June is LGBT Pride Month, and many communities, organizations, and businesses hold festivals, parades, concerts, lectures, and other promotions to recognize the impact that queer individuals have had on history and their role in community today. While the atmosphere of pride events is often celebratory and joyful, Pride Month is rooted in resistance and the launch of the Fight for civil rights for the LGBTQ community.
In this episode we talk with Tyler Prescott, CEO of the Upstate LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. Tyler will remind us of the history of Pride Month, talk about the movement for civil rights for LGBTQ individuals to live safely in community with the same protections and opportunities as all residents, and ways to engage with the upstate LGBT+ Chamber and their partner organizations, not just in June, but throughout the year.
Katy Smith: June is celebrated as LGBT Pride Month. Many communities, organizations, and businesses hold festivals, parades, concerts, lectures, and other promotions to recognize the impact that queer individuals have had on history and their role in community today. While the atmosphere of pride events is often celebratory and joyful, Pride Month is rooted in resistance and the launch of the Fight for civil rights for the LGBTQ community.
I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and on this episode I talk with Tyler Prescott, CEO of the Upstate LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. Tyler will remind us of the history of Pride Month, talk about the movement for civil rights for LGBTQ individuals to live safely in community with the same protections and opportunities as all residents, and ways to engage with the upstate LGBT+ Chamber and their partner organizations, not just in June, but throughout the year.
Tyler, thanks so much for being here today.
Tyler Prescott: Thank you for having me. This is fantastic.
Katy Smith: All right. We’re sitting here recording in the month of June, and this will air in the month of June, which is Pride Month, and it has become a wonderful national celebration with local acknowledgements and festivities. But I do think people might have forgotten how did Pride Month come to be and what is its historical significance?
Can you give us a history lesson?
Tyler Prescott: Katy, so we have to go back to in 1968 to talk about the Stonewall riots. I think when people think about we’ll call it the “Gay Agenda” – for the podcast listeners, I’m doing air quotes. Uh, they think like, haven’t you already won? Haven’t you gotten everything that you’ve ever wanted?
I see you holding hands on the side of the road. I see you on my TVs and in my movie. But this is recent history, right? The gay rights movement started functionally in June 28th, 1968 at Stonewall. So Stonewall was functionally a gay bar. Uh, it’s a bar in downtown New York City that LGBT folks, particularly queer, black trans people we’re at and the police came to shut it down. And at some point, that point was June 28th, 1968, the folks who were at that bar decided enough was enough. That they deserve to have a space where they could be themselves. It was a really difficult time for the LGBT community and this is why Pride is celebrated every year in June.
And you can fast forward all the way to 2003. Again, very recent history. Uh, I imagine most of your podcast listeners were alive in 2003, where the Supreme Court said, “Actually states can’t make laws that criminalize homosexual behavior.” So was the Lawrence decision. That struck down a decision that is still functionally alive in South Carolina. That said homosexual activity was illegal. It’s legal nationwide now, but there are a dozen or so states that still have laws on the books that say that.
Katy Smith: So if it’s still functionally on the books in a state like ours, what does that mean for residents?
Tyler Prescott: It means if Lawrence were to be overturned, the LGBT community in South Carolina would be in a really difficult place.
And it wasn’t until 2015 for Obergefell when L G B T marriage was affirmed by the Supreme Court. And then per your question, both of those were actually called, Lawrence and Obergefell were called into question just last June by a Supreme Court Justice saying both of those were wrongly decided.
Uh, so this is recent, recent history. In June, 2020, Bostock was decided. That was the Supreme Court ruling that said, functionally, sexuality and gender can be conflated in the eyes of discrimination, but that has not been really tested. So in many ways, it’s still legal to be terminated from your job for coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
A lot of protections that the L G B T community in the United States has, has come directly from the Supreme Court. States have not taken action in areas that would directly affect the LGBT community’s lives and livelihoods, and those rights we’ve ha have had to come from Supreme Court decisions to protect us nationwide.
Katy Smith: So as you point out, a lot of this is really relatively recent history. I mean, 1968 for some of us isn’t that long ago, but I mean, even when you think about 2015, I mean, that’s while…
Tyler Prescott: It’s less than a decade.
Katy Smith: Yeah. But even though there have been achievements triumphs for the L G B T Q community, there’s still threats out there and things that advocates, allies are still working on. What would you say are big things in our state happening right now?
Tyler Prescott: Yeah, so for the last few years we’ve been working on a hate crime Bill. South Carolina is one of two states in the country. It does not have hate crime legislation. It’s us and Wyoming, and I’m really, really hopeful that we’re not gonna be the last one to have hate crime legislation. This is legislation that would punish a violent act that is specifically against a marginalized community.
So if you commit an act of violence against a gay person because they’re gay or because they’re trans, or against a black person because they’re black, that would incur an additional penalty for you. That has not yet passed in the state of South Carolina. We’re hopeful that it will, we’re looking forward to next year.
