A Strong Voice

LGBT Chamber of Commerce advocates for biz and community

Tucson's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group with economic muscle.

Starting in the early '90s as a private endeavor called the Community Business Association, it was a place for LGBT business people to gather and find mutual support through networking.

That mission has now expanded to include advocacy, education, and increased visibility for LGBT business issues within the larger community. In doing so, the organization initially changed its name to the Tucson GLBT Chamber of Commerce in 2005 and opened its doors to straight allies. It also became members of the Arizona Small Business Association and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

As times have changed and perceptions mellowed, Tucson has now been ranked by Thrillist.com as the Most LGBTQ-Friendly City in Arizona. "Although Phoenix and Tempe kicked ass, Tucson got the nod here as a laidback city-town, boasting small town vibes in a fairly large city," according to Tony Ray Baker of GayTucson.com. "Tucson was the first city in the U.S. to enact a domestic partner provision back in the 1970s. It was the home of the first church to openly welcome gay members. The Veterans Administration has its primary trans soldier wing here. And businesses throughout the community have rainbow stickers in their windows indicating shelter can be found from harassment and bullying. We get lumped in with the red state masses, but we're a town full of loving and beautiful people."

There are two dozen gay-friendly businesses listed on the chamber's web page, along with another two dozen LGBT groups, ranging from a rodeo association to gay kickball and the Reveille Men's Chorus to Wingspan.

Listed as Chamber values are economic empowerment; inclusion; community; equity and intersectional diversity—economic and social equity for all Southern Arizonans.

"We have between 150-175 members who run the gamut from Fortune 500 companies to local Mom and Pop business owners," says Liane Wong, realtor and chamber president. "We just rebranded this month from the Tucson GLBT chamber to the Tucson LGBT chamber. Initially gay men were predominant, but over time it's switched, so the "L" in the title gets top billing now, and rightfully so, as my all-volunteer board of directors is already 50 percent female."

The group expanded its horizons this year with the launch of the Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting the educational goals of LGBT people through scholarships, mentorships and programming.

"The foundation will offer scholarships to UA LGBT students, financial stipends that come with a mentor from within our chamber," Wong says. "When we announced the formation of the foundation at our June Pride Breakfast, we reported $7,000 in scholarship funding.

Wong added that the chamber is also involved in training and education in sensitive topics.

"Two other parts of the foundation include collaboration with non-profit corporations and us going into companies and offering classes on things like the pronouns involved, trans-awareness, micro-aggression," Wong says. "When people get educated, it causes a ripple effect across the city with a greater understanding and empathy of what the LGBT world goes through."

Recognizing the power created by unity, the Tucson entity became a member of NGLCC, the national business voice of the LGBT community advocating the expansion of economic opportunities in the gay business community. According to NGLCC, the voice for the nation's 1.4 million LGBT business owners, those business owners generate over $1.7 trillion in economic impact as part of the national economy.

The Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce will have its usual big-top tent, an umbrella for smaller gay businesses, during Pride recognition events.

"This year the Raytheon LGBT resource group called RayPride has purchased their own booth, kind of like a mother bird letting her baby bird fly on its own," Wong says. "It's exciting that Raytheon has a presence and is welcoming to the LGBT world."

Wong says the LGBT chamber has developed a strong reputation in Southern Arizona.

"As one of the first members of the Southern Arizona Chamber of Commerce Alliance, we're known in the regional business community as active participants," says Wong. "People know who we are, what we advocate for, and we're not going away."