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    Join Me in Shaping GGBA’s Future

    Gina Grahame – Photo by Liza Heider Photography

    By Gina Grahame–

    Just as we finished the celebration of historic achievements for the LGBT community—national recognition of gay marriage, the ability to serve openly in the military, and, of course, the huge strides in visibility and acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming people—our community was shaken by the election and fallout of the current presidential administration. Among their many attacks on personal freedoms is the upcoming case of R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to be heard by the Supreme Court in October. In the face of this, visibility and activism by those of us who are out in business has never been more important. These are needs that the GGBA has addressed since its inception.

    As technology has evolved and advanced, many believe the role of a Chamber of Commerce has diminished. The question often arises: “In a world where every item and service can be purchased online, impersonally and in the blink of an eye, is there a role for a local chamber of commerce to play?”

    I believe the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes”! No amount of technological innovation will replace a core axiom: people like to do business with people they know, people they like, and people they trust. GGBA events are the platform for such relationships to start and to flourish. The Chamber is full of stories concerning how one’s business truly grew through the relationships developed within the GGBA. And I can’t wait to hear the stories from businesses yet come.

    GGBA History

    The Golden Gate Business Association was formed in 1974, when a group of gay bar and nightclub owners saw the value and power of banding together. Membership grew quickly, expanding to include stockbrokers, insurance agents, accountants, florists, contractors, and attorneys “who happen to be gay,” as GGBA banners at the time read.

    Over the last 45 years, the GGBA has continually pushed to expand the visibility of, and opportunities for, LGBT business owners.

    ·       1980: The GGBA Foundation is formed to raise funds for nonprofits of critical importance to the LGBT community. The foundation changed its name to “Horizons Foundation” in 1998, became fully independent, and has given more than $30 million in support of LGBTQ organizations.

    ·       1992: GGBA joined with Don Fisher (Founder of The Gap), Charles Schwab (Schwab & Co.), Sam Ginn (CEO of Pacific Telesis), along with the top 25 employers in San Francisco, to advocate for key initiatives to keep jobs in San Francisco. It forged a new collaboration between the LGBT business community and business leaders.

    ·       1994: GGBA convened the first-ever “LGBT Business Expo.” It was held at the Marriott Hotel and included over 100 LGBT owned businesses.

    ·       2003: GGBA became a founding member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and hosted their first national conference.

    ·       2015: GGBA joined with six other LGBT Chambers in California, and the NGLCC, in a leadership position to win the passage of California Assembly Bill 1678, which codifies LGBT business participation in the procurement programs of California Public Utilities.

    ·       2016–17: GGBA partnered with the San Francisco Business Times to expand on their annual “Business of Pride” issue that grew from a “Top 25 LGBT Businesses” to an amazing “Top 50 LGBT Businesses.”

    As we move into 2020, the GGBA has launched a new foundation, to once again fund organizations and programs of importance to the LGBTQ community. We are continuing the expansion of Board–Member conversations, started under our immediate Past-President Audry deLucia. These include quarterly round-table discussions, and the weekly “Coffee with the President” sessions that are open to anyone wanting to talk about the GGBA, supplier diversity, or LGBT business.

    Gender History as a Business Asset, Not Liability

    One aspect of the GGBA that makes me most proud is the diversity within the Board itself. We are comprised of individuals who identify as L, G, B, T, Q, and Allied. That diversity is furthered in the age groups, cultures, and, of course, in the members’ respective industry verticals.

    When I was first introduced to the GGBA, I worried that I wouldn’t fit in or be welcomed because I didn’t see anyone like me. I worried that I would become the “the token T”—welcomed not for who I was, but for what I was. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Dawn Ackerman, Audry deLucia, and Robb Fleischer are just three GGBA members who greeted me with warm smiles, open hearts, and great advice. They, and others, became my mentors as well as my friends.

    Through the GGBA, I learned that my gender history was an asset to my business, not a liability. I learned that my experiences and achievements as a speaker, actor, spokesperson, global sales manager, and entrepreneur—first as male and then as female—are an integral part of the UVP (unique value proposition) I bring to my clients. This realization is, to me, the heart of the GGBA.

    This notion of being fully out and proud is one that I did not hold for many years. After coming out as transsexual in 1992 (the term “transgender” was not in popular use then, nor was it the umbrella term that is known as today), I effectively went back into the closet. I saw my transsexuality as a medical condition: I was diagnosed, underwent treatment, moved on with my life and didn’t talk openly about my gender history for the next 20 years.

    As a mentor and dear friend of mine, Aleshia Brevard—who underwent gender surgery in 1962—was fond of saying: “We (early transsexual sisters) were never embarrassed about our history; we just didn’t believe it was relevant to our future or potential.”

    Some called it “stealth” mode: blending into society as the gender we always knew ourselves to be as opposed to being a visible outsider. Some people today look negatively at my decision or try to place a label of dishonesty or shame onto it. But most who would do so were not there nor remember navigating the world of LGBT before the breadth of information was available at their fingertips, thanks to the internet.

    GGBA’s Booth at CIvic Center during Pride 1978 – Photo by Daniel Nicoletta

    Proud to Be an Openly Transsexual Woman

    During my first therapy session in 1990, she asked me, “Is there anything wrong with being transsexual?” I replied, “Yeah, there is. You lose your family. You lose your friends. You lose your career. You lose your credibility. It costs a fortune. And from everything I’ve seen, you’re likely to die young and violently. There’s no upside.”

    I’m glad to say that I learned that my initial response was wrong and that I am proud to sit here as an openly transsexual woman.

