Darrell Schuurman, CEO of the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, CGLCC, poses for a portrait in Kingston, Ontario, on Thursday June 15, 2023. LARS HAGBERG/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The federal government is investing $25-million into an LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship program that aims to increase the procurement, financing and mentorship opportunities available to businesses with owners who have diverse sexualities and gender identities.

The program will be run by the CGLCC, a non-profit founded in 2003 as the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. It was announced Thursday by Small Business Minister Mary Ng, who said it was the world’s first program of its type. It is modelled after similar initiatives, such as the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and the Black Entrepreneurship Program.

The new program includes three streams: one to create a knowledge hub to study the experiences of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and identify barriers to their success; another to support organizations that provide services to LGBTQ+ businesses; and a third to build capacity at CGLCC.

Darrell Schuurman, chief executive officer of the CGLCC, said one of his focuses is to increase the amount of corporate and government procurement opportunities available to LGBTQ+ businesses, as they are underrepresented in many supply chains.

“Helping marginalized community groups access procurement opportunities can really help to economically empower them,” he said.

The organization will also develop a loan program and work to increase export opportunities for LGBTQ+ businesses, for example by leading trade missions.

CGLCC certifies businesses as being majority owned and operated by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and helps connect them with corporations and government bodies looking to increase the diversity of their suppliers.

One of the challenges with certification, however, is that many businesses are reluctant to self-identify because of discrimination, Mr. Schuurman said. That fear has become heightened as LGBTQ+ rights have come under renewed attack.

But “if they’re not comfortable in being who they are, if they’re focused and putting energy to hide parts of their identity, it means they’re not being able to contribute and put as much energy as they can into growing their own business,” he said.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said more than 100,000 businesses in the country are owned and operated by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, and they employ more than 435,000 Canadians.

The Globe and Mail, June 15, 2023