Laura Lara and Joe Mendez of the Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce are seated in Hot Java Coffee on a sunny afternoon as I step inside to join them.
Lara, who serves as the president of the organization, and Mendez, the chairman of the Membership Committee, smile — non-plussed at my tardiness from Los Angeles traffic.
These two dynamos are focused on rebuilding the chamber, which was founded in 1992. Having reached a peak of 221 members, numbers have dwindled after the economic recession (not unlike most member-based organizations) and the organization is now rebuilding their ranks.
Their enthusiasm is contagious.
“We have just added our 94th member,” Mendez said. “Our goal is to be up to 100 by the end of March and 125 by the end of May.”
Mendez has a warm smile and exuberance that makes him a perfect outreach person for the group. A real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance, Mendez recounts his personal success at the Chamber Luncheon Mixer held at The Pizza Place & Garden Café on Broadway. After making a presentation (Mendez was a featured speaker at the event) he received three potential new listings and three potential buyers, including an offer on a commercial property listing.
“We’re open for success,” added Lara, a polite, energetic woman who owns and operates Lara Solutions, a bookkeeping company. Lara, who has been president of the Chamber for three years, is quick to add: “Businesses come for the networking, but stay for the community ... We represent the entire community. We want gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender businesses to be involved — but also gay ally-owned businesses and, with the passing of DOMA, there are lots of businesses joining our ranks that want to reach an LGBTQ consumer."
Membership is a modest investment: $75 for students and affiliates (single employees from a corporate employer); $150 for a regular business membership; and $500 for a VIP business membership. Corporate sponsorships begin at $500 and go up to $2,500.
Membership includes reciprocity in Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (50% off their membership), website exposure (several members use their Chamber profile as their website) and networking events like the Monthly Luncheon Mixers (always the first Wednesday of each month at local restaurants). The next mixer will be at EJ Malloy’s Pub from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on March 5. The cost is $25 for non-members and $20 for members.
I recently joined in at one of the luncheon mixers, and 44 businesses attended — an amazing turnout, I thought, as a veteran of attending meetings like this with other groups.
A brand new After Hours Mixer event series launches from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20 at La Traviata Restaurant. The event is free to members.
Bottom line is, if your business wants to connect with the LGBTQ consumer or is part of the LGBTQ community, let others know about the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and support them with a membership. They are the only organization of their kind between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Businesses, from small to large corporations, are realizing that local marketing and old-fashioned connecting with the movers and shakers of our community is not only good business: It's good sense.
Sasha Scarlett covers then LGBTQ Community for Grunion Gazette. Sasha is an Emmy-nominated performer, writer, comic and proud parent of 3 amazingly well-adjusted children. She resides in Bixby Knolls.