The history of network – from its beginnings in Zurich to a national association with 600 members.
History and milestones
In 1996, Jan Willem van Lynden launched network together with other founders and was elected the association’s first president in Zurich. The aim was to create a network of gay managers that would work to achieve clearly defined objectives in the workplace, the political arena and the media.
Gradually, network expanded into other regions. Berne was the first regional group to be established outside Zurich, in 1997. Other important milestones were the launch of the first French-speaking section in Lausanne in 2005, and the establishment of the Ticino regional group in the summer of 2013. Today, network is an important and established part of the LGBTI community, with around 600 members.
1995: The idea
A kind of “gay rotary club”: a club bringing together men with potential, who would support each other with their wide-ranging connections and experience in the business and social sectors, and who would strengthen and advance the political cause of the LGBTI community.
June 1995: The founding phase
Five people issued an invitation to a drinks reception overlooking Lake Zurich. This was the first get-together, when 107 guests were told about the new idea.
16 September 1995: Constituent assembly
Around 40 men met at the Zurich Limmathaus, resolved to implement the plan, and selected a founding executive board.
November 1995: First network retreat
This retreat at Hotel Metropol in Arbon defined important cornerstones that sustain the organization to this day.
network’s key objectives were agreed:
- Political influence
- Social engagement in the LGBTI community
- Influence in the world of work; dealing with the glass ceiling
- Cultural and social activities for members
The organizational framework was developed:
- Weekly drinks at Tina Bar on Zurich Hirschenplatz
- Criteria for admitting new members, managing prospective members and the mentoring principle
- Topical lunches with representatives from the political, cultural, business and social sectors, to increase the association’s visibility and raise awareness of the concerns of network and the LGBTI community among influential people
- Discussion and decision to name the association “network, the association of gay managers”
26 January 1996: Founders’ meeting
The executive board members were elected and the association statutes approved at the founders’ meeting in the Zunfthaus zur Haue in Zurich.
From 1998: Regional groups form
In the organization’s first year, Networkers based in Lucerne and Berne started organizing informal regional meetings to increase networking opportunities. While based exclusively in Zurich at the outset, the association started to gain a foothold across Switzerland from 1998 onwards, through the gradual establishment of regional groups in Lucerne/Central Switzerland, Berne, Basel, St. Gallen/Principality of Liechtenstein, Lausanne, Geneva and Ticino.
AGMs: identity-building events
AGMs are important events in the association’s calendar. They bring together Networkers from all over Switzerland and have a political and social impact on the host region. Members of the executive board and representatives from the business and social sectors in the respective host locations and cantons traditionally welcome participants to these meetings. The following events had a particularly big impact:
- The AGM in the National Council chamber of the Parliament Building on 25 March 2006
- A reception for network hosted by Bishop Markus Büchel in St. Gallen Cathedral on 24 March 2007
- The AGM in Lucerne on 15 March 2008, attended by Council of States member Helen Leumann-Würsch
- The AGM at Zurich Town Hall on 17 April 2010
- The AGM in the WTO conference room in Geneva and the reception in Palais Eynard, Geneva’s reception house, on 22 March 2014
Retreats: opportunities to discuss network’s development
It is part of network’s culture to come together to conceptualize and discuss members’ identity and profile, as well as the organization’s positioning, tasks, role, structure and specific activities.
- At the first retreat in autumn 1995 in Arbon, participants developed the organization’s principles and prepared for the founding of the association.
- In 1998 the committees were formed in Brunnen, with clear division of responsibilities. The first decentralization also took place, with the establishment of the Zurich, Lucerne and Berne regional groups and a planned regional group in Basel. network’s public image and shared values were fiercely debated.
- In 2000, Networkers discussed 21 forward-looking topics in Brunnen.
- In 2013, around 80 Networkers met in Schönried to set further milestones: for example, they began to work on the Swiss LGBTI label.
- The most recent retreat was held in 2021 in Andermatt, and comprised 13 working groups. These groups discussed how network will position itself and define its future objectives following the establishment of marriage for all and the associated changes in society. This will involve making organizational adjustments to ensure the association is prepared for the future.
Topical lunches and club dinners for social, political and business networking
The topical lunch in 1997 with FDP Council of States member Vreni Spörri made a particular impact – especially given the culture of the time. Councillor Spörri was visibly impressed by members’ professionalism and willingness to engage in discussion, and ultimately committed to campaigning for the term “way of life” to be included in Article 8 of the Swiss constitution as one of the grounds for non-discrimination. Equally impactful was a campaign by Markus Notter, who was a member of Zurich’s Government Council at the time. This resulted in the clever move to initially implement the Same-Sex Partnership Act at cantonal level in Zurich (2002), before taking the bigger step of introducing national legislation. In 2002, national topical lunches were replaced by club dinners.
The list of our LGBTI guests reads like a “Who’s Who” of the political, business and social spheres: Klaus Wowereit (Mayor of Berlin), Bertrand Delanoë (Mayor of Paris), Pierre Bergé (industrialist, patron and partner of Yves Saint Laurent), Guido Westerwelle (President of the German FDP, later Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister), Alice Schwarzer (journalist and feminist), Jean-Francois Roth (member of the Government Council, later member of the Council of States for the canton of Jura), Tyler Brulé (journalist, influencer), Frédéric Mitterrand (French Culture Minister), Philippe Jordan (Musical Director at the Opéra National de Paris, later Principal Conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker), and many more.
Topical lunches are still important occasions in the regional group calendars.