Political Notebook: LGBT business association retools its focus on services
by Matthew S. Bajko
As it welcomes a new president, San Francisco's LGBT chamber of commerce continues to retool to better address the needs of its members.
Known as the Golden Gate Business Association, the nation's first business group formed to promote LGBT-owned companies, the organization has moved to being all volunteer run and focused on providing opportunities that will help its members to thrive.
GGBA past president Robb Fleischer , in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, said when he was elected in the fall of 2014 GGBA had a number of challenges, from decreased revenues and declining membership to antiquated computer systems.
"We found ourselves at a period where we were redefining our objectives and mission," said Fleischer, 52, a Realtor and CEO of American Marketing Systems Inc. "I would not say I wanted to be president."
Nonetheless, Fleischer went to work overhauling the organization. A GGBA member for 27 years, Fleischer and the board opted to do away with having a paid executive director and ended the lease for its office space. During his one-year tenure, the number of dues-paying members increased 40 percent and the budget grew to $210,000.
"We did start the year with concerns about cash flow," said Fleischer, adding that he and the board "had inherited a business model that was no longer relevant."
By the fall the board felt "really confident," he said, that it had successfully repositioned GGBA.
In October GGBA's board elected Jon Paul "JP" Leddy as its new president. He is the first Chamorro and Pacific Islander from the United States Territory of Guam to serve in the position in the 41-year history of the organization.
"Our major goal is to support the programs we are anticipating to have this coming year," said Leddy, 55, director of client relations at the Resource Corner, an executive recruiting and staffing firm. "Increasing our revenues is my top goal, so I want to increase the number of members and sponsorships."
Leddy would like to see GGBA's budget at least double over the next year. And he is committed to securing more business opportunities for GGBA members, which will improve the inducements for why LGBT businesses should join it.
"We are not a charity," said Leddy. "We are here to help our members increase their business."
One recent step GGBA took was to launch its Open House series, which serves members involved in residential and commercial real estate and related industries. With the "incredible growth happening in the city," noted Fleischer, GGBA wanted to ensure its members could take advantage of the housing boom.
"It brings large developers to the organization to provide the trade with first-hand, off-the-press information before the general public becomes aware of it," he said.
Another GGBA initiative has been to encourage businesses that are majority LGBT-owned to be certified as such through a program run by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. To add increased benefits for certified companies, the GGBA has taken a lead role in pushing for minority-contracting programs in both the government sector and private industry to include LGBT companies.
The GGBA was a backer of AB 1678, which took effect in January and encourages public utilities to enter into contracts with LGBT-owned businesses by extending the Supplier Diversity Program administered by the California Public Utilities Commission to LGBT business enterprises. Gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) authored the bill, and gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) co-sponsored it in the Senate.
With the Bay Area set to host next year's Super Bowl 50, GGBA was also involved in pushing for LGBT-certified businesses to be included for the first time in the National Football League's Business Connect Program. At least half a dozen locally owned LGBT-businesses have won contracts due to the expansion of the program. (See related story.)
"It wasn't so much about the Super Bowl; it was to get people certified," explained Fleischer. "We have brought more companies to GGBA to talk about their diversity supplier programs."
And that has had a domino effect, not only with more corporations wanting to work with LGBT-owned businesses but also adding relevance to GGBA itself, said Fleischer.
"The more corporate partners perpetuates more members for GGBA," he said.
GGBA board member Dawn Ackerman , a lesbian who is co-owner of Outsmart Office Solutions, agreed that the steps the group has taken over the past several years have proven to be beneficial not just for the organization but also its members.
"I think the Golden Gate Business Association is absolutely on track when it comes to advocating for LGBT and diverse business inclusion," said Ackerman, who joined the association five years ago. "We are an LGBT chamber of commerce and our goal is to help our members thrive."
The changes wrought by Fleischer and his executive committee, said Leddy, have given GGBA a stronger foundation, resulting in renewed reasons for why LGBT businesses should join it.
"We want you to increase your business by being a GGBA member," said Leddy.
For more information about GGBA, visit www.ggba.com.
Milk club set to early endorse Kim
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is set to deliver an early Christmas present to District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim .
At its holiday party December 16, the city's queer progressive political club is expected to approve an early endorsement of Kim's 2016 bid for the city's state Senate seat.
The 11th Senate District, which covers all of San Francisco and several cities in northern San Mateo County, is currently held by Leno. Termed out of office next December, Leno has endorsed gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener to be his successor.
In September the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club early endorsed Wiener in the race. And last month the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality California threw its support behind Wiener with an eye toward ensuring the ranks of the Legislative LGBT Caucus, which will lose at least two members next fall, are replenished.
Should Kim defeat Wiener, it would mean that San Francisco had not elected a gay or lesbian person to a state legislative seat since 1996, when Carole Migden became the city's first out lawmaker in Sacramento by winning an Assembly seat.
The city's current two Assembly members, Democrats Phil Ting and David Chiu , are both straight and expected to easily win re-election next year to their seats.
Ting has endorsed Kim in the Senate race, as has Migden. Other LGBT leaders backing her bid include gay former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, gay former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and gay rights leader and union organizer Cleve Jones.
In her questionnaire she submitted to the Milk club ahead of the endorsement vote, Kim cited a long list of LGBT issues she has championed, both as an elected school board member and as a supervisor, from funding HIV services and housing for LGBT youth and adults to queer cultural heritage initiatives throughout her district.
"I am committed to advocating and legislating for the diverse communities and neighborhoods that make up CA State Senate District 11," wrote Kim. "I am focused on proven solutions to make our neighborhoods safer, healthier, and stronger focusing on investing and building infrastructure and strengthening neighborhood organizations whose impact will continue long after I leave office."
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column looked at out CA leaders' gun control measures.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail email@example.com.