Tapping Federal Way's gay potential | Tyler Young

America’s gay and lesbian buying power in 2010 is projected at $743 billion, and it is expected to exceed $835 billion by 2011. This information comes from Witeck-Combs Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that represents Fortune 500 companies.

That same research shows that although gays and lesbians span the same range of household incomes as straight people, they tend to have more education and higher incomes. They are more likely to use social networking online, including business networking. And they are also far less likely to have children. Being child-free allows many queer couples to have more money to use on luxury spending, the kind of spending that happens in downtown Seattle, and the kind we want to happen in downtown Federal Way.

We would be making a huge mistake to ignore gay citizens with disposable incomes. The City of Federal Way and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce both recognize that making our downtown diverse, unique and recognizable can attract money to the city. But there has been no specific push to attract and keep gay and lesbian oriented businesses, despite their customers being in a coveted consumer demographic.

Spending leakage happens within Federal Way because gay and lesbian consumers go outside the city for queer products and services, and to patronize businesses that are known for being gay friendly. Wedding services that don’t have a selection of same-sex figures for the top of a wedding cake, sex shops that have a limited amount of queer products because they focus on heterosexual sex, and restaurants that hire wait staff members who show discomfort while serving queer couples are just a few examples of why queer consumers often leave Federal Way to shop for luxury items. This doesn’t just prevent local businesses from reaping the rewards of reliable queer consumers. It also means that local tax leakage happens, which hurts our local government.

Major companies such as American Express and Apple computers have already recognized the potential of queer consumers and have specifically targeted them in advertising. American Airlines saw its earnings from gays, lesbians and bisexuals rise from $20 million in 1994 to $193.5 million in 1999, after the creation of a “rainbow team” devoted to marketing toward queer consumers. The City of Philadelphia has spent money to both research queer tourism, and to attract it through advertising, becoming the first city to do either. Other cities are catching on too, and so should Federal Way.

I urge the Federal Way Chamber Government Affairs Committee to press the city council to address this revenue opportunity. I also urge readers (including you) to e-mail or call city council members and tell them yourself.

The Federal Way Chamber of Commerce itself could create a program to address business networking for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Seattle has the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), a separate chamber of commerce for gay, lesbian and bisexual businesses. The GSBA is a great template to learn from, and would be reproducible in Federal Way.

Whether the city council will be open to pursuing these opportunities is up in the air. The diversity commission that advises the city council isn’t gay and lesbian friendly. Gay and lesbian individuals are not represented on the commission, and queer culture isn’t addressed. And although our council members lean strongly toward developing Federal Way, they are reluctant to publicly answer where they stand on gay rights. I have contacted all council members about gay rights issues, but only Jeanne Burbidge and Linda Kochmar have recognized that a gay community in our city would provide Federal Way a cultural advantage that Seattle and Tacoma enjoy. Queerism within the city council from other members could easily derail it from ever taking this opportunity, and flush this huge revenue stream down the drain.

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