Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Boston's gay chamber of commerce makes a comeback

Success! Mary Beth from Circulations has come through and I can now link to the story, which ran under the headline "GBBC overcomes turmoil, membership nearly doubles." Click on the heading above to see the article in the BBJ or read on for more context and the full text below.

I've already semi-introduced this story, but now I'll talk about how I came to write it. I came across this story after doing research for our list of chambers of commerce. For those who aren't regular readers of the Boston Business Journal, one of its most popular features is the List. Every week, we feature a different facet of industry: largest caterers, biggest women-led businesses, etc. This year we found that the Greater Boston Business Council jumped up a number of spots on our list. Why? I mentioned to my editor after our reporter's meeting that it was the only chamber of commerce that had a cultural skew (gays and lesbians) rather than a regional skew. We thought this was reason enough for me to write the story, and it would have been interesting enough if it had stopped there.

But after making a few phone calls, I found that the story went deeper: apparently the group had been the subject of a quasi-scandal and libel suit back in 2000 due to a Bay Windows article that laid bare the group's problems with its board members, from petty in-fighting to bad bookkeeping. But due to a very strong new board, they had fought their way back into the good graces of Bostons gay population. It was an interesting story--read on for the full article or click on this article's heading to be taken to the version:

This year saw the Greater Boston Business Council (GBBC), the only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) chamber of commerce in the Boston area and the only culturally based chamber on the Boston Business Journal's top 25 list, rise to the No. 6 slot.

It's been a long climb to the near-top for an organization that in 2000 had fewer than 100 members and $50,000 in debt, but board members say that the changing culture of Boston, coupled with good parties and good business, will ensure the trend continues.

Six years ago, the group "imploded" when its president resigned amid allegations of fraud against another board member that were published in Bay Windows, a newspaper that focuses on gay issues. Board members took sides and members left the GBBC in droves.

"Every time I mentioned the GBBC, I would get an earful," recalls GBBC Vice President Chris Remmes. "People were frustrated with the direction of the group at the time, their lack of focus. They wondered whether the membership was really worth it."

That's when Tony Daniels stepped in. Daniels, now a VP at Sovereign Bank, joined the GBBC soon after it formed in 1990. As a young gay man who wondered if the financial community would ever accept someone like him, it was inspiring to belong. "I saw these (prominent gay bankers) who showed me that I could still be a young, respectable, influential, affluent member of society," he said. Daniels returned to the GBBC years later as a successful banker -- but found that he was one of the only members left.

When he became chairman, he said, he was faced with a daunting job: "Erase somebody else's debt, clean up their bad reputation, and, oh yeah, don't falter when you're doing it ... because you won't get a second chance."

Chris Robinson, publisher of the GLBT magazine IN Newsweekly, had considered quitting the group.

"Tony came in and cleaned it up," said Robinson, who not only stayed but now is a board member.

Daniels' moves included replacing the salaried staff with volunteers.

Board members say that word of mouth has led to the impressive growth of the group, to 1,450 members this year from 1,146 last year.

The board attributes that in part to Daniels having the foresight to seize mutually beneficial opportunities in the business sector.

The North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) first caught the GBBC's attention when it "took a chance on the GLBT community" by offering a dinner and show series called "Out Nights" as part of its subscription, Daniels said.

After the theater was heavily damaged by fire a year ago, the business council cut the theater a check, assisted in advertising and sent members to patronize shows that were relocated to Boston.

"I belong to a couple of other chambers, and this one really takes care of its members," said Jon Kimball, executive producer and creative director at the theater.


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