Original Story on ABC-7's site (with Video)
Leaders of the LGBTQ community are marking Southwest Florida as a place to live and do business and have created an LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.
Their mission is to promote gay-friendly businesses.
Gay activist Arlene Goldberg said she constantly receives phone calls from people all over the country asking for gay attorneys and even "gayborhoods" in Southwest Florida.
Goldberg and friend Sue Christiano have just created Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce for that reason.
Both women said the biggest question they get is why a gay chamber is needed in the first place.
Their answer is simple. They said the gay community here is growing quickly and its members want to do business in a safe environment.
They also want gay tourists to feel welcomed.
Roy Yonkers and his husband moved from Raleigh-Durham to Fort Myers a year ago and opened Barks and Bubbles along US-41 last October.
It’s a do-it-yourself dog wash complete with tubs and shampoo.
“It's definitely a dog-friendly city,” Yonkers said.
He said business is booming - and that's not all he discovered.
“It's a very gay-friendly community,” Yonkers noted.
He and his partner were excited to learn there is now an LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.
Its mission is to attract gay business owners like Yonkers to relocate here.
“We're looking at hotels, catering, florists, ministers who are LGBTQ friendly,” Christiano said.
She and Goldberg hope the growing LGBTQ community will even have its own "gayborhood" - a neighborhood of primarily gay people.
“I think that downtown Fort Myers will be that place,” Goldberg said.
She said the downtown area is attractive to the gay community.
“It's a very active area. They have Art Walk, Music Walk, all kinds of things downtown. That attracts people. That also attracts the LGBTQ community,” Goldberg said.
Tony Clark is also banking on that prediction.
He opened up the Gathering Place, a gay-owned restaurant, in downtown Fort Myers, and is proud to be part of the new gay chamber.
“It gives people in our community, if they need any kind of assistance, somewhere to go where they know they're accepted,” Clark said.
That acceptance is something the Harmony Chamber hopes all businesses will embrace.
“We need to pull together as a group so that we can network,” Goldberg said.
Right now, the Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce is virtual, their website open to the world. As their membership grows, plans call for opening up an office in downtown Fort Myers.