In December of 2006, Christianna Flynn saw a need to give Hampton Roads LGBT business owners, consumers and professionals a place to meet, exchange ideas and resources and support each other in a professional business setting outside the existing social environments of the community. She contacted all the advertisers in the Lambda Directory and held a meeting at the Pretlow Library in Ocean View to gauge the interest in creating the area’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Her idea was warmly received those in attendance, and the Hampton Roads GLBT and GLBT Friendly Chamber of Commerce began to form.
Early in 2007 planning meetings were held and the group contacted Kate Karameighan at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce for guidance. In the following months a dedicated group of 10 individuals met on a by-weekly basis and establish an aggressive goal of a May launch. This would become the inaugural board of directors. They were: Christianna Flynn, President; Shannon Bowman, Vice-President; Heather Staples, Treasurer; Pat Mulligan, Secretary; Cindy Cutler, Gail Padon, Sherrise Powers, Michael Hamar, Melanie Brown and Don King.
March and April of 2007 were consumed with logistics. Incorporation with the state corporation commission was accomplished; domain names were obtained and a website was developed; by-laws written; and a May 9th gala launch celebration was set at Norfolk’s Town Point Club. The directors adopted HRBOR’s wave logo as an homage to the area’s maritime heritage and adopted the tagline “Developing diversity, creating community” to promote the mission ideal of inclusion in the community. The chamber’s official title of Hampton Roads Business OutReach grew from the consistent thread of inclusion versus exclusion – welcoming all businesses willing to support the mission:
Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR) is a broad based coalition of LGBT owned and LGBT supportive businesses and professionals dedicated to the development, growth and advocacy of Hampton Roads and its LGBT community. By promoting an environment in which diversity can flourish, HRBOR is committed to the economic growth and prosperity of our members and our community.
Planning for the launch occurred in tandem with establishing a slate of ongoing events to engage the members and accomplish the organizations goals. Membership levels were developed, invitations were sent, committees were formed, press releases were written and the group’s tireless efforts were rewarded with over 200 enthusiastic supporters in attendance at its launch event.
To help establish a base of funding for the fledgling organization, a special category of membership was established known as Founding Members. Limited to 30, these businesses saw the value HRBOR offered and believed in the mission it hoped to accomplish. Their faith and financial support allowed HRBOR to institute the necessary infrastructure to grow and develop. The organization will forever be in their debt for their confidence and vision.
Beginning in June 2007, HRBOR’s signature networking events began. “Third Thursday” became not only the date for this and all future events, but also the event’s moniker. Founding member Bank of the Commonwealth who had also sponsored the gala launch hosted the premiere event in their Virginia Beach location. Eager new members lined up to host future events. Within a single month, paid memberships reached over 50. Within the first year, all 30 Founding Member openings were filled and the board of directors welcomed its first new members: Stacey Allin, Nicole Carry and Robert Ianucci.
In the first year, members and guests were treated to a variety of locales for the monthly networking event ranging from local PBS station and Founding Member WHRO’s studios to law offices, dance studios, new construction condominium sites, the iconic Virginia Stage at the Wells Theater and Decorum Furniture (who would become the final Founding Member and one of HRBOR’s first sponsors).
The whirlwind first year of HRBOR culminated in an elegant first anniversary event at the Norfolk Sheraton Waterside on the waterfront in downtown Norfolk. Justin Nelson, President of the NGLCC was in attendance and gave the keynote address.
In May of 2010 the NGLCC awarded HRBOR its Rising Star Chamber of the Year award. An NGLCC representative presented the award to newly elected board President Nicole Carry at the monthly Third Thursday networking event honoring HRBOR’s 3rd year anniversary hosted by Decorum Furniture. Almost 300 people were in attendance to mark this auspicious occasion.
HRBOR continues to grow and diversify. Our networking events are known to be the most welcoming and well attended in the area. Other organizations and government entities reach out to as a resource for our community. We have a strong presence in local higher education and actively mentor upcoming business leaders from the area’s colleges and universities.
Join HRBOR and expose your business to one of the area’s most loyal and diverse market segments – you won’t be disappointed!