The Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (GFLGLGC) made history last in September when it took part in the very first, U.S. Government-backed, LGBT Trade Mission to Bogotá, Colombia.  GFLGLCC President and CEO Keith Blackburn represented the Chamber at the Sept. 11-15 mission, led by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

“The delegation included 12 representatives from the LGBT business community, corporate partners, and non-profit leaders from the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina,” Blackburn says. “I was the only representative from Florida and the GFLGLCC.”

Blackburn and the other delegates also took part in the first-ever LGBT Summit of the Americas, held in conjunction with the Trade Mission.

“Being a part of the Trade Mission to Colombia was an incredible experience,” says Blackburn. “Everyone I came into contact with was fully dedicated to the success of the Trade Mission and the Summit of the Americas. The goals of the Trade Mission were all accomplished and in addition, I made several business contacts with LGBT business owners, which I believe will benefit our members and Greater Fort Lauderdale. Discussions are currently underway to explore business opportunities with our Colombian counterparts.”

Among the participants in the Colombia Trade Summit was the Honorable P. Michael McKinley, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. Ambassador and Mrs. McKinley attended the closing reception, where he met Blackburn and other delegates.

“Ambassador McKinley was personally interested in my feedback after the conclusion of the Trade Mission. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá is the second largest of all U.S. Embassies, with about 4,500 people assigned there. I was very honored that Ambassador McKinley took time to meet with me personally. He also gave the keynote address at the Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce launch at the end of the LBGT Summit of the Americas. Luis Fernando Rosas Londoño, Director of the Instituto Distrital de Turismo in Bogotá, Colombia also spoke during this event. Argentina’s Ambassador to Colombia, Celso Alejandro Jaque, attended the LBGT Summit of the Americas as well.”

In 2010 a NGLCC-led visit to Argentina helped establish that country’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce.  Last month’s Trade Mission to Bogotá led to the official launch of the

Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce. According to Blackburn, “the Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce grew from the interest of local LGBT business owners in Bogotá and the desire of LBGT rights organizations like Colombia Diversa to expand their engagement. NGLCC cofounders visited Colombia in October 2011 and met with business leaders and US embassy representatives in order to begin planning the launch of a Colombia LGBT chamber. Currently a board of directors is in place, which includes Virgilio Barco, Executive Director of the Social Investment Bank and Co-Founder and President of the Board of Colombia Diversa as well as the co-owners of GayHills, Andrés Alberto Vásquez Moreno and Felipe Cardenas Gonzalez. Felipe is serving as the first President of the Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce and with the board looks forward to growing a strong membership of LGBT businesses and corporations committed to diversity and inclusion throughout Colombia.”

As part of the trade mission, NGLCC-certified businesses took part in the U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Services’ Gold Key program, which organizes matchmaking meetings during government-certified trade missions.

Blackburn “met with eight different agencies regarding travel and tourism from Colombia to Greater Fort Lauderdale. These meetings were set up with the help and assistance of the Department of Commerce and the US Embassy in Bogotá. The meetings gave me the opportunity to sell Greater Fort Lauderdale as a great tourism destination. I also had the opportunity to meet with local real estate professionals and learn about investments in Colombia, while opening up avenues to bring Colombian investors to Broward County.”

During the Trade Mission Blackburn and other North American delegates joined their Colombian hosts as well as representatives from Argentina and Brazil in the first-ever LGBT Summit of the Americas. Hosted by the NGLCC-United States, the Summit “sought to build awareness around the growing LBGT business community and strengthen ties between national LGBT chambers of commerce throughout North and South America. Programming included a global workplace diversity roundtable for corporate executives, and a presentation by Google on building your business's online presence which was directed at Colombian LGBT businesses and Trade Mission delegates. The final day of the LGBT Summit of the Americas (Friday, Sept. 14th) included a meeting of chamber leaders, a presentation on LGBT rights, LGBT travel and tourism, fully-inclusive supplier diversity and the official launch of the Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce.”

According to Blackburn, “the NGLCC will continue to work closely with the Colombian affiliate, as it has with the Argentine chamber, as they build their programming and seek to increase trade opportunities between our countries. Representatives from the Latin American affiliates will be participating in the NGLCC's upcoming 10th Anniversary National Dinner in Washington, DC on November 16th. The NGLCC looks forward to leading another trade mission and is currently researching which region holds the most potential for its members.”