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LGBTQ+ community must have access to real economic opportunity, which entrepreneurship can provide

Former Mayor Christopher Cabaldon

Former mayor of West Sacramento, California, Christopher Cabaldon says cities and towns that break down systemic barriers to entrepreneurship will benefit from creating access to real economic opportunity, which can help the LGBTQ+ community.


As Pride Month winds down, it’s worth noting – and celebrating – the dramatic progress that the LGBTQ+ community has made over the years.

Some 70% of Americans support gay marriage, according to a recent Gallup poll. This would have been unthinkable just 12 years ago, when support was at about 40%. We’ve also won stronger and more inclusive legal protections, and the new federal government now has its first-ever LGBTQ Cabinet Secretary and transgender sub-cabinet appointee.

As a gay man, I am fully aware of how much things have changed. Eight years ago, I wrote a column for USA Today with the unsubtle purpose of convincing American courts that the American people were ready for marriage equality – even in the town of West Sacramento which, in 2008, voted to re-elect me as its mayor in the very same election that its citizens had voted for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit me from getting married.

So yes, things are better. But one look through our rainbow-shaded glasses makes it clear discrimination isn’t fully behind us. We started at rock bottom with our rights, our souls, and our very existence contested by society and institutions. Much of that endures in many parts of the country, and its legacy is in higher levels of poverty and homelessness, and elevated suicide rates.

The basis for this discrimination has a basis in systemic barriers that keep the LGBTQ+ community from real economic opportunity. Some 21% of LGBT people have an income of less than $12,000 per year compared to 4% of the general population, according to one study.

Yes, things are better. But one look through our rainbow-shaded glasses makes it clear discrimination isn’t fully behind us.

This inequity has been decades in the making. Without the protection of anti-discrimination laws, we were passed over for jobs, and often fired when we summoned the courage to come out.

One way for us to conquer the social ostracism and state-sanctioned discrimination would be to create our own economic opportunity, which is not dependent on working for someone who might hate us for who we love. Entrepreneurship would be a way for many of us to claim our own destiny, and to create prosperity for ourselves and our communities.

Even this realm is fraught, however: More than $1.5 trillion was invested by venture capital firms globally from 2010 to 2019, but less than 1% of funding deals went to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, according to

But I’m not giving up. I’m here, and I’m fighting for this opportunity — and several mayors across the country have joined me.

  • In Tampa, Florida, Mayor Jane Castor is using the power of convening to connect the region’s startup network organizations to resources and power.
  • Satya Rhodes-Conway, the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, just launched a pop-up initiative to support Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs.
  • San Diego’s new mayor, Todd Gloria, is advancing a policy to direct more of the city’s procurement opportunities to local entrepreneurs.
  • And Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is investing in the full scope of the entrepreneurial ecosystem with innovations in capital, mentorship, and regulatory relief.

Also, the African American Mayors Association hosted a Summit on this issue on June 22, and they discussed entrepreneurship as a way to raise awareness about equity and inclusion.

Entrepreneurship would be a way for many of us to claim our own destiny, and to create prosperity for ourselves and our communities.

The Kauffman Foundation’s Mayors’ Council – of which I am a proud member – is a coalition of former mayors who are active in encouraging entrepreneurship, education, and civic innovation. We are also fighting for a level playing field and greater entrepreneurial opportunities for everyone, which would provide a dramatic boost to the U.S. economy.

If everyone had equal access to funding and resources, for instance, there would be 10-times more LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs in the U.S., according to a study by StartOut. It’s as simple as keep pace or be left behind: States with unfriendly LGBTQ+ policies have lost more than 1 million jobs as LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs moved away to start their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship is more than just a way of making a living – it’s a crucial part of the American economy, and new businesses started by entrepreneurs are a source of most new net jobs in the U.S., according to the Kauffman Foundation’s America’s New Business Plan. That means that growing the numbers – and the successes – of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs is one of the surest paths to opportunity for the broader LGBTQ+ workforce, too.

So, in the end, I am heartened by what I’ve seen in the big picture for the LGBTQ+ community. But there’s more that we can do, and entrepreneurship is a key step on our journey toward true equity.

The State of LGBT Entrepreneurship in the U.S.

This report from StartOut, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, focuses exclusively on emerging growth companies with a survey sample size of 140 LGBT entrepreneurs and a big data set of 6,703 LGBT entrepreneurs and 92,096 growth entrepreneurs of straight or unknown sexual orientation. This study is the most comprehensive of its kind, and is intended to paint a clearer picture of the LGBT entrepreneurial experience in the U.S.

StartOut Pride Economic Index

The “SPEII,” is the first iteration of the Inclusion Impact Indexes by StartOut and Socos Labs. The portal aims to help individuals, municipalities, investors, ecosystem builders, grantors, and other decision makers, make informed decisions based on the latest data, rather than assumptions, in order to reap the benefits of support of minority entrepreneurs.

Learn more >

Former Mayor Christopher Cabaldon

Former Mayor Christopher Cabaldon served as mayor of West Sacramento for more than two decades, making him the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history. As mayor, Cabaldon led groundbreaking initiatives on improving sustainability, economic development, and access to education. Globally, he has been a featured speaker at the World Urban Forum, the New Cities Summit, the Innovation Growth Lab, the Global Parliament of Mayors, and the Mayors’ Food Policy Compact. Cabaldon was inaugural chair of the national LGBTQ Mayors Alliance, and former chair of both the Asian/Pacific and LGBT caucuses of the League of California Cities.

Cabaldon currently represents California on the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. He served previously as vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges and director of the state legislature’s higher education committee. In 2019, Cabaldon was appointed to a tenured faculty post at Sacramento State University as the Hazel Cramer Endowed Chair and professor of Public Policy and Administration. He earned a bachelor’s degree in science in environmental economics from U.C. Berkeley and a Master of Public Policy Administration from Sacramento State.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.