Chamber's New Chief

Local LGBT commerce group hires first executive director, Mark Guenther

Try to follow the pink dollar in D.C. these days, and you’ve got to be sharp. After all, after nearly two decades, the Potomac Executive Network (PEN) transformed itself into the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, aka the chamber, last April. Along with this change, the group that exists to promote and support LGBT businesses in the area elected a new president, Ken White. And now, effective with the start of the new year, the chamber will have its first paid employee, as Mark Guenther takes on the new role of executive director.

”I have absolutely no reservations,” Guenther says with gusto. ”It’s an amazing opportunity, combining the business aspects with networking and relationships.”

President White and the rest of the board are excited about the chamber entering a new decade with a full-time executive director. In one respect, he’s thrilled with the dynamism and enthusiasm Guenther — who has a background in advertising and marketing — will bring to the job, pointing to last March’s ”mega networking event” at Town Danceboutique. The first of what will now be an annual event attracted hundreds of people — and it was essentially Guenther’s project.

On a more practical level, Guenther’s new role opens up a little breathing room for the chamber’s very involved board.

”We honestly have a really hard-working board,” says White. “Everyone puts in 200 percent. This is going to make all the difference. We’ve really been moving and shaking over the years. We’ve done a lot, and there’s a lot more we want to do – grow the organization, increase membership, add value to membership…. Now [that] we have someone dedicated to that full time,…the board can throttle down to about 175 percent.”

While Guenther teases that the board should expect no such relief, he adds that there’s an importance to the chamber’s work that may not seem obvious to those not involved in the business community — and it’s an importance he’d like to emphasize as the chamber moves into the future.

“I certainly approve of the legislative way of changing society, I certainly believe in the need for ‘in your face’ activism,” he says. ”But there’s also a very unique and awesome way with just showing the dollars, showing the community at large that we’re here. Seeing local business owners [and] business venues come together as a united force, that’s a way to be an activist, to help the [LGBT] movement grow.”

The next Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce monthly networking event, sponsored by Mary Snider of State Farm Insurance, will be held Thursday, Jan. 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at 15 RIA, 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW. For more information about the chamber visit caglcc.org.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.