The Story of GATT DC
In 1986, at a time when being openly gay in the workplace was not acceptable, a group of LGBTQ professionals in international trade decided to meet outside of work for a drink. Not surprisingly, much of the conversation centered on current events in international trade and impacts on peoples’ jobs and organizations. The evening was so enjoyable that the group decided to meet again and, eventually, these meet ups became regular occurrences. Over time, the group grew as individuals invited friends and acquaintances from government and the private sector to join in on the industry gossip.
The group had gotten sufficiently large that it was dominating the bar at the restaurant where it was meeting. This prompted someone to propose that the group’s holiday party be hosted at a private residence. The change in venue inaugurated a new era for the group, where meetings were held in members’ private homes. It also spurred the creation of the group’s name.
As there was no internet or texting at the time, the group had to figure out a way to notify members of upcoming meetings without “outing” them at work. This prompted someone to come up with the name “the GATT Group,” with GATT standing for “Gay Attracted To Trade” (and also cleverly standing for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The group’s new name allowed members to be notified about upcoming events without concerns about leaving messages with secretaries or members’ offices. Prior to each event, volunteers formed phone trees to notify the membership about where and when the group would next be meeting.
Over time, GATT meetings began to feature guest speakers, who would discuss ongoing trade negotiations and other trade matters. Members also used these meetings to network, exchange useful professional information, and help one another secure new professional opportunities. Not surprisingly, the group also fostered many close personal friendships (and even a marriage). Through its regularly held meetings, GATT became known as a safe space for gay and lesbian professionals to meet up, network, and socialize.
Through the years, GATT has helped many of its members shape their careers through networking, educational, and other opportunities. Although GATT initially kept a low-profile because of the risks associated with being openly gay in the workplace, today, the group has come to embrace its place among other trade-focused organizations in Washington, D.C. GATT now offers monthly events featuring a “trade talk” and networking opportunities, often times co-hosted with other organizations. In 2021, GATT became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. As GATT continues to grow and expand its offerings, it will always be proud of its heritage.