By Terry Beswick–
Executive Director of the Golden Gate Business Association
Recently, I found myself sitting at one of a few dozen tables in a crowded banquet room in Florida.
Taking place between COVID variant surges, it was the hybrid, condensed edition of the annual conference of the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), normally with thousands of people in attendance, but this time about 400. And having just recently assumed the role of Executive Director of the Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA), the affiliate LGBTQ chamber of the San Francisco Bay Area, I recognized very few of the masked, vaxxed people in the room.
Vaxxed and boosted myself, I’d decided the conference was worth the risk of travelling during a wily pandemic. I needed to figure out what this LGBTQ chamber of commerce business was all about.
As luck would have it, I found myself sitting next to Penny Baldado, a small business owner from Oakland. I introduced myself, and we both confessed we felt a bit out of place at this rather intense corporate confab of strangers. I told Penny about my new gig running the GGBA that, at 48, is the oldest LGBTQ chamber of commerce in the world. It was an entirely new industry to me, I said, and I’d come to the conference to learn about queer chambers, what they are and why they matter.
Penny didn’t really intend to answer my questions, but in the end, they did all that and more.
Penny patiently listened to my hopes and dreams for the GGBA and then told me a little about the hardships they’d faced trying to run a small café during the pandemic shutdowns, adapting to online orders only, and how they hoped to reopen and hire back some staff soon. The world of LGBTQ chambers of commerce was completely new to Penny, too, and they explained that the national chamber had flown them out to the conference to receive a grant funded by Grubhub, the food delivery service.
I was struck by Penny’s remarkable story, not just with opening a scrappy café in Downtown Oakland and keeping it going for 12 years, but throughout their life as a formerly undocumented immigrant. Their spirit of generosity was clear in creating a neighborhood café “with a big heart.” We spoke briefly but agreed to stay in touch.
Later during the conference, I was surprised to see Penny and two other LGBTQ restaurateurs from around the U.S. presented with checks for $100,000 each—part of a $2 million fund raised in partnership with NGLCC from Grubhub customers “rounding up” their payments on food deliveries.
“As a trans-masculine and queer, immigrant person of color, I’ve worked hard and put all my love and energy into building a beautiful and welcoming space in Café Gabriela,” Penny said in accepting the check. “I’ve remained resilient through COVID and this grant is the injection of funds that we need to continue along our journey to full recovery.”
I was, of course, thrilled to see my new friend, who had faced and overcome such hardship, receiving this welcome boost and I determined to help their business if I could.
Now Café Gabriela is one of the newest members of the GGBA, and Penny agreed to share a little of their story in the accompanying “Member Spotlight.”
Throughout the conference and in the three months I’ve served in this role, I’ve been blown away and inspired by the stories of so many other LGBTQ and allied business owners in the Bay Area like Penny. Creating a successful business in the Bay Area can be very challenging. In our region, the economy has been slow to recover from the pandemic, and it’s the small businesses that are feeling this pain most acutely.
I’m determined to use the resources and influence of the GGBA to do whatever we can to help LGBTQ businesses thrive in the Bay Area, and to help new businesses open. I’m especially interested in helping LGBTQ and allied businesses owners who have historically been least advantaged, including people of color, trans folks, and the disabled. Our diverse LGBTQ culture is an essential part of what makes the San Francisco Bay Area so special, and without a thriving LGBTQ business community, our living culture cannot survive.
This year, our focus is on helping small LGBTQ-owned businesses open, recover, and thrive. And we will do that by growing our membership, making connections between member businesses, helping our members become certified LGBT Business Enterprises, linking LGBTQ businesses with corporations and public agencies to generate new opportunities, and working with other minority chambers to effect changes in public policy that will benefit small businesses.
This month, the GGBA is running a “Pandemic Recovery Membership Special” providing a big discount on new annual memberships to our LGBTQ chamber of commerce. Our goal is to grow our membership in 2022—not for the sake of growth—but to help our LGBTQ community and culture thrive.
The GGBA has a long and storied history of fighting for LGBTQ rights, lives, and businesses in the Bay Area, and as the first LGBTQ chamber of commerce in the world, we’re proud to have started a movement that today includes 60 affiliate chambers spanning the globe, over 1600 Certified LGBT Business Enterprise companies, and more than 300 corporate partners from the Fortune 500 and government agencies.
One recent study published by the NGLCC concluded that LGBTQ-owned businesses contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy annually. There’s an incredible potential for transformative change fueled by LGBTQ small businesses in the Bay Area like Café Gabriela. The GGBA aims to tap into that potential by bringing our richly diverse business community together, linking it with our corporate and government partners, and creating a more equitable society for all. Please join us!
For more information about joining the GGBA, visit www.ggba.com/membership
Terry Beswick is the Executive Director of the Golden Gate Business Association.