LGBT Chamber expands into western Mass.

  • Easthampton officials welcomed the expansion of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce into the Pioneer Valley on Tuesday. The chamber’s executive director, Grace Moreno, second from left, led a press conference featuring speakers representing government, nonprofits, and local businesses (also pictured). Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle is seen at center, in blue. Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2021 5:30:16 PM
Modified: 12/7/2021 5:29:48 PM

EASTHAMPTON — LGBT community leaders and small business owners gathered on Tuesday to welcome the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce as it expands into the western half of the state.

At a press conference in the Keystone Mill building on Pleasant Street, the Boston nonprofit announced that it was in the process of staffing a new western Massachusetts office at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.

Several Easthampton businesses have joined the chamber — such as KW Home, The Bower Studio and Oxbow Design Build — and city officials were instrumental in drawing the Boston-based chamber into the Pioneer Valley. The organization’s offerings include business support and networking services, loan and grant opportunities, interview preparation and hiring events.

“We are not a traditional chamber,” executive director Grace Moreno said. “You can call us for anything. What do you need? Sometimes you call us because you’re having a hard day. We’ll take those calls, too.”

Moreno said there are an estimated 21,000 LGBT-owned businesses in Massachusetts, contributing $49 billion to the state economy each year.

“Our chamber wants to find those 21,000 businesses. We want to help those 21,000 businesses obtain contracts, understand how to do business with each other, and be able to walk in their identity,” Moreno said. “The new generation of small businesses and employees do not have tolerance for homophobia, bigotry and racism.”

Founded in 2018, the chamber charges modest membership fees and collects donations from corporate partners including MassMutual and Berkshire Bank.

MassMutual’s director of impact and equity Mo Reed-McNally said the company’s “devotion to diversity, equity and inclusion does not waver and is non-negotiable.” She described a new $150 million procurement strategy for MassMutual to conduct business with minority-owned companies and said the company “has a long history” of supporting the LGBT community.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said she worked with the National League of Cities in 2018 to create Blueprint Easthampton, an effort to research, map out and support the city’s economy and regional innovation. Partnering with the LGBT chamber, she said, is about generating wealth and creating equality for local people from marginalized communities.

“We’re a small city with a big, big heart, and we love folks who want to start something new and fight along with us to succeed,” LaChapelle said. The LGBT chamber’s expansion, she said, “is a very exciting moment for Easthampton that’s been long coming.”

LaChapelle advised LGBT and other minority business owners to “be fearless,” adding, “In my administration, Easthampton has your back.”

Also on Tuesday, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA) and the nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights announced that they plan to open new offices in western Massachusetts next year. Further details were not immediately released.

“Borders exist just on maps. They don’t actually exist in real life,” BECMA President & CEO Segun Idowu said. “If businesses in Easthampton aren’t doing well, Worcester is going to suffer, Boston is going to suffer and Martha’s Vineyard is going to suffer.”

Boston’s newly elected mayor Michelle Wu named Idowu the city’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion, a position formerly known as chief of economic development, when she takes office in January.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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