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Outings group for people who are out

As far as job titles go, Robert Geller has a pretty enviable one.

He's chief adventure officer for Outings & Adventures, a company he started to help gay men and women meet people and try new activities, from kayaking to cooking.

He describes it as the antithesis of hanging out at bars or online dating.

Geller, 45, developed the idea two years ago after getting laid off from his job starting fondue kiosks at local malls. He saw a need in the gay community that wasn't being met.

"I wanted to engage in activities that would enrich my life, pique my interest and challenge me to move the boundaries of my comfort zone — all in the company of other gay men," he said.

Geller began the company in May 2008 with nine e-mail addresses and a goal to help others "Live Your Best Gay Life" — a motto he adapted from Oprah Winfrey.

Today, Geller has more than 8,000 members in west and Central Florida and thousands of friends on seven Facebook pages. His website has advertising from Raymond James, the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, and other prominent businesses.

Geller and his business partner, Barbara Voglewede, organize a broad mix of events, from zip-lining to glassblowing to wine tastings. They attend shows at Ruth Eckerd Hall and American Stage Theatre, and recently, they went on a hard hat tour of the new Dali Museum.

Sometimes, participants know each other. Most often, they don't. First-timers get a scratch-and-sniff star sticker to put on their name tag.

"It's harder for people to meet when you're gay and in the minority," Voglewede said. "This becomes perfect because it's not a meet-up place. It's just to have fun."

Outings are advertised for men, women or everyone and range in size from less than 10 people at the men's monthly book club to 35 for sunset kayaking. Events are sold online on a first-come, first-served basis and often sell out. A block of tickets to Cyndi Lauper's recent show and reception went in six days.

"It's not a club. Everyone is welcomed," said Geller, who lives in South Tampa. "I've been knocked off lists before, and I didn't want anyone to feel that."

Participants, particularly the men, appreciate having events planned out for them ahead of time. All they have to do is show up.

"If left to my own devices, a lot of these things I would not have done," said Jim Conlin, who never knew about canopy tree climbing in St. Petersburg until he went with O&A.

Peter Schmidt likes the flexibility and convenience of having multiple events to choose from. He's tried paddleboarding, gone to theater shows and debated literature.

"It's a great way to meet each other. If it weren't here, what would we do?'' he said during a recent book club discussion of Mississippi Sissy, a gay man's memoir. "When you go to bars, you can't hear yourself talk."

O&A also has a charitable side. The group periodically hosts bingo parties and bowling nights to raise money for local organizations, including Creative Clay and the Metro Wellness and Community Center. It has a float in the St. Pete Pride parade and supports gay pride events and causes, including the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and Equality Florida.

The group combines Geller's passion for adventure and background in business. He rode the 112-mile Ironman course while vacationing in Hawaii and previously owned Bourbon St. Boxers, a small chain of underwear stores.

Geller gravitates to activities he likes to do and laughs at the notion that organizing fun is central to his job. Up next: sushi-cooking class in Ybor City and indoor skydiving (Marilyn Monroe-style with air) in Orlando.

"It's great when I see people engaging in conversation and having a great time,'' he said. "It's really rewarding.''

Out and about

Outings & Adventures is a sponsor of the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and will have a booth at the screenings, which run daily through Oct. 17. For a complete calendar of O&A events or to sign up for an activity, go to outingsandadventures.com.

Outings group for people who are out 10/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 12:51pm]
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