By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

Out Georgia’s 2020 Community Honors and LGBTQ+ Business is coming up, and we spoke to Chris Lugo, the Executive Director of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance, about switching to virtual programming, how that will effect the business summit and award show, and what inititiaves OUT Georgia is taking to serve even better as Georgia’s only LGBTQ+ and Allied Chamber of Commerce.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work of OUT Georgia this year?

As soon as COVID-19 dramatically escalated in March, OUT Georgia’s leadership made the decision to shift all in-person programming and events to virtual so that we could continue serving our Membership and the LGBTQ+ community in the safest way possible.

For Georgia’s only LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, the pandemic further motivated us to take a hard look at the health of our Member organizations, business development programming, advocacy efforts, and our role in building strong community impact across our state.

Your LGBTQ+ Business Summit and Community Honors events are both online this year because of the pandemic – tell us about the decision to shift everything to virtual?

Our LGBTQ+ Business Summit and Community Awards events are typically OUT Georgia’s biggest and most impactful live events of the year. As we evaluated the reality of the pandemic, ongoing health and safety concerns, and the remaining 2020 calendar, we decided to bring these two events together for the very first time and make the most out of a multi-day virtual event.

As OUT Georgia works to represent and serve more LGBTQ+ businesses, nonprofits, and professionals around the state, a virtual conference was the best way to accommodate and welcome an even wider audience!

What initiatives have taken to make this another stand-out event for OUT Georgia even though we can’t be in-person?

We’ve teamed up with Dunlop Productions, our Board of Directors, and our staff to bring the best of our live signature events to screens all over the state.

OUT Georgia is taking precautions with all pre-recorded content to film in the safest and most responsible manner, and we’ll be using a virtual event platform called CVENT to deliver all our Member-led sessions remotely.

It’ll be hard to replicate an in-person environment, but OUT Georgia is committed to our Members and making this a memorable experience for everyone involved.

Tell us about your decision to drop the titles businessman and businesswoman for the more inclusive businessperson?

OUT Georgia continues to explore how we can best represent and serve our growing constituency of LGBTQ+ and ally businesses, nonprofits, professionals, and leaders across the state of Georgia.

The decision to combine our business woman, man, and person awards into a Business Leader of the Year category was to highlight the best-of-the-best, while recognizing the need to be more inclusive regarding gender expression and identity.

Can you share some of the highlights of the event(s) with us?

We have a meaningful agenda over the course of this three-day virtual event, but I’d like to highlight some elements I think our attendees will really enjoy:

  • Day 1 sessions with LGBTQ Institue, Invest Atlanta, Golden Isles Development Authority, Decide DeKalb, Hierarchy, Transformation Journeys Worldwide, Out on Film, and Counter Narrative Project
  • Virtual Exhibit Hall for LGBTQ+ and allied businesses big and small
  • OUT Georgia’s Most Influential LGBTQ+ Georgians presentation
  • Day 2 sessions with Dalia Kinsley, Dunlop Productions, TierPM, Bruce Logue, Dr. Annise Mabry Foundation, Experience Willow, True Diversity, and UGA Small Business Development Center
  • B2B Matchmaker connecting our certified minority businesses with supplier diversity contacts, as well as encouraging our small businesses to connect with each other
  • Special announcement with United Way of Greater Atlanta about serving the LGBTQ+ community
  • Day 3 wellness sessions with Sisters of Yoga, Dalia Kinsley, and Katie Leikam
  • OUT Georgia’s 2020 Community Honors awards show, shining a spotlight Georgia’s LGBTQ+ businesses, nonprofits, and leaders who are charting significant impact in the categories of Business Leader, Community Leader, Next Gen – Emerging LGBTQ+ Leader, Nonprofit, Corporate LGBTQ+ Ally, Small Business, New Business, Member, and Pivot of the Year!

Looking ahead and in the light of COVID-19; what aspects of your work do you think has changed forever in the light of a pandemic? What would you like to keep on doing even after it is over?

As we look to 2021, OUT Georgia’s focus on economic equity has forever been impacted and sharpened by COVID-19’s devastating and disproportionate impact on LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. We will continue scrutinizing how we deliver our mission, and we’ll absolutely be continuing with a virtual or hybrid approach to our events and educational programs into 2021 and beyond.

The same goes for the business summit and Community Honors events – what elements do you think will prevail?

We’ll know much more after feedback and surveys, but I see our major events always having a virtual or hybrid approach moving forward. This allows us to consider accessibility, health, safety, and inclusion as OUT Georgia continues our statewide growth focus into the years ahead.

Give us the details about the event – when, what, and where

2020 LGBTQ+ Business Summit & Community Honors, presented by Georgia Power
Dates: November 17-19, 2020
Location: Virtual

Info: outgeorgia.org/summit/