A farewell tribute to GSDBA

Posted: June 22nd, 2018 | #LGBTB2B, Columns, Community Voices, Featured | 2 Comments

By Michelle Burkart | #LGBTB2B

June is Pride month. June is also the first month that 39 years ago, the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA) promoted with Pride, the economic empowerment of the LGBT business community since its founding in May 1979.

It was a very different time then, but those founding members persevered to grow the organization into one of the most respected, and, at one time, second largest LGBT business chamber of commerce in the nation with close to 950 active members.

As one who has held every position available in the organization from volunteer, active member, committee volunteer, committee chair, board of director member, BOD executive member, board chair, Western Business Alliance (WBA) representative, NGLCC business certification liaison, and interim CEO, I wanted to share the highlights of what GSDBA has done to support its members, and to provide the bridge to the San Diego business community. I worked with a fantastic group of members, and board members throughout my tenure from 1998 to 2013 to help to build a strong, viable, well-funded, multi-faceted business organization that we are all proud to have been a part.

In May of 1979, the GSDBA was started with just 21 members. In August of that same year, the GSDBA published its first business directory; it was 16 pages with 67 businesses. By 2009, the membership had grown to close to 950 members and 32,000 directories with 302 pages of LGBT business advertising and community resources distributed throughout San Diego County.

In talking with Marci Bair, Bair Financial Planning, a former 25-year member, she reflected on when she started the Women’s Power Breakfasts in 1991 for LGBT women business owners, which helped to further integrate the business mixers. In 1993-94, she started the first weekly Business Networking Groups (BNG), which provided a lead referral opportunity for members. By 2010, her BNG idea had grown to over 12 active groups countywide.

In reminiscing with Eric Brown, Waddell & Reed, a former board chair, he spoke of the challenge in 2005 of starting the Corporate Outreach program to engage sponsorship of GSDBA. It was a long journey, but by 2013, we had established a $100,000 annual Corporate Sponsorship program that was turned over to the new CEO in 2014. The corporations benefitted by the diversity supplier support exposure, and GSDBA increased revenues by $100,000 per year to benefit its members. These partner programs are helpful to chamber members. Currently, by comparison, GSBA, the LGBT chamber in Seattle has developed a program that raises close to $750,00 per year in annual sponsorships.

So, in looking back with Pride, here are a just a few of the GSDBA accomplishments that I experienced during my membership tenure from 1998 to 2013:

  • GSDBA’s new CEO, Joyce Marieb, and the board of directors’ mission was to build an organization that would not only promote B2B networking, or mixers, but would provide goals to educate the LGBT business owner to thrive, to learn how to run a successful operation, and to take their place in the greater San Diego business community. Her background of being a business owner, a corporate regional trainer of operations for franchisees, and a highly regarded educator supported that mission.
  • GSDBA became the first LGBT chamber of commerce in the nation to develop a Memorandum of Understanding with the Small Business Administration from 2000 to 2014.
  • GSDBA committees were formalized in membership, marketing, programs & events, BNG facilitators, business development, and Pride & CityFest booth planning so members could participate in the organization and volunteer on committees.
  • GSDBA sponsored a Pride and a CityFest booth annually so members could advertise their services and volunteer in the booth to promote GSDBA. This was unfortunately discontinued in 2012.
  • June annual membership dinner meetings were formerly established to induct new board of directors and share in the year’s successes. Formal elections were held in May. Added to this in 2006 was the annual Business Awards dinner.
  • GSDBA assisted in the development of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and to start the NGLCC chamber affiliate council
  • Business planning workshops were provided on a quarterly or monthly basis to provide trainings in social media, marketing, finance, strategic planning for the members.
  • Western Business Alliance (WBA) was formed to include the 22 LGBT chambers in the western region, which have monthly conference calls and annual meetings.
  • GSDBA launched the LGBT Supplier Diversity Initiative in partnership with the NGLCC to assist LGBT business to become certified business enterprises and expand their opportunities in contracting and procurement.
  • The first annual “Marketing from Gay to Z” trade show was launched to attract over 400 participants from the LGBT and San Diego business community.
  • The Corporate Outreach committee was established to develop a corporate sponsorship program developing $100,000 in sponsorship to GSDBA by 2013.
  • GSDBA was the 2006 winner of the National Chamber of the Year award presented by the NGLCC.
  • GSDBA grew revenues from $11,000 in 1999 to a $500,000-plus operational budget annually by 2010. In addition, we set aside a $585,000 reserve fund from 2000-2010 to support the sustainability of the organization. The membership grew from 300 to 950 active members in 2010.
  • The GSDBA Directory was revamped in 2013 and showed a 20 percent increase in profit from sales. The “Community” newsletter was rebranded and provided monthly advertising opportunities for members. General restructure of operations and revenues were completed for the new CEO in 2014.

When asked what I will miss most about the GSDBA?

What I will miss most for our community, is the loss of a dedicated “business oriented” organization that can promote the economic contributions of our LGBTQ community to the city, the state, and the nation. For 39 years, GSDBA has been a strong voice of economic advocacy, which was respected and heard when it came to the importance the LGBTQ business entrepreneur having a “seat at the table.” It had validated statistics from the NGLCC of proven economic impact of $1.7 trillion dollars, and 33,000 jobs that surprised and often gained respect of those who doubted our right to be a part of the nation.

Our members can be a B corporation, which promote socially conscious cultures; or now LGBT-certified businesses that are provided mandated spends to compete. When there is a strong economic arm of a community, it can provide support for other areas of need in that community.

Michelle Burkart

We already have community organizations that speak to “social justice” or “political impact.” We do not need another one. We need a continued strong economic voice to fight for the LGBT business owner.

I feel so very fortunate that I was a member of GSDBA when that was true. Farewell GSDBA … you made us all proud.

Michelle Burkart is the principal at Diversity Supplier Alliance. Questions? Reach her at For more information on LGBTBE certification visit


  1. Nan Hoback says:

    Great article on GSDBA’s past success. As a member in the early 2000’s I grew my companies with the support of their many programs offered in San Diego. We have great photographs of the annual Christmas on the Bay and the hundreds of members singing “taking care of business” on the Pride float! Our Thanks to the past leaders of GSDBA.

  2. Barbra Blake says:

    I agree, great article on GSDBA’s past success (before 2010), but it is a bit misleading. We did not close the organization. Please be assured that the San Diego LGBTQ & Ally Chamber of Commerce is still up and running. We modernized the best of GSDBA and added new programs and benefits to expand the relevancy, reach and influence of the organization and the prosperity of our members. Following the “update” we changed the name to “San Diego Equality Business Association” to better reflect what binds our LGBTQ and Ally business members together, our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.

    Join us at Pride and BuyLGBTQ!

    In Pride
    Barbra Blake

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