It’s very important to note that this was signed by a Republican governor, and I think sometimes people just don’t think that- they just sort of think the only people that care about equality for LGBT people are in one party or the other, and it’s just not always the case. When we’re talking about the work we do, economic empowerment for people, advancing the economic strength of the LGBT community, we’re literally talking about improving the economy by having an economy that includes more people. And that’s where the power of the type of economy we have. The more engagement of more people, the stronger the growth of the economy, the more jobs, the more sustainable economic strength in a given community; whether that’s a city, or a state, or even the nation. So I think it became less about sort of LGBT politics, and more about what’s for the good of the commonwealth? Are more business opportunities for more people, and fewer barriers, and the way people looking for those opportunities in the best interest of all? Yeah of course they are, and I think that’s why it got done, and it’s worth remembering that when we look at all the economic development work that we do; it does not have to get mired down in partisan politics. When we’re talking about economic advancement, this is something that’s good for everyone.
Jenn T Grace: So let’s talk tactical for a second. So the listeners who are listening to our conversation right now, it’s mostly business owners. I don’t have that many people who are not a business owner. So it could be LGBT business owners, or it could be allied business owners. So my question on tactics is for those who live in the state of Massachusetts- so it’s a two part question. For those who live in Massachusetts, what is that tangible benefit that a business owner who could be certified, whether it’s LGBT, as a veteran-owned business, or a person with a disability. So what is that I guess tangible benefit as somebody who’s in Massachusetts? But then what is the larger impact I guess for businesses who may not have- maybe they’re not residing in Massachusetts; is there something that they too can access as a benefit as a result of this legislation?
Sam McClure: Yeah, great question. So I’m going to come at this in a reverse order of the way you asked the question.
Jenn T Grace: Okay good.
Sam McClure: So number one, this win in Massachusetts is not limited to businesses residing in Massachusetts. The contracting opportunities are opened in the commonwealth. However any business owner who meets the requirements of the program can gain access to opportunities, and can get into the bidding process, and bid and win business with the government procurement systems, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts. So we’re really talking about opportunities that are valuable from the tip of Maine, probably to the bottom of Virginia. I mean this is really we’re talking about opportunities opening up on the Atlantic seaboard. And from a tactical perspective, the benefit is more access to more opportunities to bid and win business. And in terms of what’s next, what do you do, how do you engage with this? Step one is contact the NGLCC, get your business certified as an LGBT business enterprise. If you’re a person with a disability looking to take advantage of this opportunity, you contact the USBLN (the United States Business Leadership Network), and it’s just www.USBLN.org. And you get your business certified as a disability-owned business enterprise. The veterans, I’m not sure exactly which certification program it is, I’ll have to look that up. There’s several different opportunities, and some of them come through state programs as well. But that’s always going to be step one. Get the certification, and then get yourself registered in these portals to take advantage of these programs. Now I don’t think we mentioned the exact date, but this just happened in early November, I believe it was the 3rd, but I’d have to check that to make sure.
Sam McClure: So I don’t know if we mentioned the date but this was just announced in early November. And it’s important to remember that now we’re in an implementation phase and we’re working to figure out how to align the different data systems and communication systems so that we could get the information out to all of our business owners. But step one remains the same always. Get your business certified, as a step one, and then work with the staff at the NGLCC, or the USBLN, or any other certification body to understand what your next steps are to take advantage of these opportunities. And I would just add one more thing to the tactical for business owners. And it’s very important, every business owner should have a plan for how they’re going to scale and grow their business. And when people are looking at these scale opportunities, and contracting opportunities, I think it’s really important to have a diverse portfolio of different types of customers. Now if you’re looking at contracting and procurement opportunities for your business, you might want to have a handful of corporate clients, you might want to have two hands full of small business clients, and you might want to have another handful of government contracts and opportunities; or any mix of those things. But it’s rare that sort of one of those spaces is all a business owner needs, and it’s good to look at that broad landscape of opportunities. I would also say when looking at government contracting opportunities, small businesses should remember that you don’t have to be the prime contractor, and you might not be big enough to be the prime contractor, but every prime contractor has two, three, ten, a hundred, or a thousand vendors.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely.
