The Metro Atlanta Association of Professionals (MAAP) was launched in May 1992 as the Atlanta Executive Network (AEN) by 15 people. The committee was led by founding president Allen Jones, who believed that gay and lesbian business professionals had much to offer each other and the community.
They believed that building a network of professionals that focused on the unique gifts of the individual rather than sexual orientation would empower both the organization’s members and the Atlanta LGBT community. By creating a forum in which we could learn from and support each other, AEN hoped to improve its members’ businesses and professional lives, plus harness the power of the LGBTQ+ community to combat negative stereotypes and work toward ending employment discrimination.
From the beginning, AEN sought to provide a friendly, welcoming environment where each member could comfortably network with other members. This eventually evolved randomly assigning members to tables of 12 so they could introduce themselves and network with 11 new people at each meeting.
Further, unlike many other gay and lesbian organizations that organized along gender and often racial lines, the organizing committee decided that AEN would be inclusive, commingled and open to
anyone in the community who was interested in expanding their business or professional career.
At first, out of concern shared by the 40 charter members, AEN was closed to the media. The organizing committee, and later the Board of Directors, felt it was important to provide a protected and comfortable environment for members, many of whom faced personal and professional discrimination. They wanted to ward off the potential for media intrusion and harming members’ business lives. The AEN Board decided to give the organization the freedom to grow and flourish, and left it to the membership to decide when the time was right for AEN’s media debut.
This time came in July 1994, when 94 percent of members voted in favor of opening the organization to the media. This overwhelming support for going public was a reflection of the group’s empowerment, pride and confidence in its collective resources and talent. AEN then had more than 500 members.
Shortly after, several major news outlets, including the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Atlanta Magazine and Southern Voice, ran articles announcing the size and influence of AEN to the LGBT and Atlanta business communities.
Since its birth, AEN has hosted a long line of prominent speakers from a variety of sectors, including business, the arts, media, government, education, sports and national LGBT organizations. One year, candidates for mayor of the city of Atlanta spoke at a candidate forum; it was the largest public forum of the race. Speakers have included Roy Barnes (the first sitting governor to speak), then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, Rep. John Lewis, state Rep. Simone Bell, ex-Sen. Max Cleland, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, actor/activist Jane Fonda, Judy Shepard, mother of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard, and Daniel Helminiak, author of “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.”
In August 2012, AEN celebrated its 20th anniversary at Kai Lin Art gallery in Buckhead. Hundreds of current and past members attended, including founding committee members, past advisory members, executive directors and past presidents. Founding member Jones, who was president from 1992 to 1997, was given an appreciation award recognizing his contributions to AEN and the LGBT community.
That year, Stuart Milk of the Harvey Milk Foundation spoke to the group on National Coming Out Day, just before Atlanta’s gay pride festival in late October. The nephew of slain gay politician Harvey Milk, he made the time to speak between his participation at a Harvey Milk Foundation co-hosted global summit on LGBT rights in Milan, Italy, and his participation at the Atlanta Pride Festival. Milk discussed the struggles of LGBT communities in Europe, the changes in American culture and the workplace, and how his uncle would be amazed at where we are.
“The two things that need to be cultivated most,” Milk said, “are straight allies and the support of corporations. Think about what we can do to make that happen in our own places of work and within our own families and circle of friends.”
On January 1, 2014 AEN revitalized and relaunched itself as the Metro Atlanta Association of Professionals (MAAP), a more inclusive name for its direction. With this came a new mission, goals and vision for the organization.
“We are excited to continue our journey serving the Atlanta community,” said Joshua D. Lorenz, the first president under the MAAP brand. “Our LGBT community has so much to offer, and we can’t wait to continue to watch our community flourish under the new brand.”
We are looking forward to the future in our 21st year and beyond with continued networking opportunities and thought-provoking speakers while promoting business growth, personal development and workplace equality for all LGBTQ+ people and our allies. If you would like to volunteer and get involved in the future of MAAP, please come to an event, contact us, or join today!