Joining the Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce was what their current president calls “indescribably refreshing.”
Vera Minot joined the chamber, which members name the Gaymber, in 2018 after moving here from central Texas. Her business partners invited her to join.
“It was just indescribably refreshing to be able to go network and be a professional businessperson without having to worry about mentioning my girlfriend at the time or having to navigate the weird space of should I not come out in this conversation?” Minot said.
“That’s just awkward to feel that all the time. So, the minute I felt that (acceptance) in the Gaymber, I was like, ‘Wow, this is special.’”
The organization will walk together during the 2022 Tucson Pride Parade on Friday, Sept. 30. The Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce will also have a table at the Tucson Pride Festival on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The Gaymber, which is committed to promoting the success and growth of the LGBT+ and allied business community in Southern Arizona, was formed in the early 1990s.
It was then called the Community Business Association and it was a private group focused more on support for businesspeople, and exclusively for gay men. Now they are an open and public group that is focused on economic empowerment, inclusion, community, equity and intersectional diversity. They engage in advocacy, have welcomed allies and give out scholarships through the Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Members of the chamber can participate in networking opportunities, access a loyal and dedicated consumer niche, take advantage of marketing and advertising opportunities and become more empowered through contact with Tucson’s LGBT and straight allied community.
“We want to bring in as many LGBTQI+ people as possible, but we really want to make clear that we are very friendly to allies, because it’s a special place of learning,” Minot said.
“We are doing the work to be a safe space for our trans siblings as well as the BIPOC community…doing the work we need to do to make it a safe space for everybody.”
Minot said the organization’s meat and potatoes event is the monthly breakfast — billed as “the most important meal of the month.”
As a leader of the chamber, Minot said she’s made some changes to the trademark event, in part because she’s an introvert in charge of a networking organization.
“Networking on its own, for an introvert, is just hard because it’s like, ‘Oh, what do I do? Do I interrupt that group? Do I talk to them? Oh, God, I don’t know anybody,’” Minot says. “So, we put a lot of effort into creating an agenda and some structure that will make as many people feel as safe as possible as fast as possible.”
The breakfasts feature a program speaker who will talk for about a half hour educating those present on either something related to business or LGBT advocacy.
“Sometimes we all just need to have a beautiful human story told to us so that we leave feeling uplifted,” Minot said. “Sometimes it touches the heart. We try and do the balancing act of not too super business-y and boring, it’s not too down-your-throat advocacy. It’s not always going to make you cry, but there’s a little bit of that sprinkled in.”
After the speaker, they have small-group breakouts, something they found was effective when they were having to do the breakfast on Zoom during the pandemic. People group with others elsewhere in the room and discuss their business.
At a recent meeting, everyone was asked, “What’s something that you could just talk off the cuff about for 2 straight minutes?” It was designed as a glimpse into what they were passionate about.
Minot said they start the small groups by practicing sharing their pronouns as not everyone is yet comfortable with that. They introduce who they are and what they do for a living and make connections with each other.
The chamber has been inviting allies to get to know the LGBT community, which Minot finds important. Something she learned in Texas was that if she gave people the opportunity to get to know her, it changed their minds about some of the preconceived notions that they had about LGBT people.
“One of the things that’s cool about the breakfasts, and that I’m personally really passionate about, is giving that space for allies to practice being around queer folk, for cisgender people to practice using pronouns and everybody doing the work of inclusion,” Minot said.
“If we can give people that space to practice so that they are a little bit more experienced by the time they are interacting with somebody to whom it’s deeply important and a matter of identity, that is worthy work. I’m proud to be involved with doing that.”
Other monthly Gaymber events include their “out and abouts,” which are less structured and more social. It’s a form of after-hours mingling, often at places that serve alcohol.
“It usually brings out a slightly different crowd,” Minot said. “We have our morning people and our evening people. There’s a little bit of overlap, but not much. Everybody just gets to unwind together.”
Another activity is a program they call the coffee club. Minot said, by default, everyone is enrolled, but they can unenroll. Each member gets paired up with another member. Every month they send out the pairings and encourage them to meet up, do something fun together and get to know each other.
“It’s one-on-one get-to-know-you time,” Minot says. “We say coffee club, but it’s whatever you want to do. You could go bowling for all we care.”
In 2022, they have been emphasizing social media, recognizing that millennials are on Instagram and moving into decision-making positions at companies. They maintain their Facebook for older folks and try to do a lot of cross-posting. Whenever a chamber member has something going on or if there are events in the LGBTQ+ community, they put that in their Instagram stories and try to interact a lot. Their Instagram has grown this year from 200 to 1,200 followers.
Minot has two goals — advocacy and creating a paid executive director staff position.
“Let me say first, I’m delighted by the path that we’re on,” Minot said. “I think that we’re doing some beautiful work. We’re in the process of figuring out what is our North Star in terms of our advocacy efforts. What is the thing that we can come back to that really guides us? We all care very much about everything and everybody and if you’re not careful, you can lose your messaging.”
Their advocacy committee is attempting to focus on the issues they really want to champion.
Second, she wants to hire an executive director as membership grows. The chamber is made up of all volunteers, except for one part-time administrator. It was an idea inspired by a visit to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce conference this year.
Sometimes she encounters people who ask why a LGBT Chamber of Commerce needs to exist — why the members can’t just belong to other chambers of commerce. In response, Minot shares some facts.
“LGBT businesses bring $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy,” Minot said. “Today’s youth identify increasingly as somewhere on the LGBTQI+ spectrum.”
And discrimination still exists. As recently as 2020, when Minot and her wife were trying to buy a house, they were turned down because — they and their straight Realtor believes — they were two women. So they started using her wife’s middle name, which was more androgynous.
“There is very much still a need to educate people about why LGBTQIA+ folks are just normal people not worthy of scorn, hatred and discrimination,” she said.
“You can make the business case for it. If you can’t be on board with the human case of we’re all just people here and it’s the right thing to do, then the business case is we exist and we’re going to continue to exist forever and we bring so much to the U.S. economy.”
Part of their tagline, she said, is that inclusive business is good business. It’s part of what they are trying to promote and the message that they want to share.
“In my book, inclusive business is the best business — the only business, because it’s going to be on the right side of history. It’s going to be inclusive of all and I’m really glad that we’re helping make that happen.”
Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce