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.
“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.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.”