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  • July 14, 2017 3:28 PM | Kevin (Administrator)
    Original Story w/video clip on News-Press.com

    Southwest Florida International has landed new nonstop service to Germany.

    Lee County Port Authority reported Friday that Lufthansa Group airline Eurowings will begin service to Fort Myers in May 2018.

    According to the port authority:

    Eurowings will start twice weekly nonstop service from Southwest Florida International Airport to Munich Airport and a weekly flight to Cologne Bonn Airport on May 1 and May 4, 2018, respectively.

    Flights will operate on an Airbus A330 with 310 seats.

    The service will start out with a May-through-October schedule; however, that always is subject to change, said Port Authority spokeswoman Victoria Moreland.

    The international airport has enjoyed nonstop flights from Airberllin between Fort Myers and Dusseldorf for many years.

    Gaining the Eurowing flights “will strengthen the bridge between Germany and Southwest Florida," said Jeff Mulder, port authority executive director.

    "Travelers from Fort Myers will now be able to reach two extremely popular destinations in Germany more conveniently, as well as take advantage of connecting flights throughout Europe," Mulder said, adding that, "We also look forward to welcoming more European visitors to experience the natural beauty of Southwest Florida.”

    The new air service also promises to give Southwest Floridians easy access to additional communities in Germany, including connecting flights to Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna and other locations.

    Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, Executive Director Tamara Pigott called the new air service "fantastic news."

    Germany already is an important feeder market for Southwest Florida tourism and hospitality, an industry that accounts for 1 in 5 jobs in Lee and Collier counties alone.

    Last year, more than 320,000 German-origin visitors came to Lee County, "and spent more than $352 million while in our community," Pigott said.

    International guests such as the Germans are especially prized here because they stay longer and spend more than the typical domestic visitors, Pigott said.

    And, although international visitors come throughout the year, their primary vacation time falls in the summer months, when Southwest Florida gets far fewer visitors from other parts of the United States.

    Eurowings flight reservations to and from Fort Myers already are available by visiting www.eurowings.com/us.html.
    For more information about Southwest Florida International Airport, visit www.flylcpa.com  or like the airport on Facebook at www.facebook.com/flyRSW.

  • July 11, 2017 11:33 PM | Kevin (Administrator)

    Original Story with Video Clip from News-Press.com

    According to the Transportation Security Administration, Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) will be the nation's sixth-busiest spring break destination this month.

    TSA predictions based on daily checkpoint volume increases show RSW will see an 8.5 percent increase in passengers over March 2015. That means spring breakers, as well as families and business travelers, might expect longer lines at the ticket counter and security checkpoint.

    “Our dedicated officers do their absolute best to screen passengers both effectively and efficiently, with a primary focus on traveler security,” said Peter V. Neffenger, TSA administrator. “We want to ensure that everyone arrives at their destination safely, while at all times providing the highest standards of security screening possible.

    “By following a few basic common-sense tips, the security screening process can be both effective and quick. And while we never will compromise security, we will work to reduce checkpoint wait times wherever possible.”

    The No. 1 spring break airport, according to the TSA, is Orlando, followed by Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Minneapolis and Tampa.

    In 2015, RSW set a record as 8.4 million passengers made their way through the region's largest terminal. RSW offers non-stop flights to 46 airports on 12 airlines; click the link below to see which non-stop routes are available from here.

    Fort Myers Beach is Southwest Florida's spring break central, drawing thousands of college students from across the country. This week, firefighters from Cincinnati have returned to raise money for charity, and, of course, enjoy themselves in the process.

    Scenes from the Cincinnati firefighter spring break revue at the Lani Kai.

    To find out if your alma mater is among the colleges represented at Fort Myers Beach, read this story: Spring Break 2016: See who is coming to Fort Myers Beach.

    Depending on how the calendar falls, spring break usually begins in the last week of February, and can last until the start of April. The second and third weeks of March (now!) typically are the peak periods.

    Spring break comes ashore at Fort Myers Beach

    As a bonus this year, food writer Anne Reed is stopping by Fort Myers Beach for that one item on every spring breaker's list. No, not a good book to read while lounging poolside — alcohol. Check our her first installment of Spring Break Drink of the Day: Playmor Punch.



  • June 23, 2017 9:13 AM | Kevin (Administrator)


    The Senate version of the so-called “American Health Care Act” is headed to the floor for a vote in the coming days with little-to-no time for public input and inquiry.  Now is the time to contact your Senators to oppose this legislation-- and revisit the Affordable Care Act with an urgent call to“fix it, not end it.”

