Sometimes the most influential people are the ones working behind the scenes. They’re the ones that are pulling all the strings to make sure that the path is paved for the work to be done. You may have heard about their movement, but don’t know the names and faces behind it, and that’s just fine by them.
Paul Pendergast might be one of those faces, although he does find himself in front of a crowd more and more frequently. Paul moved to San Francisco in 1989 after studying music to join the San Francisco Opera. And while there he realized that, obviously he was a good singer, but he was never going to be the star of the show. And after three years, he turned that big voice into something that was near and dear to his heart: advancing LGBTQ equality.
Paul Pendergast has been on a journey of advocacy and advancing of LGBTQ businesses since 1992. Doors started opening when leaders of big businesses in San Francisco such as Bank of America and Gap realized that, to be successful advocates for business at large, they’d have to make sure that all groups were benefiting from their actions, and that included LGBTQ ones. Suddenly, Paul found himself sitting next to these CEOs at the table, all advocating for the same business issues, which was a major milestone to be included in these discussions and meetings. These connections continue to have far-reaching effects on the LGBTQ business community today.
Paul has spent over a quarter century helping LGBTQ businesses get an invite to the table to continued and consistent success. He was only 29 when he started his tenure as president of the Golden Gate Business Association, the country’s first LGBTQ chamber of commerce. This was in 1992, at the height of the AIDS epidemic and at a time where the city’s LGBTQ business folk were still mostly ostracized from the rest of the business community. But through these times of hardship and doubt, Paul pushed on and made sure the GGBA pulled through.
That’s where his journey of advocacy and advancing of LGBTQ businesses started and it has only continued to gain momentum. Doors started opening when leaders of big businesses in San Francisco such as Bank of America and Gap realized that, to be successful advocates for business at large, they’d have to make sure that all groups were benefiting from their actions, and that included LGBTQ ones. Suddenly, Paul found himself sitting next to these CEOs at the table, all advocating for the same business issues, which was a major milestone to be included in these discussions and meetings. These connections continue to have far-reaching effects on the LGBTQ business community today.
The influence of Paul can be seen in San Francisco and throughout the rest of the United States. He was a delegate to the California Small Business Roundtable for 20 years where he helped get a Bill passed that helped include LGBTQ-owned businesses in the same programs that minority-, women-, and disabled-veteran-owned businesses are in, a “game changing” Bill that continues to have national ripple effects.
One of these ripple effects came to a head when the NFL announced that it would hold Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clarita. Paul was on the forefront of advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ businesses, ones that had been largely forgotten in contracts for the previous Super Bowls. And, with Paul as one of the leaders, the NFL announced that it would include LGBTQ businesses for the first time in its storied history, which the NFL has continued to do for Super Bowls since.
Another huge win for Pendergast was helping LGBTQ-owned Equator Coffee win the prestigious 2016 National Small Business of the Year. When he saw that they won the Northern California Small Business of the Year award, he immediately reached out to see how he could help get the company’s name out there. He made sure that they weren’t hiding from their LGBTQ identity but instead embracing it. Paul began an enormous campaign, which led to the state award and eventually the national award, landing the coffee company founders speaking spots on panels, radio, and TV. On top of the awards he’s helped others win, he was also selected for the San Francisco Business Times’ Selisse Berry Legacy Leader award, which is given to a leader whose work has a sustained positive impact in the LGBTQ community.
Paul has been a driving force in the advocacy and inclusion of LGBTQ businesses for nearly 30 years. He has had a hand in a wide array of industries, but his commitment to the cause is the same no matter who he is working with. You may not be able to pick him out from a crowd, but sometimes the people working behind the scenes have a far greater impact than those in the limelight.