Supply and diversity

Monty Milburn
By: Mark Hancock

But that’s how Scott Hamilton describes it.

“As grotesque as that was, [it] truly served a positive purpose for Oklahoma City’s LGBT community,” said Hamilton, executive director of Cimarron Alliance. “It was at that point that people started asking, ‘Where am I spending my money?’” It’s a question that, after a fouryear absence, the Diversity Business Association, comprised of LGBTowned or allied businesses, seeks to answer — this time under the auspices of Cimarron Alliance.

The DBA serves as an “LGBT Chamber of Commerce,” Hamilton said, curating and promoting LGBTowned, operated or friendly businesses and service providers.

Qualification as an allied business relies largely on whether a hiring statement declares the employer does not discriminate on sexual orientation or gender identity.

For DBA members, that translates to a sense of trust between business and customer.

“I am a gay-friendly business, so the gay people who come here know I understand their issues and treat them with respect,” said Leslie Blair, an insurance agent with State Farm.

Beyond trust, it also involves a shared respect, DBA organizers say.

“It
brings people together [who] appreciate diversity,” said Monty Milburn,
a realtor and chair of the DBA planning committee. “It doesn’t matter
if you’re gay, if you’re straight, if you’re black or you’re white — it
does not make any difference. As long as you appreciate a diverse
workforce, that’s what it’s all about.”

Millburn
served as president of DBA’s first incarnation, begun in 2004. Staffed
solely by volunteers, the organization grew rapidly, surprising even its
founders.

“We started
DBA as a dream,” Milburn said. “We had no idea it would grow at the
rate it did. You just can’t run an organization that big on 100 percent
volunteers.”

As its
members worked in 2007 and 2008 to maintain their businesses in the
beginnings of the economic downturn, DBA lapsed into a lengthy hiatus.

A
“perfect storm” of conditions in the last quarter of 2012 led Cimarron
Alliance to end that hiatus by bringing DBA into its fold as a fully
supported program.

Through its association with Add Us In, Cimarron Alliance procured a grant from the U.S.
Department of Labor to create an “LGBT Chamber of Commerce” — a DBA —
for Central Oklahoma. A federal initiative, Add Us develops strategies
to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities within
the small business community, with special emphasis on those businesses
owned or operated by minorities — of which LGBT people are included.

For its part, the community seems happy to have DBA
back. Twenty-six members had joined ahead of its official launch party
in January. About 200 people attended the event at PhotoArt Studios,
leaving Hamilton confident the organization will reach its goal of 300
members within one year.In
joining the umbrella of Cimarron Alliance, DBA gains a structure and
foundation not present in its last volunteer-dependent form. The
addition of a paid staff member is also welcome, Milburn said.

On
the horizon are two impending smartphone apps that will house an
easy-to-search directory of LGBT-friendly businesses and a DBA expo to
showcase members’ services and goods.

Scott Hamilton
By: Mark Hancock

The direct service of DBA is to its members, Hamilton said, but indirectly, the entire economy of OKC will be served well.

“We
estimate that there are 60,000 gay people in Oklahoma City alone,” he
said. “The estimated buying power for LGBT people in the metropolitan
area is almost $2.8 billion annually.”

But, Milburn emphasized, there is a larger message.

“This
is not a gay and lesbian business association,” he said. “It is an
association wrapped around the belief that we need a diverse workforce.”

Nicole Hill

This material falls under the archives category because it was imported from our previous website. It will eventually be filtered into the proper category as time allows.

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