Pride in Our Businesses

Dan Nilsen, president and CEO of Kansas City-based Bishop-McCann, is leading a group that is forming the Midwest affiliate chapter of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. It will be called the Mid America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MAGLCC).

Nilsen, whose agency produces meetings and events for corporations and brands worldwide, received the national 2010 National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce/Wells Fargo Business Owner of the Year Award.

The national group describes itself on its website as “the business advocate and direct link between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) business owners, corporations, and government, representing the interests of more than 1.4 million LGBT businesses and entrepreneurs.” They say the group is committed to forming “a broad-based coalition of LGBT owned and friendly businesses, professionals, and major corporations.”

Nilsen said that he has begun establishing a board for the affiliate, made up of people who are well-known in the Kansas City LGBT business community, such as Catherine Kelly, Kevin Bryant, Steve Metzler and Greg Porter. He said that Kelly is also serving on the executive committee, doing some strategic planning.

Nilsen is also drawing on the resources at Bishop-McCann to help launch the group. His chief financial officer, Jim Harrington, will serve on the board, and Abby Hayo, who also works at his agency, will serve as the executive director.

The group has already applied for 501(c)6 status. “I think this will be well-received. I can already kind of tell,” Nilsen said.

The new Mid America affiliate could potentially serve Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma, although the group will start locally.

“We talked about starting with the 435 corridor, obviously Leawood, Overland Park, Kansas City, Mo.,” Hayo said.

Nilsen said they would work with the five state areas initially on a more informal basis as they expand the organization.

The Gateway Business Guild in St. Louis is a similar group, he said, but it is not an affiliate of the NGLCC. Nilsen said, “I think it would be great to complement each other’s efforts, but I certainly don’t want to overlap” with the St. Louis group.

“We’re all about making connections,” he said, “from the standpoint of helping to provide access to LGBT-owned businesses. So that it makes it easier for them to do business with large corporations in town. Hallmark, for example, wants to open their doors to us.”

Nilsen said, “Our number-one initiative is to see corporations … see us as a minority supplier.”

There is always the chance, he said, that LGBT-owned businesses are missing out on contracts because of a good old boy system or perceptions that need to be changed in the workplace.

“Because you have to be honest, we’re speaking for everyone now. We’re speaking for gays or lesbians that could potentially be discriminated against because of their mannerisms,” he said. “It’s potentially that a more feminine male or more masculine female is not going to be comfortable.”

In bigger cities on the East and West Coasts, he said, “The corporations are incentivized to use LGBT-owned businesses, just like they are with any other minority. The problem is that we’re not a visual minority. It’s hard to be able to check that box. You have to have some kind of a certification. And so the certification that is going to work is the NGLCC certification, because you go through a certification process with the NGLCC to be an NGLCC-certified business, which means that you’re 51 percent or more owned by an LGBT member.”

Nilsen said that NGLCC had sent someone out from Washington to certify him when he was applying for membership. “I’m the only one right now in Kansas City and I have been for the last 18 months, about two years.”

He said he has now been trained to certify the businesses, so the national group won’t have to send anybody out anymore.

Nilsen said it makes much more sense to be affiliated with the national chamber than to form an independent group in Kansas City. He said that one benefit to members of the Midwest affiliate would be that the $500 two-year certification fee to join the national group would be waived.

“You have to be affiliated. There are so many benefits to it. For companies here, we can have access to major corporations outside of Kansas City, just being a part of the national organization.”

Nilsen said that the board is still establishing the membership fees for the Midwest affiliate and expects to have them finalized in about 30 days.

“We’re going to have one price for individuals and LGBT-owned businesses and then we’ll have a corporate membership,” said Nilsen.

“The other thing is that the HRC is sending out in their 2012 survey, in order to get a 100 on the corporate equality index, you have to include NGLCC certification as part of their minority supplier diversity program.”

Nilsen said the local affiliate is looking at hosting their first Business Equality Conference in Kansas City on Nov. 10-11, 2011. The event would begin with dinner and cocktails and a chance to meet and network. Then the sessions on Nov. 11 would have business tracks that would follow the pillars of the group’s goals as a chamber: Equality, Inclusion, Economics and Education.

“And the education component, what we’re talking about is potentially a mentoring program,” Nilsen said. “So we would be able to mentor successful LGBT CEOs with maybe new and upcoming LGBT CEOs.”

Mid America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is currently developing its website. For contact information visit For information on the National Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce, visit

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