Illinois state Rep. Lamont Robinson and consultant Mary Morten were among those who participated in an online forum highlighting Black LGBTQ business leaders in Illinois on Feb. 23.
The forum, "Celebration of Black LGBTQ+ Business Excellence," was primarily organized by LGBT Chamber of Commerce Illinois and was moderated by Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council CEO Vince Williams.
Williams said the focus of planning the event was constructing a master plan for how LGBTQ business owners of color can co-exist and collaborate, with an overall eye on building businesses that are inclusive and diverse.
Both Morten and Robinson centered their remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left its mark on every U.S. business.
Morten said that her consultancy, the Morten Group, saw an uptick in business over 2020. Morten Groupwhich provides services in organizational development, executive placement and research, among otherscenters much of its work around matters of equity, concerns that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
New conversations about racial equity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd late last spring meant even more work.
"As you may know some folks have just 'discovered' racism," said Morten, whose firm employs eight staffers and 12 consultants. "We already knew that diversity was the right thing to focus on. If we do not deal with racial equity, there will be no LGBTQ equity, and there will be no gender equity."
Robinson said that the pandemic has neccessitated hard work and difficult decisions in managing the two Allstate Insurance offices he owns on Chicago's South Side. While business did has gone down, he nevertheless has not had to let any employees go.
"It's been a tough time," Robinson said. "We're retooling. It's been disheartening to see people who have been vulnerable to COVID."
During the forum, Robinson, who is the first openly gay Black state representive in Illinois history, reflected on why he had long wanted to own his own business. Becoming a business owner, he thought might be the path to "a better quality of life."
Furthermore, becoming "entrenched" in the community in that role ultimately inspired Robinson to run for public office. Becoming an elected official, he added, "makes sure that I can make sure that folks who look like me are taken care of."
Morten recounted how she started doing consulting work on the side while establishing herself as a documentary filmmaker, adding that with consulting she was "building on the [activism] work that I had already been doing both in the LGBT community and the women and girl's advocacy communities."
She said she never imagined having a full-time staff and, like Robinson, said obligations were paramount.
"Every person who works with Morten Group has been intentionally selected," Morten explained. "We are a tight-knit group. I tried to build the compamy that I wanted to work in. ... If you take care of [employees], they will take care of you and they will take care of the business."
Robinson added, "More of us need to be out in business … I know that I'm in these places and these rooms for a reason. … We're just like everybody else and we want the same things that everyone else wants."