Parade balloon hearts (copy)

Rainbow balloon hearts were part of the statement at last year's Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade.

Among those hopping on the Pride Parade bandwagon are members of Long Beach’s Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who want to show the community that its LGBTQ+ members are a powerful economic force.

It’s the first time in decades that LGBLCC’s members are coming together to ride in the parade, which organization leaders said reflects the Chamber’s recent growth, strong board representatives and renewed advocacy efforts.

“We haven’t been in the parade in a million years,” said Chamber President Joe Mendez, who works as a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance. “It’s time for us to come back. There are several things that have been going on for us in the past year that we’d like to celebrate.”

Chamber board member Esteven Gamez, the co-founder of Keen Social marketing agency, said membership at the Chamber has climbed to more than 200 members. The group's growth has stemmed from new social media campaigns, an improved business directory, additional networking mixers, corporate sponsorships, and partnerships with the city and National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, among other efforts.

The Chamber is especially proud of recent work done with First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez. The City Council voted last month to make Long Beach the first California city to explicitly recognize businesses owned by members of the LGBTQ community (as well as veterans and people with disabilities) in its bidding process.

“We offer certifications as an affiliate member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce,” Gamez emphasized, noting that certified businesses must be 51% owned by LGBT entrepreneurs. “Getting the word out that this is something we offer is one reason why we are getting so many new members.”

The Chamber’s primary function, Gamez and Mendez agreed, is to advocate for LGBT business owners and rights. The collaborative group is a resource for LGBT employers and people seeking career advice: from interviewing techniques to resume building. The Chamber also guides employers who have questions about best practices for working with LGBTQ job applicants and employees.

“We want to be a resource for those who want advice, and we want to educate and put together policies to help people,” Mendez said about the organization first established in 1992 by Club Ripples owner John Garcia and other business owners as a way to build alliances between LGBT businesses and others.

Despite all the progress made so far, LBGLCC leaders said there’s still work to be done to help LGBT business owners succeed.

“Being open and gay and owning a business is still something people struggle with,” Gamez said. “We provide a community of support. When I started my own business, Joe was the one who said, ‘It’s okay to be gay and own a business.’”

The Chamber’s business leaders said they’re glad the organization again will finally have a presence at Pride festivities in 2019, which are estimated to contribute more than $10 million to Long Beach’s economy annually and more than $19.4 million to the regional economy. Long Beach Pride is ranked among the top 10 Pride events across the country that LGBT travelers plan to visit this year, according to Orbitz.

LGBLCC’s float — including a car and trolley — will include an appearance by actor Brad William Henke who plays a gay character on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” The organization also is hosting mixers during Pride week.

LBGLCC members meet once a month and the cost to join ranges from $150 to $550, depending on the size of business an owner represents. Nonprofits can join for $75, and corporate sponsorships are available starting at $1,500.

For membership information or other details, visit LBGLCC.org.

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