     NGLCC is encouraging bipartisan dialogue to remedy problems in the existing Affordable Care Act and not a full repeal. We’ve watched the rush to repeal and replace with dismay at the lack of concern and respect for America’s business owners, their employees, their families, and the communities that existing health care provisions cover. The most vulnerable among us-- LGBT youth and seniors, women, people with disabilities, those with pre-existing conditions, and immigrants-- could face tremendous hardships as costs skyrocket and care vanishes.

     

    How Can You Help?

    Tell Congress not to hurt LGBT health! Call 866-426-2631 to let Congress know that you support the #ACA and tell them to VOTE NO on the American Health Care Act.  #VoteNO   #ProtectOurCare

     This new bill would deny health insurance for millions of Americans and harm the ability of diverse small business owners to cover and protect their workforce.  It is imperative that our LGBT-owned businesses have affordable and customizable healthcare options. Congress should focus on promoting the wellbeing of our communities and ensuring healthcare concerns do not inhibit diverse business owners from continuing to add trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of new jobs to the economy each year.

    Many of the nation’s top healthcare organizations stand in staunch opposition to the ACHA including: AARP,  the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network, and the American Hospital Association.  And yet, their voices have not stopped the Senate from rushing this bill forward.

     Prior to the ACA, a high percentage of small business owners were unable to purchase, let alone afford, adequate health insurance as the AHCA would once again cause. The inability to access insurance and necessary healthcare was pronounced by the Kaiser Foundation as a barrier to starting a small business. That barrier has now been reinforced by this call to repeal & replace the Affordable Care Act.  We need your help to urge the Senate to reconsider the AHCA and seek out methods of ensuring the health of all Americans while simultaneously promoting the health of American businesses.

     Join us in our call to STOP THE AHCA and find bipartisan, common sense solutions to healthcare by improving the existing Affordable Care Act.  

     For additional information, talking points, our support, please contact us at Advocacy@nglcc.org or  202.234.9181

     Yours in solidarity,

     Justin G. Nelson Chance Mitchell
     President & Co-Founder, NGLCC CEO & Co-Founder, NGLCC

     and Team NGLCC

  • June 21, 2017 9:07 PM | Kevin (Administrator)

    Original Story on News-Press.com

    A sea of rainbows flooded Cambier Park in Naples on Saturday afternoon.

    Rainbow flags large and small waved through the air, with some worn as capes while others were on shirts and stuck in people’s hair. There were rainbow bandanas on dogs, rainbow balloons, rainbow tutus, rainbow-colored flower leis and crowns.

    Organizers estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people of all ages gathered in the downtown park for Naples Pride, the city's first Pride festival celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning communities.

    “Today is about Naples Pride and about what all of you contribute to our community,” Naples Mayor Bill Burnett told the crowd at the start of the festival. “It is my hope it becomes an annual event for many years to come.”

    Naples Pride featured music, performances and speeches throughout the day from groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Chorus of Southwest Florida, dancers from the Southwest Florida Burlesque Alliance, and the Bambusa Babes, drag queens who regularly perform at the Bambusa Bar and Grill in Naples.

    Although the event was free, volunteers and organizers took donations to create an emergency fund that will help at-risk and in-need members of the LGBTQ community in Collier County. Michelle Hudson, a Naples Pride organizer and publisher of the LGBTQ publication Rainbow Pages, said money may help people with medical bills or pay for rent if someone is evicted.

    In the Cambier Park crowd, which grew around the stage, spilled onto sidewalks and surrounded tents of vendors, was Naples resident Greg Gorman and his husband, David Burke. Gorman held the leashes of his two dogs, McTavish and Wickliff, who wore rainbow bandannas and tiny rainbow hats.

    JUMP 0617 PRIDE FEST 03

    Boy BryBry, from left, Josh Q., and Casey Cappelen dance. "I had no sleep last night," said BryBry. "I'm just glad Naples has a chance to express their love." (Photo: Photos by Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)

    “I am excited that out of 26 years living in Naples, this is our first Pride. I think it’s awesome,” Gorman said. “I think it’s a greater reach out to our community, showing we can all live in equality and we can all live in harmony and we can all coexist.”

    Sitting on a lawn chair next to a sign that read “1 World, City, Family, Love, Heart, Pulse” was North Naples resident Jessye McPherson, 55.

    McPherson saw the message on a sign when she visited Orlando last year after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. She brought her own sign with the message to Naples Pride to remember the victims. She began to cry as she spoke.