Sam McClure: Those are all contracting opportunities as well. So it’s really important to look at that.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I was actually going to ask you to bring that up, so I’m happy that you just did. So I guess even there’s a possibility that someone listening to this doesn’t really understand the concept of being a prime contractor. Could you just kind of give maybe a quick layman’s version of I guess the business opportunities that exist from working with a prime?
Sam McClure: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m sorry about that, I slipped into lingo for a minute, so let me break it down here. In a contracting supply chain, we refer to prime contractor as the contractor that is supplying a service at the top of the chain. So if let’s say the commonwealth of Massachusetts is the customer, and the business that holds the big contract at the top of the chain is the prime contractor, that prime contractor might utilize many, many other businesses as subcontractors in order to fulfill the contract that they have with the government. The same is true in the private sector’s supply chains as well. So that’s basically what it is; the prime contractors, they’re usually the biggest contracts, they’re also the biggest businesses, and little known secret or something that people forget is that they’re also the most vulnerable should there be a disruption in the company that they provide service to. And that’s one of the reasons that prime contractors are usually so big.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely.
Sam McClure: Because they’ve got to be able to serve several different entities in order to mitigate the risk of being a prime contractor. And it’s just- I just remind people about this a lot of times because people will say to me, “Well my business is too small to do contracting.” I’m like, “Well your business is too small to do big contracting.”
Jenn T Grace: Yeah.
Sam McClure: “Why don’t you look at some little contracting that’s appropriate for your scale?” Because there really is no too big or too small, there just is what your scale is, and you have to find the opportunity that fits your scale, and gives you the opportunity to expand your scale over a period of time.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I would be willing to guess not knowing obviously everyone in my audience listening, but I would be willing to guess that most of them would be tier two, tier three contractors, even like myself. I have one prime contract out of everything that I’m doing, or me direct to the Fortune company. And then everybody else, I’m just part of a team who’d fulfilling a very large corporate contract. I think it’s just a matter of businesses understanding where they kind of fit in the food chain, and not trying to be something that they’re not, and really just understanding what their sweet spot is. And I know this is something that kind of comes up pretty often on this podcast, is the whole idea of working with other certified businesses. Because I know that for me personally, that just seems to be the right avenue, versus trying to go for corporate directly. So I’m appreciative that you’ve kind of explained it in a very simple way for everyone to understand. And I am amazed at how quickly time is flying talking to you. I know that we’ve had a really dense and exciting interview for everyone to listen to today, but in terms of- instead of looking back at maybe what we haven’t touched upon in 2015, could you just give us what your thoughts are on what you see as the future, and kind of what’s next as we enter 2016?
Sam McClure: Yeah absolutely, and again it’s such an exciting time for LGBT people, and I think so much has been accomplished. For me, my highest priority is the economic advancement of the LGBT business community. And there’s a lot to be done yet in that lane. We talked about our historic win with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I think it’s a perfect model. We’ve added this state-wide procurement inclusion to a long list of advocacy wins that are opening up business opportunities in the public sector for these business owners. And I will tell you that for me what’s next, is how many more doors can we open as quickly as possible?
Jenn T Grace: Finish your thought, then I’ll ask.
Sam McClure: Here at the NGLCC we’ve had such a string of successes, and we’re not going to rest until every door is open for these LGBT business owners, and every barrier to access opportunity is removed. And you know, way back in the early days of the NGLCC, we started working with the Obama Administration here to open up federal contracting opportunities and removed any barrier that was there for the LGBT-owned business. We made a lot of progress, we’ve signed multiple memorandums of understandings with multiple federal agencies, including I think we just got a lot of attention for having secretary Julian Castro sign the MOU for HUD, which is the Housing and Urban Development federal agency on stage at our dinner. And I’m so proud of all the successes we’ve had in this lane, however I also recognize that the doors aren’t going to be fully open until we get an executive order from President Obama codifying all the progress we’ve already made at the federal level, and saying clearly and at no uncertain terms that the federal government is open to business with all people. Any business owner that’s qualified to bid and win business opportunities and contracts at the federal level should have that opportunity. And every program that exists at the government level to ensure that diverse communities have equal access to opportunities should be open to LGBT people. And we’re going right to them with this request, and it may be one of the last things that gets done by the Obama Administration. It can be done with administrative policy, and I think it would be a beautiful bookend to the administration which has without a doubt done more for LGBT people than anyone I’ve ever imagined. I think it’s no coincidence that President Obama found himself on the cover of Out Magazine as maybe the most visible and strongest ally that this community has ever had. And I was lucky enough to be at the White House yesterday for one of the holiday receptions, and I was talking with another entrepreneur that I know, and she’s not from the LGBT community, she’s actually a Hispanic business leader, and someone with a lot of influence in this country. And she had brought her mom and her sister to the White House, and we were just talking about what was that experience for them to be there, and they remarked on the fact that it was such an interesting group of people there. It was so diverse, people from all walks of life, all segments, all communities. And I just kind of smiled and I said, “Well you know, during this administration this has really been the people’s house.” And it felt like that yesterday, it feels like that every day, and I’m confident that the Obama Administration will sign the executive order to open up the really massive marketplace that is federal government contracting for our LGBT business enterprises.
