By Alex Vaughn
Earlier this year, the Rainbow Alliance membership unanimously voted to establish the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (GFLGLCC) as a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting business and economic opportunities for the LGBT and LGBT-friendly community in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area.
The new Chamber is an affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Chamber members will now have access to many more benefits, compared to the Rainbow Alliance. Keith Blackburn is the Founder and President of the GFLGLCC. The Agenda sat down with him to understand more about the changes and the benefits for the LGBT Business Community at large.
What prompted the development of the Chamber?
Although it may seem like we came out of nowhere, it actually evolved over the past four or five years. The Rainbow Alliance, which was set up as a hospitality organization, had been around for 15 years in total. It really couldn’t expand under its Bylaws and structure. I brought the idea of affiliation to the NGLCC at that time, but the organization wasn’t ready to undertake the change. The Rainbow Alliance focus was tourism and nearly all of the members were hotels, guesthouses, etc.
With the economic situation of the past few years, many of our accommodation properties were sold. By the time I became chair last year, it was fairly clear that we needed to either expand, or close down. I contacted the NGLCC to discuss a possible affiliation. Without them, I don’t think it would have been viable for us to become a Chamber. On April 26th, the Rainbow Alliance membership unanimously voted to begin the GFLGLCC and to close the Rainbow Alliance.
What are your aims for the future?
I see a great future for the GFLGLCC because we have so much to offer our members and the community. As membership grows, I would like to see some counsels added, to serve the specific needs of our member businesses. As an example, I would love to have a “Tourism Council” which would pretty much be an advocate and promotions vehicle for LGBT tourism, while under the umbrella of the GFLGLCC. Our website SouthFloridaFun.com, is still up. It was the website for the Rainbow Alliance. We could easily make some modifications and use it to focus on the LGBT tourist market – linked from the Chamber website, GoGayFortLauderdale.com.
Where do you most see the necessity for the GFLGLCC?
Because of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce affiliation, we offer a unique set of benefits to our members and the community. We are the only LGBT focused chamber of commerce in Greater Fort Lauderdale and Broward County. Because of the relationships we have developed with the NGLCC and other affiliate chambers, our reach goes much further than it would without the affiliation.
How do you feel the community has changed in terms of tourism?
Since tourism is the number one revenue source in Greater Fort Lauderdale, we all know the impact on all of our businesses. Fort Lauderdale has been pretty consistently ranked as a top LGBT tourist destination. Back when LGBT tourism began to flourish in Fort Lauderdale, the focus was on the beaches. Although that’s always going to be a draw, we are now known internationally as a truly diverse destination with cultural offerings as well. Wilton Manors is also known internationally and is a huge draw with its nightlife, dining and shopping. Speaking of culture, we are proud to be sponsoring the 3rd Annual Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, presented by HBO. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau is also sponsoring the event and has plans to promote next year’s festival at the Toronto Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, as well as other events. The goal is to make our annual film festival another reason for LGBT tourists to come here. We are also working with Manors Masquerade, Stonewall Pride and Pride South Florida. All of these events attract tourists. Greater Fort Lauderdale is very fortunate to have something for everyone, so this makes our community very unique and welcoming to all.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the GFLGLCC?
The part that I enjoy the most has been implementing all of the features and benefits for members. I also enjoy working with our Affiliate Chambers and Community Partners, as well as promoting beneficial events for the community.
What are the benefits to membership of GFLGLCC?
Becoming a member of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce isn’t just about the financial support your membership provides. It’s about the relationship. Becoming a member of the GFLGLCC brings you side-by-side with us as we continually make outreach and partner with local business organizations wishing to promote the LGBT business community. We will also promote Greater Fort Lauderdale to national organizations wishing to increase their opportunities and reach within our LGBT business community. Just a few of the benefits include,LGBT Corporate Events and National Exposure, Business Community Partners, Networking and Online exposure. The full list of benefits is available on our website.
Having joined with the NGLCC, what changes will be enacted?
As an affiliate member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce members receive full membership and benefits. We are now connected with other affiliate members and chambers. This allows our members to promote our businesses, tourism, etc. to a much larger audience. As an organization, it gives us the opportunity to promote community events to all of our affiliates as well. Using the upcoming Film Festival as an example, we are promoting this, beyond our borders, which will benefit tourism and related businesses in Greater Fort Lauderdale.
What advantages are there to being teamed with the NGLCC?
Through the NGLCC, we will be informed of legislation that may affect our business. Being an affiliate member of the NGLCC, we have representation on issues important to LGBT business before Congress and Executive Branch agencies.
Just last week, acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank hosted a conference call with NGLCC, our suppliers, affiliate leaders, and members to outline items in the American Jobs Act and what those items would mean for small businesses.
I think one of the biggest offerings from the NGLCC is called Supplier Diversity Initiative (SDI). The NGLCC SDI offers certification to LGBTBEs, as well as a host of opportunities to enhance each business’ visibility to corporations seeking to do business with LGBT suppliers. Corporations can search for certified LGBTBEs through our exclusive LGBT supplier database, as well as meet face-to-face with potential suppliers at NGLCC SDI matchmaking events, which are held across the country throughout the year. Certified LGBTBEs may also be eligible for scholarship programs, mentorship and leadership training, and other business development tools to help your business grow. Certification is an important marketing tool that can serve as a critical point of differentiation between your business and your competitors.
What are the advantages of working within the community?
The community here is always evolving and there is so much diversity all around us. Because of this, we have a wealth of businesses, both LGBT owned and LGBT friendly. We also have a lot of different organizations. Many have similar or common goals and I really want to work with those who are compatible. I also believe in giving back to the community, so it is important for us to support those organizations. On a personal level, I enjoy meeting different people and trying to understand their business goals and needs.
For more information and a full list of member benefits please visit the GFLGLCC at www.GoGayFortLauderdale.com