Massachusetts approved marriage equality in 2004, and with that legislation, Bernadette Smith, at the time an event planner for a nonprofit, became an entrepreneur, planning weddings for LGBTQ couples.
"I got a lot of press because it was the first business in the country taking on this niche," says Smith. As her company grew, and people reached out for advice, Smith created a curriculum and started speaking at events, talking about how to sell, market and service the LGBTQ community. Now as founder and president of the Equality Institute, she focuses on training and helping organizations create inclusive policies and workplaces, taking her message to such events as Meeting Professionals International's World Education Congress this past summer.
"In my heart I'm an optimist," she says. "More and more people are coming out as LGBTQ, and more and more people know someone who is LGBTQ. They want the best for those people."
In the effort to make events more inclusive, Smith advises, "Don't assume. That's unconscious bias at play, all the assumptions we make about others. Don't assume that all of your attendees will be straight and cisgender. Ask open-ended questions and be a good listener, and be a good problem-solver. And choose destinations where at least the city, if not the state, has an antidiscrimination policy."
Smith hopes her work is building an army of advocates: "I think people are starting to get it."