Jenn T Grace: That would be amazing for everyone listening to this podcast right now, in addition to anyone who’s not; the opportunities are endless if that- and I shouldn’t say ‘if.’ When that opportunity comes. Wow.
Sam McClure: Exciting. And you know, it’s not an easy lift. We’re gathering a lot of support from all of our different constituencies, and it’s sort of what- I do believe it’s what’s next, and I think it’s one of the most important things that happens, that will happen to just make for a strong, sustainable community over a long period of time. And I also think we’re going to see multiple other states doing what Massachusetts does. I think one of them will be a very close neighbor of Massachusetts, and I think it’s going to happen soon. I’ve no doubt that New York will make a move as well. So there’s just a lot that’s going to be happening, and I will continue my laser focus on the economic advancement of this particular business community, and the NGLCC is a strong growing organization, and we will not rest until there’s no more need for us. And I think we have a lot of years ahead of us, and a lot of big wins coming on the radar.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, I look forward to 2016 being a really- a year filled with impact as well. And I guess my last question to you would be, so for people who are listening to this, so if they go to www.JennTGrace.com/74 because this is episode number 74, the final one 2015, I want them to be able to access information about the NGLCC, and is there any particular call to action that you would like those listening- is there any one particular thing that you think would be valuable for them to do next as a result of listening to this conversation? Maybe they now are kind of fired up about the economic advancement that they might be able to play some large or small part in. Is there anything in particular that makes sense for you to say, ‘Go do this.’ Or, ‘It would be great if you did this.’
Sam McClure: Yeah, absolutely. If you’re a business owner, and you’re out there listening, and you’re LGBT, or you’re a woman, or you’re a person of color, or you’re a veteran, or you’re a person with a disability; get your business certified. Do it right away, and engage in your local chambers and organizations, and their national umbrellas like the NGLCC and the USBLN. And just stay connected to the opportunities that are coming out there. Look closely and strategically at what opportunities there are for you to scale your company, and continue to focus on growth. Upwards of 90% of the jobs in America are and will be created by small business owners. So you might not feel like you’re the most powerful force out there for economic development, but in fact you are. You’re the engine of this economy, and you’re the backbone of this nation. So just keep doing what you’re doing, keep building your companies, and take advantage of every one of these opportunities.
Jenn T Grace: I love it. How can people get in touch with the NGLCC or you directly? What is your preference? And please share how they would do that.
Sam McClure: Well our website is www.NGLCC.org and on the staff page you can access all of our staff members. You’re welcome to contact me via email or the phone, frankly. I do pick up the phone, I’m kind of old school. Really all the information is there on the site, and if you want to start getting certified right now, you can click on ‘Grow My Business,’ and you’ll have full access to all of our certification process right there online. And I look forward to hearing from any and all of you, and helping you continue to grow your businesses.
Jenn T Grace: I love it. This has been fantastic, thank you so much for being a second time guest on the show. I have no doubt that you will be joining us again in 2016.
Sam McClure: Well I really look forward to that, and I always enjoy my time with you, and I really appreciate your work and your great interview, and I will come back anytime I’m invited.
Jenn T Grace: Awesome, thank you so much for joining the show today, and I look forward to speaking with everybody in 2016. I can’t believe it’s already here. Thanks so much and I’ll talk to you then.