Southern California Equality Business Alliance (SCEBA) was only a few months from completing a three year mentorship program and applying for a tax exempt status.
Eddie Reynoso is well known in the San Diego LGBT community, he’s the CEO of the award-winning San Diego LGBT Visitor's Center funded by the Southern California Equality Business Alliance (SCEBA) a coalition of “businesses and pro-business organizations” that launched in 2015. This non-profit helps LGBT friendly businesses in San Diego reach LGBT travelers, a $1.2 billion annual market.
Enter the similar-sounding San Diego Equality Business Association (SDEBA), which calls itself the “The LGBTQ & Ally Chamber of Commerce.” This name was recently changed from the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA).
But Reynoso says that CEO of the SDEBA, Barbra Blake didn’t play fair when she decided to change the name of her organization knowing that Reynoso’s already existed. He claims she appropriated his business title just months after she questioned him about the similarities in both the names.
Reynoso says he had a conversation with Blake a few months ago about “appropriating” his name and she became angry. He then claims she changed it anyway. He also points out that Blake and her board in 2016, under the former GSDBA recognized Reynoso’s Visitor's Center as Business Organization of the Year.
"My initial reaction was a deep shock that someone would appropriate our name and undermine our efforts by registering the name while we still operated under the fiscal agency and sponsorship of another organization," Reynoso said in a statement. "It follows a series of disturbing and confrontational conversations I’ve had with Barbra Blake, Executive Director for the GSDBA, regarding our own name, mission statement, goals, and ideas. It is even more alarming that the board would move forward with the re-branding, given the fact that I was one of their 2016 Business/Organization/Individuals of the Year- awarded at a gala luncheon in June of 2016."
San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reached out to Blake to ask if she knew how similar her organization’s name is to Reynoso’s prior to making the change, and to respond to Reynoso's claims that she did.
In a lengthy statement, Blake says the change was actually three years in the making. In 2015 the Board of Directors analyzed the Chamber’s operations and programs. They eventually settled on a plan to expand the organization’s “relevancy, visibility and impact.”
“The name change was the pinnacle of the strategic plan," Blake wrote in part, adding, "As we considered the new name, we asked ourselves, ‘What binds our member businesses together?' When we included the increasing number of ally businesses to the mix, the name organically presented itself to us: San Diego Equality Business Association (SDEBA). In carrying out our due diligence, looking through city, state and federal records, we found no use of the SDEBA name.”
She even says she spoke to Reynoso prior to the change and provided the Visitor’s Center with a complimentary two-year membership.
Blake said she had never heard of the SCEBA until we reached out to her, “We did not know he made an announcement at an HBA meeting. We do not attend those meetings, nor do we read their minutes. we made several calls to leaders in the community to ask if they knew about the Alliance and no one had.”
However, in the same statement, Blake says when doing due diligence, checking public records, “We found that ‘Southern California Equality Business Alliance’ had applied for a sole proprietor business license with the City of San Diego. However, that license expired in September 2017 and is no longer listed as an ‘Active Business’ in the city. Therefore, if the Alliance was doing business in San Diego, it was illegal.”
But Reynoso says Blake was intimidating in her interactions with him and as far as the expired business license, Reynoso says he talked to the SDEBA's Board President Chris Spade and in that conversation confirmed he acknowledged similarities in the names.
"He also confirmed that he had minor knowledge that our name was not yet registered," Reynoso adds, "but to his credit he also confirmed that he did not know it was because we currently operate under the fiscal agency/sponsorship of another organization that provides us with mentorship and guidance as we work to establish ourselves."
In SDGLN's correspondence with Blake, she accused publisher Johnathan Hale and this publication of bias.
"Finally," she writes, "I was informed and believe that the publishers of SDGLN are investors in Alliance. Given this information we are concerned about the apparent conflict of interest and the inherent bias of SDGLN with regards to this subject."
Hale denounced her claim in an email, "While gay owned Hale Media fully supports the non-partisan Equality Business Alliance, we are no more an investor in their group than Gay San Diego or Rage are in the GSDBA."
Mr. Hale also spoke to me via telephone about the issue. He says the GSDBA had no interest in working with him or having a partnership because he already had a community directory on his website.
"They at one time demanded that we take the directory down, something we refused to do and at that time I told them it was odd that an organization that was designed to support gay owned and LGBT friendly businesses was actually trying to compete with one." He goes on to say that when Blake took over she made an appointment with him and discussed the direction she wanted to take the organization."She said she wanted it to become more of a social justice platform."
Hale said he would provide them with editorial support and things of that nature but that was it. "Again it was odd to me that an organization like that would be diverting into a social justice platform given that we are clearly oversaturated with organizations that already perform that type of work, therefore competing with others already established."
Regarding the situation between Reynoso and their alleged appropriation of Reynoso's business name, Hale says, "I do not find myself surprised because the GSDBA has a history of putting itself in a position of competing with businesses and organizations they should be supporting. It's a shame because really what we need is a business organization that is solely focused on development and growth of businesses that are LGBT friendly or LGBT owned. Any business looking to achieve this goal would be better served just joining the already LGBT friendly San Diego Chamber of Commerce."
As far as where Reynoso goes from here, he says he will continue to build relationships with those who support his mission and he refuses to become invisible. He says his efforts will always be to "highlight San Diego as a wonderful, viable and diverse destination" and he feels that after building his organization with minimal funding, they have grown professionally, built leadership, and become more connected into the economic drivers that encourage growth in their businesses.
"With that in mind," says Reynoso, 'I encourage not just the board of the GSDBA, but also anyone interested to learn more about what it is we do, how we do it, and how those efforts are funded. I also ask the GSDBA to do the right thing, be a leader- and reach out to us to move forward. Kicking off a re-branding should be seen as a positive thing. Appropriating our name is certainly the wrong way to go about it."