“I always say that before I was really gay, I was really Jewish,” laughs Daniel Heller. “I grew up in this community-heavy environment, and when I came out, I realized that the LGBTQ world had not built the same kinship I was raised in.” So Heller had an idea to start The Welcoming Committee, an event and travel destination organization that helps LGBTQ people “experience the entire world in outrageous comfort, the same way we might experience a gay bar.” Members can take advantage of one-nightonly takeovers of “traditionally straight places” like the MCA and Second City, even day trips to the Kentucky Derby.
While the platform started in Heller’s home of Boston six years ago with just 20-30 attendees in the beginning, it has since grown rapidly, attracting upward of thousands of interested members and expanding into new markets, like Chicago, where it launched last October and has lots of promise, he says: “I have a feeling Chicago will be our largest city by the end of the summer.”
ILM+E: What is your mission for The Welcoming Committee?
DH: The LGBTQ world has been primarily served through bars for decades. It’s not a bad thing, but our members have expressed they have interests outside of the bar scene and want to experience their entire city with that same kind of comfort.
ILM+E: What had you been up to before starting the company?
DH: In college I worked in gay rights, and then I went into private sector. I spent four years in consulting and worked at Amazon.com as product manager in their mobile apps group.
ILM+E: How does The Welcoming Committee work?
DH: It’s free to join. You go to our website and enter your email address to become a member. We put everyone through a short orientation process to get to know the community and what we offer.
ILM+E: Why was Chicago appealing to you?
DH: The existence of Boystown had a really rich gay culture that was just waiting to do more. We’re just trying to build off that strong infrastructure, and we’ve found no shortage of incredible places to go here.