Orlando’s Metropolitan Business Association receives award from National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

By : Billy Manes
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“Even though we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, most of the rest of the community doesn’t know that we exist,” Metropolitan Business Association executive director Kellie Parkin says.

That may not be exactly true. For more than two decades, the organization has been bridging ideological and business-oriented gaps between small and large businesses alike, finding common threads for economic growth within those operations while projecting an inviting atmosphere that surpasses just tolerance across the Greater Orlando region.

The MBA, like most chambers of commerce, is here to foster growth through networking and authenticity, minus the hurdles that can hold LGBTQ businesses – and their allies – back. That, as a result, has brought Orlando one of the largest Pride celebrations in the region via its sister organization Come Out With Pride, which, Parkin says, adding that both the MBA and COWP will be holding their large annual events in October.

When the local MBA chapter was granted the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s highest award – Chamber of the Year – in early May, it was a cause for celebration, Parkin says. But then, most MBA events are celebrations, so it wasn’t too far of a leap.

“The biggest reason is we’re ensuring equality through economics. We all want equality and we all want business,” Parkin says. “We come together, we socialize.”

Though, behind the scenes, making that equality come to life requires a sometimes complex cat’s cradle of diverse forces moving in one direction. The group has recently added JP Morgan Chase, Tupperware Brands and the Orlando Magic – notably owned by the conservative DeVos family, but staffed by LGBTQ employees and allies.

“I’ve seen some individuals and some businesses come out and say we support you,” Parkin, who just started in her position less than a year ago, says. “I think the Orlando Magic is one of those businesses. Of course the employees have always been supportive. But for management to say yes, we support you and we’re going to be involved, I think that’s a big deal for our community.”

And as niche as a gay chamber may sound, the group is always expanding its circles of influence. Parkin says that she is a member of the Supplier Diversity Council, formed by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as a means of bringing the fringes of the region’s cultural disparity together, fighting on the same playing field. She says that Orlando Health, Wyndham Worldwide, Universal/NBC and Disney are all at the table. Collaboration is key, and having access to contracts in the same statute-oriented manner as other minorities can only advance equality, she says. Likewise, the group has been creating inroads with such local lynchpins as Lockheed Martin, assisting their employee resource groups in finding proper resources to connect transgender residents with the proper paths toward fair identification via the Southern Legal Counsel and Orange County Legal Aid society, she says. Another ID event is planned for the fall.

“MBA Orlando is creating new, exciting opportunities for its members and for local businesses to thrive throughout Central Florida,” said Justin Nelson, NGLCC Co-Founder and President, in a statement. “Executive Director Kellie Parkin, and the dedicated Board of Directors and volunteers, have fostered consistent growth in membership, programming, and corporate partnerships, and inspiringly served as a valued hub of support for the entire Orlando community following the Pulse Nightclub tragedy. We are proud to have them as our local partner, and stand shoulder-to shoulder with MBA Orlando in the important work of certifying our businesses, connecting our communities, and working toward the full inclusion of LGBT businesses in Orlando and Orange County contracting opportunities.”

Parkin is honored by the recognition, she says, especially for an organization she is so new to – she’s a former journalist – and one that has been around for a quarter of a century. But it’s important to remember that the mission of the MBA isn’t one of glad-handing big businesses that do not support the LGBTQ community.

“You don’t have to be gay; you do have to be an ally,” she says. “We are definitely an inclusive group, we welcome people from the LGBT community and we welcome allies, we’re all-inclusive, however there is an important part that you need to be gay-friendly.”

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