Mark Guenther, executive director of the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, told a moving story at the organization’s April 8 awards dinner about a businessman in his 60s who had come out as a gay man after his wife’s death, and who found help and encouragement in starting a new life with the help of CAGLCC.
I took particular inspiration from the story because, while I have been out for 30 years, I am preparing to start a full-time writing career after retiring from federal service. The thought of finding professional assistance from an LGBT chamber of commerce never crossed my mind in my college days.
Later at the dinner, one of the honorees, Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, recalled his father’s twin fears that he would make little money as a director and would be attracted to other men. He said that while his father was right on both counts, he would have been proud to see his son honored by the chamber of commerce.
I sat near gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who basked in the praise from several speakers and who will turn 86 on May 21. Kahn’s remarks crystallized the incredible change that has occurred in Kameny’s lifetime. CAGLCC is a network of nearly 3,000 Washington-area professionals that provides mentoring, facilitates business relationships, and builds bridges with the rest of the business community. With America’s private sector leading the public sector in protections and benefits for LGBT employees, the presence of a thriving LGBT chamber of commerce in the capital area is a competitive advantage and a model for others.
The evening’s honorees represented many different segments of our community. In addition to Kahn, they included Brent Minor of Team DC; Kim Rosenberg and Meghann Novinskie of Mixology DC; transgender activist and recent Maryland House of Delegates candidate Dr. Dana Beyer; Randy Griffin and Marriott International (which consistently earns 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index); and Glen Ackerman of Ackerman Legal PLLC.
The LGBT community’s clout was demonstrated by the presence of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who praised Kameny, Beyer and me, as well as his GLBT Affairs director, Jeffrey Richardson, before delivering a fine rant against congressional interference in D.C.’s affairs.
As Kameny dug into his lemon tart, I thought of his 1961 Supreme Court petition appealing his firing from federal service, which was the first gay case brought to that body and will shortly be included in the Library of Congress exhibition, ”Creating the United States.” The same pursuit of happiness that Frank championed 50 years ago powers the members of CAGLCC today.
The Chamber’s efforts show that our advances are not solely in the hands of political activists but are facilitated by the welcoming environment cultivated by out gay entrepreneurs. Their civic involvement sends a powerful message to aspiring gay professionals young and old: We have a hand in charting our own destinies, and we are stronger when we help one another.
It was 20 minutes to midnight as I accompanied Dr. Kameny to the waiting livery service thoughtfully provided by D.C. Allen of the Crew Club, who was the dinner’s presenting sponsor. We stopped by some newspaper boxes so Frank could stock up on the latest news, but it was the radio that informed us that a budget deal had been struck in Congress to avert a federal shutdown, at least for another six days.
I was angry to learn that D.C. self-rule had again been trampled by Congress, which banned locally funded abortions for poor women and reimposed school vouchers. On the other hand, the evening had provided an invigorating reminder that Congress cannot repeal our business climate.