Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings San Diego

Greater San Diego Business Association: Contributing to Growth and Prosperity for All

May 30, 2011 09:33PM ● By Lee Walker

“If you aren’t at the table, then you’re on the menu,” quips Tom Luhnow, CEO of the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA), home to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “This analogy is just a lighthearted one that we use to tell our present and potential members why it’s not only important to belong to our chamber for the sake of our business community, but also to be active in it, so that their voice is heard.”

Founded in 1979 by concerned individuals who wanted their voices heard within the business community during San Diego’s more conservative history, GSDBA today is 800 members strong, and growing. “In the early 1970s, gay and lesbian business owners didn’t have any political clout, were frequently denied a business license and suffered from discrimination in the workplace,” advises Luhnow. Today, both the present and future look promising: Luhnow notes that GSDBA is home to the second largest gay and lesbian chamber in the U.S., second only to Seattle, which has 1,000 members.

Through the years, GSDBA and its members have been involved in many community-based struggles. Among them were taking on the responsibility of the Harvey Milk Scholarship Fund in 1979; addressing the University of California in support of Dr. Chris Matthews, founder of the Owens Clinic; hosting a number of mayoral and city council election debates; tackling employment discrimination in 1984; defeating Proposition 64, the LaRouche AIDS initiative, in 1986; and joining the San Diego Chamber of Commerce in 1993. Additionally, GSBDA supported the lifting of the ban on gays and lesbians in the military and the advocacy of marriage equality.

Still busy working for members politically, GSDBA was at the table when City Council redistricted the Hillcrest area. “Much of the area around this district is home to many gay and lesbian business owners, and we succeeded in getting a member of our community elected to the council,” says Luhnow. “Since then, we’ve had the same success with two other individuals that have followed one another consecutively, giving us a consistent voice in City Council,” says Luhnow, who notes GSDBA members are currently participating in another redistricting effort.

Recognized for its fun and lively networking events that give members an opportunity to socialize at local business establishments such as theaters, restaurants, retail stores and banks, GSBDA is also an advocate for educating members via workshops such as Beyond the Basics of ‘Gay Marketing,’ taking place from 9 to 11 a.m., June 7, at the Handlery Hotel & Resort, in San Diego. The research-based workshop will educate members about how San Diego businesses can attract a greater share of business from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visitors and residents. “Our networking gatherings generally draw approximately 200 individuals, all of which are not necessarily members, nor gay or lesbians,” remarks Luhnow. “Many of our straight members join to show their support.”

Luhnow recalls a conversation he had with a straight woman at a recent network gathering. “She was single and said she particularly appreciated having our directory, because she could feel safe knowing that she could trust one of our members to be a reputable service person when she needed one,” says Luhnow. “This reminded me of a recent LGBT national poll, which demonstrated that members of the LGBT community prefer to work with businesses that are LGBT-friendly. Trust is a big factor in any business, and it’s always comforting to collaborate with someone who values you.”

GSDBA members contribute to the growth and prosperity of the San Diego region. Membership is encouraged and welcomed from anyone who supports equality for all people and from those who seek the opportunities GSDBA can provide in business support, networking, advertising, professional growth and business resources.

A founding member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), GSDBA takes an active role in national level programs to meet the needs of small businesses. All GSDBA members are automatically enrolled as members of NGLCC, with access to financial, procurement and advocacy programs.

Contact GSDBA at 619-296-4543 or email [email protected]. Visit