    “It’s taken a long time,” McPherson said about Naples Pride. “I think it’s pretty exciting to see this today.”

    Naples residents Victoria Castillo, 20, Adrianna Leon, 23, and Joshua Moses, 25, were surprised by the size of the crowd at the festival.

    “It shows we're supporting each other as human beings and not looking at everyone by gender,” Castillo said. “I think that’s really cool that we get to be a part of this.”

    “We’ve never seen this kind of acceptance in this community,” Moses said. “This is kind of surprising to me, to all of us.”

    North Naples residents and friends Kara Kouloheras, 38, and Stacey Dooney brought their daughters to Naples Pride to show them the support in the community.

    Kouloheras said when she first arrived at Cambier Park with her 9-year-old daughter, she began to tear up from seeing the crowd.

    “In big cities you may see this all the time, but we are finally seeing this in Naples,” she said. “I looked at my daughter and thought maybe there is better in the future for her.”

    JUMP 0617 PRIDE FEST 02

    Nicole Manguao, of Golden Gate, blows bubbles during the first-ever Naples Pride at Cambier Park Saturday in Naples. (Photo: Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)

    Dooney, who was taking photos of Naples Pride and sending them to her friends, said she wanted her twin 9-year-old daughters to experience the festival because they are the future.

    “I just want them to see it doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe,” she said. “Love is love, and people should be able to be who they are.”

    Toward the end of the event, former U.S. soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach and her wife, New York Times bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton, spoke to the crowd. Doyle Melton and Wambach, who live in Naples, were married in May.

    “I hope this is an example and evidence to everyone that we are here and belong here in Naples,” Wambach told a cheering crowd from the stage. “I want everyone in this community to be proud to be here in Naples.”

    Doyle Melton read a message she received from a girl named Alexa, who was at Naples Pride, and wrote that she was in love with her best friend.

    “You have one job in this precious life, to love and be loved,” Doyle Melton told the crowd.

    “We will fight out loud for you, Alexa, and then we will love out loud,” she said.

    For Pride organizer Hudson, the event Saturday was two months in the making.

    "When I first stepped up on the stage and started taking pictures of the crowd, that’s when it hit me that this is really something special," Hudson said.

  • May 28, 2017 11:00 PM | Kevin (Administrator)

    Original Story on News-Press.com

    Bonita Springs and Fort Myers are the only two Florida cities among the country's 15 fastest growing by percentage.

    Bonita, whose population increased by 4.8 percent between July 1, 2015, and July 1, 2016, ranks eighth. Fort Myers, whose population increased by 4.5 percent, ranked 15th.

    The population numbers were released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Texas cities led the way with six in the top 15. Florida was second with two and seven states, all but one in the South and West, had one city each.

    Bonita’s population reached 54,198 and Fort Myers had a population of 77,146, according to the census report.

    Cape Coral remains the largest city in Lee County with a population of 179,804, a 2.8 percent increase year over year.

    Fort Myers' growth is making a comeback after it saw a decline during the recession that began in 2008.

    Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson attributed the growth to annexation to the east and urban infill. "We've had more urban infill than other cities in Lee County," he said.

     

    Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson Jr.

    Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson Jr. 
    (Photo: The News-Press file photo)
    The city is working on plans to increase the building density that would allow for more infill. The city is pushing plans for revamping the area south of downtown called midtown. 

    "The best way to seize the trend is to make sure we expand our infrastructure, curb appeal and walkability," Henderson said.

    The city could grow to 100,000 population in another decade if it continues to expand by 3,000 people a year, he said.

    The 100,000 magic number means the city could qualify for more state and national economic incentives, Henderson said.

     

    Florida Passes New York in State Population

    (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)
    Bonita's growth didn't slow down during the recession. The city has grown by more than 10,000 since the 2010 census and it's unlikely the growth will slow.

    Two planned developments along the eastern edges of the city will only bring more people to the city.

    “We will expand and grow — that’s just the realities of economics and of more people coming to Florida,” said Mayor Peter Simmons. “We’re a very desirable destination, and we want to do what’s right for the quality of life of not only the people living here but the people coming.”

    Bonita was voted the second nicest beach in the country and the second nicest small city to live in.

     

    Bonita Springs mayor Peter Simmons.

     Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons. (Photo: File)


    In addition to the warm white sands and bright blue skies, Simmons said decisions on a local level are just as important, such as decisions to halt an intersection flyover or work to protect wetland areas east of the city.