    But back then, there was a time when the only gender non-conforming people seen on TV were crossdressers and drag performers on the daytime talk shows of Jerry Springer, Geraldo, Sally Jesse Raphael, and Phil Donahue. And media representation was restricted to the grocery check-out line tabloids—most notably, long before “old” transsexuals (those over the age of 45) were believed to be a reality.   

    I had gone through a hard-fought, public, and lonely transition; now that I was starting to see the light on the other side, nearly five years later, the idea of a quiet life where I could just “be” sounded wonderful. After South Carolina, I moved for a fresh start to Washington, D.C., and then to Florida. Each time I was running from a past that inevitably caught up with me. It was in Florida, after my potential life-partner had left upon learning of my past, that I decided to stop running from my gender history and face it head-on.

    ‘Ground Zero’: San Francisco

    Many years earlier, at the start of my transition, I said, “I spent the first 28 years of my life being afraid that people would find out who I really was. I’m not going to spend the next 28 being afraid that people will find out who I used to be.” Yet as I sat there, I realized that is exactly what I had done. So, I moved here, to San Francisco, to what I perceived to be “Ground Zero,” and the place I wholeheartedly now call home.  

    In 2007, I came out again. I reached out to Clair Farley of the LGBT Center; Clair was part of the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative and has since become Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Transgender Initiatives. Through Clair, I became fully aware of the economic challenges faced by the transgender and gender non-conforming community. I saw the rise in bullying and suicide among LGBTQ youth, specifically trans youth. I realized that I could no longer be just a check writer and became more actively involved in Trans economic issues.

    My fear was that being fully out would be a detriment to my career, just as it had been in the 90s, on the north side of Detroit. But the opposite was true. Just as I found inner peace by coming out as transsexual in ’92, I now found complete peace by owning it publicly. Gone was the worry of what others were or would think of me. Gone was the barrier that kept friends at arm’s distance. In their place was more energy that I could use to channel to positive purposes, such as the GGBA.

    The LGBTQ Business Community and its Impact

    Too often when the topic of LGBTQ business is discussed, it’s done so through the lens of buying power: the old “double income no kids” or DINK consumer model whereby luxury brands target the LGBTQ community in their advertising. What’s missed, and is ultimately more important, is what the LGBTQ business community adds to the economy widow.

    In 2017, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) issued the premier report on the impact of LGBT-owned businesses, placing it at a contribution of $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy. For context, if LGBT-owned businesses were a country, we would be the 10th largest economy in the world. This number, our impact, continues to grow as more business owners come out and become certified as LGBT-owned.

    And our impact goes well beyond the dollar value. As Dawn Ackerman, former GGBA president, often says, “If every LGBT owned company could hire just one more LGBT person, imagine the effect that we would have on LGBT unemployment and under employment? Imagine the dreams that would be unleashed if every LGBTQ child were able to see someone like them, succeeding in the very thing they want to do.”

    The power to change the world is truly within our hands. And the GGBA is committed to doing our part each day, every day, one entrepreneur at a time.

    My Plans for GGBA Over the Coming Year

    My goal, and that of the board, is to make the GGBA integral in the daily business lives of our members and partners; to provide members with events and programming that are responsive to their needs, from being better businesspeople to helping them create and fill their supplier diversity pipeline.

    We want to inspire each other by sharing the stories and successes of individuals members. We want to continue to advocate for legislation that breaks down barriers of entry for LGBTQ owned businesses, regardless of the industry vertical, and to embrace and promote the growing diversity within our community.

    We want to show individuals from every part of the LGBTQ community that they create their own business, that they don’t need “an app” to be successful, and that there is a place where their whole self is welcomed, respected, and needed. We need to be more involved with other minority chambers, such as the Hispanic Chamber, the WBENC, and others that show that LGBT business owners come from every culture.

    Additionally, we will be including the recently launched Speed Networking as part of the monthly Make Contact mixers moving forward. We’ve also set a unique industry theme for each monthly event as well, ensuring that all members have the opportunity to engage and shine—financial providers, insurance, health & wellness, nonprofits, business services, and more will be featured over the next year.

    Also, I’m extremely excited about our new CEO High-Performing Accelerator Program. We’ll work with 10 member companies for one year, helping them to break through their unique business growth challenges and take them from their current annual revenue of $500k–$1.5M, to $1M­–$3M. It’s a bold initiative to be sure. But it’s one that we’ve been working on for nearly a years’, and one that we hope will be a cornerstone of future year’s programming.

    The GGBA, like any successful team, cannot succeed without everyone’s participation. We need members to utilize the platforms that the GGBA provides to get more engaged; to learn about, patronize, and refer the businesses of fellow members. We need your feedback on what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and what new programs and events you believe would benefit your business and community. In short, we need you—each of you and all of you.

    To our shared success!

    Gina Grahame is the President-Elect of the Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA). She is also the Founder and CEO of the Grahame Institute of Strategic Communication. For more information about Grahame, see this earlier article in the “San Francisco Bay Times”:

    For more information about the GGBA:


    Speed Networking at GGBA

    “Member-to-Member Speed Networking” was introduced at GGBA’s August Make Contact mixer held at Spaces California Mission & 3rd, a coworking open-sourced workplace. The networking, which opened the event, allowed participants to exchange business cards and information with numerous others in a welcoming environment over a productively short time.

    Speed Networking is just one highlight of GGBA’s Make Contact events, held monthly. The series is one of the largest and most successful Bay Area LGBT networking events. For more infor