First Published: December 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
With gay professional networking all the rage, OutUK's Adrian Gillan asks if we aren't turning into queer versions of the Masons or whether a gay mafia isn't such a bad thing in a predominantly straight world.
"Dressing in daft costumes and talking in a private language sounds like an average night out in Soho to me," roars newly appointed and besuited Gay Business Association Chair Ross Jackson hilariously, tugging away at his trouser leg with a rather strange nudge and a wink.

The Gay Business Association (GBA) offers shameless networking opportunities to any gay person in the world of work, as well as information and training and the promotion of gay issues more widely.

Ross Jackson
GBA Chair Ross Jackson
"Networking is one of the main keys to success for any business," Jackson holds forth from our secluded table at the rear of a top gay cafe. "People buy from people, so it's simply good business practice to socialise with potential clients. In the long-term, done well, networking can be the source of over a third of a business' revenue. It has also been the source of over a third of my recent boyfriends."
And if the GBA is the more traditional face of gay business networking, there's a whole new breed of networks springing up mixing the virtual with the real world. Businessman and former gay darling of the Tory Party Ivan Massow set up Jake not only to promote his latest financial venture but also to provide a gay equivalent of the networking evenings which sprang up during the dot-com boom years. Jake
What started as an online community now holds regular events round the country where gay professionals can meet as Jake director Alex Sass explains "We are here because we have something in common so lets exploit this to each other's benefit."

Genius was a Dutch gay network which started in 1996 and now a former board member Alfred Verhoeven has started an international equivalent called 6PC which already has 800 members. Again the aim is simple - setting up an international network of gay professionals for the exchange of information, to get assistance on private or business matters, answers to questions, support, friendship. But Alfred says it's not all about business "The Network is dubbed professional but equally serves personal and social purposes. The network is also virtual, so there are no scheduled meetings. However, members are free to contact other members in their region or when travelling."

When it comes to gay business, there's no doubt that sex does come into it, but probably no more so than in the straight world. "Apart from the fact that we dress and talk better," the GBA's Ross Jackson elaborates wryly, "gay networking is similar to the Mafia in that it sometimes really is the size of your 'weapon' that determines how far you get. It's as old as the hills, though maybe not as old as some of the people you'll meet if you try to sleep your way up."

"But," Jackson cautions, exhaling a cloud of smoke into my face, "I'd have to say from experience that I wouldn't recommend trying to sleep your way to the top - they always recognise the cash registers in your eyes despite what you say about liking their personality. Don't imagine being gay is enough - business always comes first."

"The real 'power brokers' in the gay world," he opines, "fall into four main categories - the HIV lobby from Terrence Higgins Trust to the National Aids Trust; the political lobby from Stonewall to Tatchell; the publishers and media owners from Chronos to Prowler-Millivres; and the super-clubs from Heaven to G-A-Y. Maybe Mardi Gras will once again regain a position of power in the near future too, though it took a bit of a wounding with last year's debacle."

And he adds as the coffee pours freely: "Specific gay professional associations exist to defend their members against discrimination, provide social opportunities and are doubtless, occasionally, where deals are done and promotions won. The GBA acts as an umbrella organisation for all of them, in the same way as the CBI or TUC bring together their own specialist interest organisations."

"We're certainly far from being conservative & reactionary, or some kind of new 'gay right'," Jackson defends. "But if people think we're all just a load of guppies getting it together, let them. I think 'gays looking after their own' in a hostile world is a perfectly legitimate concept. ...and there's no law against it."


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