    “These decisions show we are trying to protect the environment and protect people’s quality of life,” he said. “By no means do I think all of these are mutually exclusive. They all contribute (to growth).”

    New York City remains by far the largest city in the country with 8.5 million residents. Phoenix, Arizona, had the largest population growth. The fifth largest city in the country gained 32,113 residents in one year. 

    Jacksonville was the only Florida city in the top 15 for population. It was 12th with 880,619. Jacksonville and Miami were the only two Florida cities in the top 15 for numeric growth. Jacksonville was 12th and Miami 14th.

  • May 12, 2017 7:17 PM | Kevin (Administrator)

    Original Story on Fort Myers - Florida Weekly

    BY GLENN MILLER
    Florida Weekly Correspondent
      Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber founders Arlene Goldberg and Susan Christiano. COURTESY PHOTO
     COURTESY PHOTO
    Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber founders Arlene Goldberg and Susan Christiano The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce’s goal is basic: To make life more harmonious for the gay community, to lessen the chance of encountering sour notes when visiting businesses and knowing where they’re welcome.

    Chamber president Susan Christiano knows about guesswork and uncertainty when patronizing businesses.

    “You don’t have to be afraid of that anymore,”

    Ms. Christiano said, sitting in The Gathering Place, a Fort Myers gay-owned restaurant.

    Arlene Goldberg sat across from Ms. Christiano. Both women are Realtors and have worked to start the new chamber. Its mission is helping the LGBTQ community. Those letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/ or questioning.

    The chamber held its inaugural event on April 23 and is up to about 40 members and its Facebook page had 271 likes as of May 2. It offers services to five counties — Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry.

     

     Founders and members Sue Christiano, Tyla Vaccarro, Arlene Goldberg, Ron Penn, Scott Cornish and Ollie Gentry. OLLIE MACK GENTRY PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY PHOTO



     OLLIE MACK GENTRY PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY PHOTO
    Founders and members Sue Christiano, Tyla Vaccarro, Arlene Goldberg, Ron Penn, Scott Cornish and Ollie Gentry.  Before the chamber could become reality the organizers needed to secure a 501(c)(6) from the IRS, which is required of any chamber that isn’t organized to profit its leaders.

    Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Christiano studied other gay chambers and sought out advice from the leaders of those chambers. Is there a need for such a chamber?

    “Well, for one thing there is no source of information, nowhere where a member of the LGBT community and a onestop place you and your family can go and can get the information that they need,” Ms. Christiano said.

    Ms. Christiano said the chamber fills needs similar to other chambers.

    “The one question that people do ask: Why do you need a chamber?” Ms. Christiano said. “Well, why does the Hispanic community need a chamber? Why do you need the Christian chamber? Because it’s groups getting together with the same common cause.”

    The first member was Fort Myers attorney Mary Beth Fletcher, who joined as soon as she heard it existed. She knows from experience that many in the LGBTQ community fear the reception they sometimes receive.

    “I would get calls from people who were afraid they’d be judged,” Ms. Fletcher said.

    The chamber serves as a directory, letting people know where they won’t be judged.

    “This is exactly what we need,” Ms. Fletcher said.

    She pointed out a detail that Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Christiano also mentioned.

    “You don’t have to be LGBT to be a member,” Ms. Fletcher said.

     POTTER
    POTTER

    One of the early chamber members is Naples physician Dr. Clint Potter, who is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and provides services to LGBTQ patients. He understands the rationale behind the chamber — it helps relieve anxiety for LGBTQ people seeking a doctor.

    “To know there’s a gay-friendly place I can go and not be scared,” Dr. Potter said.

    Dr. Potter’s website (NaplesAIM.com) notes that his practice is an “affirming LGBT model.”

    The Southwest Florida Community Foundation was one of the first members. Its CFO, Ron Penn, is the chamber’s treasurer. Mr. Penn said he has resided in Lee County for 12 years.

    “I still don’t know all the gay businesses,” Mr. Penn said.

    Through the chamber, he hopes to learn about more.

    Fort Myers resident Annette Trossbach is the producing artistic director of The Laboratory Theater. Her theater was an early chamber member.

    She believes it’s important to send a message to potential LGBTQ visitors and residents considering Southwest Florida for vacation or relocation.

    “To know they’re welcome,” Ms. Trossbach said.

    She added that is something that unites customers of any business.

    “We like to spend our dollars where we are embraced as human beings,” Ms. Trossbach said.

    That also motivated the chamber’s founders. They know the questions folks might have.

