The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association has spent the past 35 years connecting the LGBTI business community. Matthew Wade spoke with President Mark Haines about the landmark anniversary.

Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Business Association (SGLBA) has been helping to form an out and proud gay business community since the foundations for the organisation were laid out in late 1980, and it’s now geared to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

Back then the late Michael Glynn, founder and owner of the then-Sydney Star newspaper, decided to establish an association of business people to promote the interests of gay businesses.

The first meeting was only attended by approximately 40 people however it sparked the first active Sydney LGBTI business networking event, which has since made major strides in the gay business community.

Current President of SGLBA Mark Haines said it felt incredible to reach such a landmark.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for any volunteer-led organisation to have a presence and to make a difference over such a long time, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.

In recent years the organisation has not only held its long-running social networking events, but has also partnered with organisations such as LinkedIn, Telstra, and Google to provide its members with opportunities to grow their professional network and to gain knowledge.

They’ve also helped raise funds for Australian Marriage Equality, Pride in Diversity, PFLAG, and Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International to name a few.

Despite the ongoing necessity for organisations like SGLBA, Haines believes the LGBTI community has changed substantially since it was first established.

“You don’t need to meet in secret anymore,” he said.

“The LGBTI business community is now integrated into the regular business community, there isn’t an underground LGBTI business community anymore.

“And this shift is a clear acknowledgment of the contribution that LGBTI businesses make to the broader community.”

Haines added that LGBTI people in business need to continue being acknowledged in the wider community.

“Our members are everyday members of the broader community from all different backgrounds,” he said.

“We are as much a part of the business community as anyone else – we’re in banking, web design, landscaping, and so on.

“What’s really important is that we’re all just part of the community now which is a huge difference.”

Looking ahead to the next 35 years, Haines said he hopes the organisation continues to build on what it has already fostered and ensure it always stays on track with current trends.

“We have a new website being launched within the next two months which will replace our outdated one,” he said.

“We need to make sure we always look at current market trends and adapt and reinvent ourselves from time to time.

“One of things we’ve tried to focus on over the last couple of years is increasing the diversity of people at our events – we don’t just need LGBTI people at events, we need everyone there because increasing diversity also increases opportunities for who we partner with.”

Reflecting on the organisation’s past 35 years, Haines said the most significant change has been around erasing the distinct line between LGBTI businesses and non-LGBTI businesses and their members.

“I think initially when we were formed we were there to service LGBTI people in business,” he said.

“Whereas now the direction we need to take is about integration, not isolation.

“Before we had to operate in isolation from the broader business community, because some people were uncomfortable, but now it’s about integration which turns into education for the broader community.

“When we have functions attended by LGBTI people as well as their allies, those allies can leave becoming greater advocates within their businesses.”

The celebrate the SGLBA’s 35th Anniversary, a cocktail celebration and fundraiser will be held on Wednesday 19 April, at The Den Lounge, Ivy.

The anniversary will be hosted by Sydney Drag royalty, Candy Box, with guest performers Greg Gould, Shauna Jenson, and Nick Summerfield.

There’ll be guest speakers and a live auction with exciting prizes.

Ticket prices are just $45 members and $60 non-members and are on sale now at Eventbrite, with proceeds from the ticket sales helping the SGLBA support the LGBTI community and business through the Good Works fund.

To purchase tickets click here.

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