Members of Southwest Florida’s LGBTQ community and LGBT-friendly business owners celebrated a ribbon cutting Thursday evening for the region’s newest business networking organization: The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce. The chamber was created to promote networking within the region’s LGBT friendly businesses and to promote economic opportunities for chamber members.
Chamber members also aim to promote Southwest Florida as an LGBT-welcoming tourist destination.
Thursday’s ribbon cutting event was held at The Gathering Place in downtown Fort Myers. Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann was the lone elected official in attendance and he delivered a brief address in support of the effort.
Local LGBT rights advocate and chamber co-founder Arlene Goldberg said she wants the chamber to be a welcoming organization for LGBT people and the community’s allies.
“There’s still discrimination against LGBT people when it comes to services, to employment and to housing,” said Goldberg. “So we’re working on that, but since the federal environment right now is so conservative, we feel that working locally will encourage our people to band together and make us strong here. If we’re strong here, I think that’s what matters right now.”
The Harmony Chamber began the evening with 18 business members and Goldberg said the member list is growing. “We have restaurants. We have another company that repairs leather. We have three realtor companies. We have Visuality joined and the Laboratory Theater joined and ACT joined today and all different kinds of companies are joining,” said Goldberg. “We welcome our allies.”
The fledgling chamber is currently a labor of love for Goldberg and other board members with no physical space and no paid staff, but members plan to open a welcome center and hire an executive director in 2018.
The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce will hold its next meeting in May at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.