The gay Business Owners of Atlanta met Tuesday to discuss its main mission: educating the public and the community to support local gay-owned businesses in the city.

Some 20 people were present at Jungle for the meeting of the new group, including Bev Cook, owner of the Heretic; promoter Chris Coleman; Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse owner Philip Rafshoon; William Duffee-Braun, editor of Fenuxe magazine; Marci Alt of Carma Productions; Cain Williamson of the Atlanta Pride Committee; and representatives of Brushstrokes, Oscar’s and Woofs.

Those at the meeting decided coming up with a mission statement is a top priority and all seemed in agreement that the BOA should focus on gay business owners rather than become a networking group such as the Atlanta Executive Network or the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Gay business owners to community: Shop, drink local

“We need to educate people on shopping and drinking in their own community’s businesses,” Rafshoon said. “We need to educate on the importance of supporting local businesses — that’s a really big component.”

Heretic owner Cook said the BOA should find ways to target young people as well.

“They need to appreciate our community a little more,” she said, adding that many younger people go to straight bars that have gay nights rather than becoming regulars at existing gay bars. “If we don’t do something, we’ll see gay bars debunked in 10 years.”

Fundraisers planned

Meeting attendees also made plans for three upcoming events to raise funds for the BOA and perhaps charities of its choice. Funds from the first fundraiser, to be called “Drag Bosses” and held at Jungle on April 12, will go toward costs of registering as a non-profit with the state.

“Drag Bosses” will have gay bar and businesses owners — who don’t normally do drag — dressing up in drag and competing to be the best “Drag Boss.”

While details are still left to be sorted out, funds raised from this event will be used toward the approximate $1,000 needed to register the BOA as a non-profit with the state, said Chip O’Kelley, who is in charge of marketing and promotions for Southern Voice newspaper and David magazine.

The Secretary of State’s website says costs for filing procedures for nonprofits include a $25 fee to reserve the name, plus a $100 filing fee and a $30 annual fee listing the three principal officers of the organization.

O’Kelley said today the $1,000 includes legal fees and that while he had not checked into what the actual registration fees were for the state, that was a price quoted to him by an attorney.

Those attending the meeting wanted to also ensure the organization did not become an Atlanta Executive Network or an Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which are designed for networking. The BOA should be for gay business owners specifically (not gay-friendly business owners) but still be open to outside corporate sponsorships, such as beer and liquor vendors.

“I am trying to fight to keep the gay identity in Atlanta,” said Matt Neumann, publisher of David magazine and Southern Voice.

“We are representing gay businesses and representing them politically. We’re here to represent the gay identity of Atlanta to the world,” Neumann added.

Working with, not against, Atlanta Pride

The BOA had been dormant for about two years before being revived by Neumann. He told Project Q Atlanta on Monday that his company is planning another relaunch of Southern Voice after the newspaper has not published since early December.

Plans are in the works for the BOA to hold a “White Party,” perhaps at the Botanical Gardens, at the end of June to complement the Atlanta Pride Committee’s Stonewall Week and a river expo down the Chattahoochee River in August. Some money made from these events would also be donated to local nonprofits.

Working with Atlanta Pride is a far cry from many of the bar owners’ complaints about the festival that were voiced in November when the BOA met with Atlanta Pride Executive Director James Parker Sheffield and Pride Board Chair Cain Williamson. Then, some of the bar and business owners complained about Pride being moved out of June and said they felt Pride had not done enough to reach out to them to invite them to support the festival.

At Tuesday’s meeting, bar owners seemed ready to work with Atlanta Pride. However, there is a sting still felt by some with Atlanta Pride being in October rather than June.

“The issue with Atlanta is that over the past couple years there has been nothing to do over Gay Pride Weekend,” said Heidi Reis of Carma Productions. “[The White Party] can help bring back people in that we lost.”

“And in no way would we indicate we are in competition,” said Williamson of Atlanta Pride.

Stonewall Week is typically held for human rights events rather than parties, he added.

Neumann revived the BOA in September, when he pushed to put on another event to compete with Atlanta Pride after his company was shut out of participating in the event.

Atlanta Pride excluded Southern Voice and David magazine from the fest because the publications’ leadership includes O’Kelley and Chief Financial Officer Brian Sawyer.
Sawyer and O’Kelley organized a Pearl Days fundraiser at Six Flags in September 2009, promising Atlanta Pride would receive $5,000 in exchange for supporting the for-profit event.

However, Pearl Days was a bust and Pride and two other beneficiaries — CHRIS Kids and Pets Are Loving Support — did not receive the promised donations, Project Q reported in March 2010.

“There were people who did buy tickets and did that believing that they were supporting local non-profit groups – three very well-established LGBT non-profit groups. That is unfortunate that people believed that by buying a ticket that they were supporting our organization and it didn’t work out that way,” Sheffield told Project Q at the time.