    “What are the resources?” Ms. Christiano said. “Will I be able to find a doctor? … I want to adopt. Who would I talk to?”

    She envisions the Harmony Chamber as a “one-stop source” to answer such questions. But more than that.

    “It’s more than a directory,” Ms. Christiano said. “We are going to be instrumental in raising awareness.”

    Ms. Goldberg echoes her friend and real estate partner at RE/MAX with the message they want LGBTQ people to hear about Southwest Florida.

    “They need to know that we are a welcoming community and we have resources,” Ms. Goldberg.

    She has seen the area evolve since moving here in 1989 from Flushing, N.Y. Ms. Goldberg eventually became one of the best-known people in the gay community, especially after she fought to secure recognition as heir to her late wife, Carol Goldwasser, who died in 2014.

    Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Goldwasser met when they were 13 and living in the Bronx in the Castle Hill Projects.

    “We knew there was something special,” Ms. Goldberg said. “But we didn’t know what it was.”

    Ms. Goldberg joined in a lawsuit that struck down Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.

    Her work assisting the gay community made her well known. But it did something else, as well.

    “I think all of that helped me get over the grieving process,” Ms. Goldberg said.

    It was a lot to get over.

    “We were together for 47 years,” Ms. Goldberg said.

    They married in New York in 2011, when such unions were not yet legal in Florida.

    Now, six years later, the chamber is up and running.

    “The timing is right and we want everybody to feel a part of this,” Ms. Goldberg said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the community. It’s about them feeling like they have a real resource to go to, that they don’t have to feel uncomfortable calling or asking us or telling us anything because we’re there.”

    For now, the chamber exists only online but that will change. Organizers are thinking about a physical home, likely in downtown Fort Myers.

    “There is a prospective area we’re looking at,” Ms. Goldberg said.

    She expects a move into a place could happen in 2018.

    Ms. Christiano said most members in Lee County but hopes to add members in the counties.

    Chamber officials recently attended a Charlotte County Pride to spread the word.

    What is the ultimate goal for the Harmony Chamber?

    “When we won’t need a chamber,” Ms. Goldberg said.

    For now, the Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce is needed.

  • April 22, 2017 8:15 PM | Kevin (Administrator)

    Link to full article on WGCU website  with audio.

    Members of Southwest Florida’s LGBTQ community and LGBT-friendly business owners celebrated a ribbon cutting Thursday evening for the region’s newest business networking organization: The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce.  The chamber was created to promote networking within the region’s LGBT friendly businesses and to promote economic opportunities for chamber members.

    Chamber members also aim to promote Southwest Florida as an LGBT-welcoming tourist destination.

    Thursday’s ribbon cutting event was held at The Gathering Place in downtown Fort Myers. Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann was the lone elected official in attendance and he delivered a brief address in support of the effort.

    Local LGBT rights advocate and chamber co-founder Arlene Goldberg said she wants the chamber to be a welcoming organization for LGBT people and the community’s allies.

    “There’s still discrimination against LGBT people when it comes to services, to employment and to housing,” said Goldberg.  “So we’re working on that, but since the federal environment right now is so conservative, we feel that working locally will encourage our people to band together and make us strong here.  If we’re strong here, I think that’s what matters right now.”

    The Harmony Chamber began the evening with 18 business members and Goldberg said the member list is growing.  “We have restaurants.  We have another company that repairs leather.  We have three realtor companies.  We have Visuality joined and the Laboratory Theater joined and ACT joined today and all different kinds of companies are joining,” said Goldberg.  “We welcome our allies.”

    The fledgling chamber is currently a labor of love for Goldberg and other board members with no physical space and no paid staff, but members plan to open a welcome center and hire an executive director in 2018. 

    The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce will hold its next meeting in May at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

  • April 05, 2017 9:55 AM | Kevin (Administrator)
    Link to full article on USA Today 

    "In a ground-breaking ruling, a federal appeals court ruled that a 1964 law barring sex discrimination extends to sexual orientation, marking a major workplace victory for gays and lesbians." USA TODAY

  • March 25, 2017 8:30 AM | Kevin (Administrator)
    Original Story on Wink News's site (with Video)


    FORT MYERS, Fla. A dozen businesses in Fort Myers joined the new Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce to help promote a more unified LGBTQ professional community.

    The Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce will have their inaugural ribbon cutting event on April 20 at 5 p.m.

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CONTACTS

swflharmonychamber@gmail.com

PO Box 07427
Fort Myers, FL, 33919

800-967-7750

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