The law as it’s currently written has, or the, the proposed law as it’s currently written has protections for sexuality and it, and I think that’s the right decision.
Katy Smith: I mean that it hasn’t passed yet and that we are one of only two states that doesn’t have this in place… What is the opposition to its passage?
Tyler Prescott: There are some folks who think, Hey, this is thought police, right? We are taking someone’s thoughts and applying them judgmentally on their actions, and I think that’s incorrect. Right. There are crimes that happen specifically because of a class of person this crime was committed against, and there are folks who say, right, the research is still pretty new and pretty mixed about whether or not a law like this would have an incredibly positive effect on our state.
I think it’s only a matter of time until our neighbors start capitalizing on us not having hate crimes legislation. If I’m a mega corporation, I’m thinking about moving to the southeast. I can look at North Carolina and I can look at Georgia and see both of these states protect their black and brown constituents, protect their gay and lesbian trans constituents against hate crimes. And I have to start wondering, how easy is it going to me to be for me to recruit diverse talent in those states? Right? South Carolina does not have any global headquarters for a Fortune 500 company located in our state. Is hate crime legislation the only reason? Certainly not. But is it one of ’em? I have to imagine it is.
Katy Smith: What about at the local level? That’s the focus of our podcast is local government.
Tyler Prescott: There’s a lot that local municipalities can do to serve their L G B T communities, right? We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re just asking for a safe place to live and work and raise our children and our families. My favorite metric to look at is the HRC. The Human Rights Campaign puts out a scorecard every year.
One for businesses. You’ll probably see that advertise where, uh, on a commercial you’ll see a major corporation say, ” we scored a 100 out of 100 on the HRCs Equality Index.” There’s one that’s less advertised. It’s called the Municipality Equality Index, and they rank municipalities.
There’s a number of them in South Carolina that have been ranked, including Greenville. Greenville scored a 52 out of a 100 this year.
Katy Smith: The city of Greenville?
Tyler Prescott: The City of Greenville. And that is a market increase from last year where they scored a 33.
Katy Smith: Well, what led to such a dramatic change?
Tyler Prescott: So two big things that we asked from the city was one, there needs to be somebody in city administration who can be the liaison to the L G B T community. So that person now is Megan Young. She works in the city administrator’s office, and she meets regularly with folks in the L G B T community and the organization’s doing work here to talk about how the city can make positive change.
In fact, she sits on a committee with us where we talk about policy that can impact the L G B T community with the L G B T Chamber of Commerce.
Katy Smith: That’s great.
Tyler Prescott: Yeah, and that’s part of the reason our score increased so much. The other reason is, uh, we asked the Greenville City Police Department to do the same thing. So the city has an officer who’s also the L G B T liaison, so they can say specifically, right, I have a question and I don’t know who to go to. Ask about the L G B T community. You can ask Officer Brack.
Katy Smith: That is great. I mean, we just talk all the time about having government that is not just responsive to constituents, to residents, but that’s proactive and not just anticipating problems, but anticipating ways to make the whole community better and recognize the diversity of the community.
And so kudos to the City of Greenville and to the role that you played in help making those changes happen.
Tyler Prescott: Yeah, the City of Greenville is a fantastic place to live and to work and to raise your family. And part of that is because of the proactive steps the city has taken. One of the things that we talked to them about, which they have implemented, is you might not be surprised to know a lot of employee handbooks were updated last 50 years ago. And you go and you look at your employee handbook and you say, okay, my employee handbook protects black people and, uh, ethnicities and race and sexuality, but it might not actually say sexuality and gender identity. The City of Greenville is one of the only cities in the upstate that says sexuality and gender identity and employees are prohibited from discriminating on the basis and that scores seven points out of a hundred.
Katy Smith: Oh my goodness. Now I can imagine that there are other cities, the county, who might think, well, I don’t really know where to get started, or they might think, I’m not really hearing from anybody that this is important. What do you think can help make a difference for an elected official, for a city staff member, and for a voter who might wanna see some changes happen?
Tyler Prescott: There are lots of really fantastic areas that, uh, local elected officials can work on. We’ve got some fantastic ideas I’d love to share with you all. A way that you can, as a municipality continue to attract talent is by creating a space that’s safe for us to live and work. We talk to local businesses that say we consider moving to Greenville because Greenville is so fantastic.
Well, I mean, walk around downtown and see how beautiful it is, but we have questions about how diverse and accepting it is. And those questions don’t relate to, do you wave the rainbow flag over City Hall? It’s when I go into the city administrator’s office, do I see people that are reflected in my communities?
