From Kelly Manjula Koza’s archives: Of the many events I have organized and run, this inaugural LGBTQ+ event from 1997 is one of my favorites. In addition to this event, I helped organize and publicize smaller GLBTQ+ events for the chamber. Prior to moving to Denver, I was a trained peacekeeper for pride marches in Tucson and the founding vice president of the University of Arizona GLBTQ student club.
During the mid-1990’s, I was on the board of directors for the Colorado Business Council, the Denver-area GLBT (the acronym was shorter then!) chamber of commerce. Their name has has since changed; at that time, we could not use the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer in the organization’s name as homophobia was rampant in Colorado. Even some of the chamber’s leaders were not out in the business world and did not want to be publicly identified with the group.
To better integrate the chamber with the community-at-large and other chambers, gain recognition for gay-owned businesses; promote GLBT issues; and serve as a fund-raiser for the organization, friend Anne, also a board member, came up with the idea of initiating an annual awards ceremony lauding gay- and lesbian-owned businesses and community allies.
The inaugural event in 1997 was a huge success, and the awards ceremony ran for about 15 years before being discontinued due to having achieved its long-term goals. As Elfriede, another friend and former board member said, “The awards and ceremony were phased out because we had been able to honor all of the ground-breaking GLBT business owners, and the chamber and GLBT community has become so well integrated into Denver that having distinct awards for GLBT businesses no longer served any purpose.”
I was thrilled to hear this: The inaugural ceremony had been a pet project of mine, and I had been credited with taking the event from conception to reality. At the time, I was CBC’s Director of Special Events and de facto PR director, and I did everything I could to ensure the first event’s success. I managed details large and small, created processes that I knew would set precedents, penned documents, wrote articles and talked with journalists to secure top local publicity, garnered corporate and business sponsorships, and collaborated with other board members to attract politicians and business leaders to the event and ensure their support of the chamber. The event and people were also a great deal of fun!
A few pieces of the local publicity around the event are below.