Atlanta gay business group charts new direction in name, networking

On Jan. 1, AEN will become the Metro Atlanta Association of Professionals, or MAAP.

“Our goal is to provide the highest quality networking environment for the region’s LGBT and allied community,” Harkleroad says.

When AEN first started, invitations were sent by mail “with no indications of the contents of the envelope,” he says.

“The world in which this group was formed was very different from today’s business environment. It was somewhat rare for a person to be open about his or her sexual orientation. The work environment was far more corporate in nature and the exponential growth of small and medium-sized businesses was just beginning,” he says.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer the law of the land and LGBT people do not just live in the bubble of Midtown but make their homes throughout metro Atlanta, Harkleroad adds.

The new changes with AEN/MAAP will begin its roll out during Atlanta Pride weekend Oct. 12-13 where the group will have a booth in the marketplace to educate and inform interested people.

Harkleroad answered a few questions about the changes to AEN/MAAP ahead of its official name change in January.

What makes this a good time to change the name and direction of AEN to MAAP?

Community need would be the primary reason this is a good, even great, time to move in a new direction. There is a very real need to have a place where current and aspiring business people can come together to meet, strategize, and network with one another.

The change in name came into being as a result of some research indicating that the “executive” portion of the prior name was very often misunderstood, and caused people to have an incorrect impression of what the group might be about. Furthermore, the “metro” was included because we are approaching the third year of providing programming outside of Midtown Atlanta. Often times these events have been larger than meetings in the city.

There is no direct reference to being an LGBT group in the new organization’s name because we actively welcome persons that fall outside that overly specific sphere. All people allied with our mission are welcome, and we want them to know that. 

How is membership currently and do you hope the changes will help draw in new members?

Present membership is strong, and we are confident that we can build upon this solid base. It is our sincere belief that the changes will engage people from underserved areas of our community.

We know that the opportunities and benefits of networking provide value to those who participate, and there can be exponential growth with each new member and partner. We also plan to utilize the talents of our members in volunteer capacities to create an organization that is more grassroots. 

We want to create a group that is involved much more than just once a month. There is presently an opportunity for those that join now to have their annual membership extended through the end of 2014, giving them three additional months at no cost. 

What, if any, immediate changes will people notice about the group when it is relaunched?

The meetings will share some similarities to AEN meetings, however there will be a much greater emphasis on location choices that are outside of what has been the norm for AEN. Also there will be additional programming such as business development classes, weekend brunches and more.