Do I see folks who think and act and look like me? And then how do I keep and staff those folks? A way that I have been talking about frequently is we need to build HR policies that reflect the needs of the L G B T community, right? We see a city like, uh, there’s a city in eastern Georgia at the end of last year was asked to have trans-inclusive healthcare benefits for their city employees, and they lost a lawsuit over it, and they had to pay $1.2 million. That would’ve cost them $10,000 a year. The city is not just fighting against Spartanburg and Asheville and Columbia for talent. You’re fighting against corporations and corporations offer those benefits. Why would you not want to offer the benefit of healthcare benefits that transgender people need to continue their lives and keep that staff here?
Katy Smith: Well, so speaking of talent and attracting talent and business, you founded the upstate LGBT+ Chamber because you are seeing ways that there were not enough opportunities for groups within businesses to come together and get involved in the community.
Can you talk about the organization and what you all do?
Tyler Prescott: Yeah, so I’m one of six co-founders of the L G B T Chamber of Commerce. For me, my story really starts at, uh, I was working at TD Bank and I had my full-time job and I was managing their business resource group and we couldn’t really find things in our community to do, to give back to the L G B T community and support our L G B T workforce.
We were going to Pride, and Pride is fantastic. Pride comes up on June 24th, it’ll be downtown Greenville and we want to do something else, right. Personally, I’m gay 365 days a year. Pride happens in Greenville one day a year. And so we said, what do we do to support our folks the other 364 days a year? And the answer to that wasn’t as obvious you might expect.
So I reached out to uh, the national L G B T Chamber of Commerce and got connected with a number of folks who were thinking about this work to say, how do we connect L G B T folks in our town, in our region to businesses that are gonna support them? When I sit in a barber chair, I don’t wanna have to think about if I’m gonna get misgendered.
I don’t wanna have to hide that I’m dating a man, right? I want to just be who I am and I wanna spend my money in that community.
Katy Smith: And get your haircut.
Tyler Prescott: And get my haircut. Ultimately, the L G B T community spends $1.7 trillion in the United States every year, and I’m sad for local businesses that don’t want a piece of that.
For me, that experience has happened and it touches is very close to home. I had to get my roof repaired two years ago. And to be clear to the listeners, I don’t have a gay roof, right? I just have a roof that needed to be fixed. And roofs are big money. And I had someone local tell me they were not interested in fixing my roof because there are two gay men who live in this house.
Katy Smith: Oh gosh.
Tyler Prescott: And I thought, I don’t want that to happen to someone else. You’re well within your rights to deny services, but let’s skip that step. If you’re worried about that, let me help you find a place that is not gonna ask you an uncomfortable question about the kind of people live in your house.
Because $1.7 trillion is a lot of money, so let’s help spend that money here in Greenville and keep that money here and then grow our tax base so we can continue to have fantastic roads and bridges and, and schools and communities.
Katy Smith: Wonderful. Since you established the the chamber, what have you seen happen? What’s the growth been like?
Tyler Prescott: It has been beyond my wildest dreams. So we thought this would be 10 years until we got to the place where we’re at now. You can go on our website and you can find 250 local businesses.
Katy Smith: Wow.
Tyler Prescott: Who are either LGBT owned or ally owned who have said, right, we want to be part of a community that respects everybody, that grows with Greenville, that understands what it’s like to be part of a marginalized community.
And I would never have expected we be here by now.
Katy Smith: Oh my gosh. Well it is June, so tell us what’s coming up.
Tyler Prescott: So there’s a lot of fantastic events coming up in June, but I’ll highlight just a few of them. Black Pride happens on June 24th. It’s 11 to, I think, 8:00 PM that day. It ‘s on Main Street. It’s a fantastic event designed for everybody. This is not my event, but we’ll have a table there. I would love for you to come and meet me, or a number of our staff and volunteers will be there all day.
Really excited for this event. It’s not just designed for, uh, black people either. Right? This is an event because I think 10 years ago, USC did a survey that said, what is the upstate missing, uh, in the L G B T community? And the number one response was there are no events designed for queer black people.
So everyone is invited to come, but this is an event chaired and exhibited and produced by queer black people. And three days before that, uh, on Wednesday, we do an event called Black Pride in Business. We’ve rented out Golden Brown and Delicious, and you’ll hear from a number of queer black business owners about what they bring to our community and how difficult it is sometimes for them to be a thriving local business.
And then you’ll hear from some folks who say, “Hey, it’s not just difficult in our town to be gay. And it’s not just difficult in our town to be black. It’s difficult to be both of those things even more than it would be to be one of them individually.” We’ve got a number of folks there just to come learn and meet queer black people who are business owners, and then we’ll give an award away for queer black business owner of the year.
Katy Smith: That’s great.
Tyler Prescott: And Upstate Pride is programmed a whole week of events around that week as well. But that’s our premier event is, uh, black Pride in business.
Katy Smith: Tyler, thanks so much for coming on and for all that you do to make Greenville great. We really appreciate you and your leadership.
Tyler Prescott: Thank you for having me today.
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.
Image via inkdrop on Canva.