How to Make Events Inclusive for LGBTQIA+ Attendees

Panelists at Business Events Industry Week shared five tips for welcoming a more diverse community.

Photo Credit: ink drop for Adobe Stock

During Business Events Industry Week, held in March at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., PCMA’s Showcase hosted a panel on "Gender’s Impact on the Events Industry." Moderated by Kyle Jordan, director of meetings at Informs, the panel tackled how to make meetings more inclusive for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Panelists included Ashley Brundage, president and CEO of Empowering Differences; Dan Rios, director of LGBTQ marketing for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau; Ned Blair, national sales director for Visit Charlotte; Tiffany Elum, former national account director and DEI leader of Destination D.C.; and Leslie Zeck, director of meetings at the International Association for Dental Research

Education about LGBTQ challenges

One of the most effective ways to create inclusive meetings is to educate yourself and attendees on the challenges that the LGBTQ community faces.

"You have to educate people so they know that diverse voices exist," Brundage said. "People who have these differences, they’re trying to attend meetings and events. They want to be a part of what you do in your association and what you do in your destination."

Education can be as simple as hosting a panel with speakers from various backgrounds. 

"You have to be purposeful around representation," she added. "Have a dialogue and bring industry experts in and share their lived experiences."

Learn about local legislation

Before selecting a destination, do some digging into the local policies that already have been passed or might be on the docket that would affect attendees. 

"The onus is on all of us to be aware of legislation that’s happening in the areas that we’re in, and then have an internal dialogue about, 'How does this affect us? How does it affect employees? How does it affect clients? How does it impact vendors that we partner with?'" Elum said.

Though varying laws might be nuanced and complicated, Jordan pointed out that it’s no different from researching Covid restrictions.

"For those of you that hosted live meetings during Covid, you knew every policy in every destination that you looked into," he said. "You looked at every mask policy, every hand-sanitizer policy, vaccine validation. You did the same work. So it’s just as important to educate yourself for future business."

Visit states with discriminatory policies

While the knee-jerk reaction might be to boycott cities and states that have enacted exclusive legislation, holding your event there actually can make a difference.

"When considering a destination that might have discriminatory laws in place, I want to encourage you to lean into it," said Blair from Visit Charlotte. "It’s an opportunity for you and your organization. Don’t take yourself out of it and allow somebody else to articulate and dictate what’s going to happen. Be a part of the solution."

Steps to take range from asking the host venue or CVB what they will do to make attendees feel safe to partnering with local LGBTQ organizations.

"The moment you decide to subscribe to cancel culture, all you’re doing is hurting LGBTQ+ people who live in that city," said Brundage. "You’re basically taking a marginalized community and you’re hurting them more by not bringing your event or your conference to that space."

Hire LGBTQIA+ vendors

One of the most direct ways the events industry can positively impact the community is by working with an LGBTQ-owned small business.

"There’s an LGBTQ entrepreneur that will make every single good and service that you were looking for: the person who makes your lanyards, the person who makes your sign, the keynote speaker," Brundage said.

Forms Are Your Friend

Finally, providing a space where attendees can directly communicate their needs is essential.

"The more questions, the more fields, the more freeform answers that you allow people to fill out, the more you’re going to find out what you really want to know," Brundage said.

For more tips, watch Northstar Meetings Group’s webinar on "Strategies for Enhancing Event Inclusion."