When 55-year-old Cyndi Masters started her career, she couldn’t have anticipated something like an LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce to support her. Now she owns three businesses, including digital agency DBS Interactive. And she’s co-chair of an initiative aimed at starting a chamber she couldn’t have dreamed of years ago.
Masters said her vision for the new group, which will be called Citivas, includes providing mentorship and networking opportunities for gay-led businesses in Louisville.
“[What] we ultimately want to do is create wealth in our community to help grow our community, empower our community, give our community the same opportunities everybody else has,” she said.
Civitas will soft-launch in May at the Derby Diversity Summit in Louisville, with a wider launch during Pride Week in June. Some funds from the Summit will be used to certify Civitas with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, according to the event’s website.
In Louisville and across the country, gay business owners face discrimination from would-be partners and customers alike, Masters said. Even though she has a lot of experience and seniority, she still worries that her being gay could affect people’s desire to work with her or do business with her companies.
That’s why the city needs a group to support LGBTQ business-owners, said Chris Hartman, who is director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky advocacy group.
“It’s long past time for Louisville to have the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce,” he said. And it’s definitely going to be a benefit to the city and really is is going to help folks identify businesses that are owned and operated by LGBTQ folks.”
Peer cities such as Indianapolis and Nashville already have similar organizations.
Masters said she hopes Civitas will help gay and lesbian business owners be more confident in their identities — which will also help their companies.
“As a business, if I want to be able to reach the consumers of tomorrow, I need to understand them,” she said. “And if I’m only surrounded with people that look like me, and come from a similar background to me, those are the only people I’m going to understand enough to reach.”