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Business Briefs: LGBT Chambers to Talk Policy at SF Summit

by Matthew S. Bajko

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, met Golden Gate Business Association President Dawn R. Ackerman when he visited San Francisco last month
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, met Golden Gate Business Association President Dawn R. Ackerman when he visited San Francisco last month  (Source:Courtesy Dawn R. Ackerman)

Apart from business concerns like creating better access for LGBT-owned firms to government contracts, social issues like housing and homelessness will also be front and center when LGBT business leaders from around western North America gather in San Francisco next week.

The Western Business Alliance LGBT Economic Summit & Conference will take place in the city March 15 and 16. Hosted by the Golden Gate Business Association, the world's oldest LGBT chamber of commerce, it will gather together members from 22 LGBT business groups in the western U.S. and Canada.

Topics one would expect to hear discussed at such an event, from assisting LGBT millennial entrepreneurs to removing barriers to transgender economic development, are on the agenda. But one breakout topic this year will focus on how to take a regional approach to addressing LGBT homeless issues and solutions.

"It is something not only San Francisco but Seattle and other cities in our region are working to figure out how to address," said GGBA President Dawn R. Ackerman, who is president of OutSmart Office Solutions Inc.

Noting that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, Ackerman said the issue is critically important to the LGBT business community. Members in the various chambers are all interested, she said, in how, as business owners, they can help reduce the numbers of LGBT individuals living on the streets or at-risk of homelessness.

"We know a lot of these youth come to the West Coast to get away from places where they are not welcome or are discriminated against," she said. "How do we give them a leg up and get started when they arrive to our cities?"

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter by phone late last month from Bordeaux, France, while sipping a glass of the region's famous Sauternes wine during a trip part business and part vacation, Ackerman said she was excited to return home in time to welcome the expected 200 LGBT business leaders from other chambers to the summit.

"It is going to be amazing. We have been working on this for months," she said.

Attendees are coming from as far as Dallas, Texas and Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as from several chambers "East of the Rockies," such as the GGBA's sister chamber in Atlanta. It is a chance to mingle with other LGBT business leaders and make professional connections, noted Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce President Daniel Dunlop.

"From chamber to chamber consultative conversations to member to member introductions, we have built a superhighway of communication and connection that enhances our knowledge and extends our reach," stated Dunlop, president and executive producer of Dunlop Productions. "As sister chambers, we truly know what it means to have family on the East and West Coast!"

The GGBA has scheduled its Power Lunch IV to coincide with the summit this year; the series began in 2015 as a way to showcase local LGBT entrepreneurs. Upwards of 800 people are expected to attend next week's lunch co-hosted by former city and state lawmaker Mark Leno, who is running to be San Francisco's first gay mayor, and lesbian cofounder and CEO of Equator Coffees and Teas Helen RussellM.

Among this year's guest speakers are two California statewide elected officials: Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. Padilla is seeking re-election this November while Jones is running for attorney general against incumbent Xavier Becerra.

"It is important someone like the secretary of state be able to see the power of the LGBT business community and our economic power," said Ackerman. "California's insurance commissioner is working very hard to get LGBT businesses included in medical supply chains and to increase those numbers every year. Dave Jones has been instrumental in making that happen."

The Western Business Alliance, which formed in 1994, annually rotates its summit between its LGBT chamber members. Seattle hosted the gathering in 2017, and it is expected that the LGBT chambers in Los Angeles and Long Beach will team up to co-host the 2019 summit.

This year's summit theme is "Welcome Home."

"It is because GGBA is the very first LGBT chamber of commerce ever to be formed. It is 44 years old now," Ackerman explained about the reason for picking the theme.

The summit kicks off Thursday night with a reception for attendees and GGBA members inside San Francisco City Hall. The special guest is Alex Orfinger, executive vice president of the American Business Journals, which publishes 40 business journals across the country.

The daylong gathering next Friday at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco begins at 8:30 a.m. with the lunch taking place at noon. Tickets to attend cost $125.

To learn more about the summit and to register online, visit

Gym deal for Oakland LGBTQ center supporters

Supporters of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center can sign up at a discounted rate with a locally owned gym not far from the facility in the East Bay city's Lakeshore district.

The Oakland location of Fitness SF is offering center volunteers and subscribers to its newsletter a special deal through March 31. The gym, at 600 Grand Avenue, is waving its enrollment fee and charging $39.95 a month. New members must pay first and last month when they enroll.

The LGBTQ center is located on the other side of I-580 from the gym at 3207 Lakeshore Avenue (entrance on Rand Avenue). It officially opened its doors in the fall, and as the B.A.R. reported last week, just received its nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Anyone interested in taking advantage of the gym special must first sign up for the center's emailed newsletter via its website at When the newsletter is sent, click on the advertisement for Fitness SF Oakland to be taken to the online enrollment page.

Anyone with questions can contact the gym's general manager, Elias Hernandez, via email at or by calling (510) 451-4653.

Milk vodka bottle set for release

The commemorative bottles of Stolichnaya vodka honoring the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk are expected to first be revealed at two East Coast fundraising events next month and be officially launched in San Francisco in May, the B.A.R. has learned.

Milk's election to his board seat in 1977 made history for being the first time an LGBT person won elective office in the city as well as the state of California. He and then-mayor George Moscone were assassinated inside City Hall the morning of November 27, 1978 by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White.

Over the last four decades Milk has become a global icon for the LGBT community. Each year California celebrates Harvey Milk Day on May 22, which was the day Milk was born in 1930.

As the Business Briefs column first reported in January, Stoli's special Milk bottle will be the first time it has honored an LGBT individual with such a tribute. A limited release of 50,000 bottles will be produced so that they are seen as a collector's item.

Guests at both the Imperial Court of New York's 32nd annual Night of a Thousand Gowns event April 7 and the Harvey Milk Foundation's Diversity Honors Awards fundraiser April 27 are likely to get a sneak peek of the Milk bottle and its label. The public rollout will likely take place on Milk Day in San Francisco.

Honor Roll

A San Francisco-based, gay-owned artisanal chocolate company that launched in 2015 has earned several awards this year and will be taking part in the 12th annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon this weekend.

After Michael Benner graduated from the now-shuttered California Culinary Academy and Ecole Chocolate, he and his husband, Curtis Wallis, opened Michael's Chocolates. As the Business Briefs December column noted, they partner with local storeowners to sell their selection of caramels and bars rather than operating their own retail location.

The company's lemon burst bonbon won a Good Food Award for 2018. And it is one of the 2018 International Chocolate Salon award winners for the Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America. Michael's Chocolates earned a four star award to be designated one of the country's superior chocolatiers.

The industry group has four different categories based on an award system of three, four, five, and six stars. The honors are based on the combined total number of gold and silver awards received by each entrant in the previous year's TasteTV Chocolate Salons held in four different West Coast cities, including two events in San Francisco, as well as the awards entrants win in individual categories such as best caramels, toffees, and bars.

"We have only participated in two salons, so we are thrilled to have made the list," the couple noted in a Facebook post.

The public will be able to taste confections from Michael's Chocolates and other producers at the artisan chocolate show taking place Sunday, March 11. It is being held from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the SF County Fair Building, 1199 Ninth Avenue.

Adult tickets cost $20 in advance or $30 at the door; tickets for children 6 to 12 years old cost $10. To purchase tickets online, visit

For a list of where to purchase Benner's chocolates, or to order online, with free delivery in the Bay Area, visit

Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail


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