This morning, at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's 9th Annual National Business & Leadership Conference, now on in Chicago, the organization honored D.C.'s Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC) as the LGBT Chamber of the Year.
According to the NGLCC, ''the Chamber of the Year is seen as a role model for other chambers and an example of what an LGBT chamber or business organization should be.''
While it's understandable that the honor came as a surprise, it was particularly unexpected in that CAGLCC hadn't applied to be considered for this top honor. Instead, the chamber had applied to be considered for 2012's ''Rising Star'' award, ''given to a chamber that exhibited vitality and relevance in its community, brought a unified voice to the LGBT business community it serves, and has proven its commitment to being part of the broader national movement.''
Mark Guenther, executive director of CAGLCC, said from Chicago yesterday that learning of NGLCC honor just a few days ago left him completely stunned.
''We were incredibly surprised. We looked at the requirements for Chamber of the Year and just expected the competition would be fierce,'' he said of the decision to apply to be considered for Rising Star. ''Obviously, the national chamber thought otherwise.''
Chamber President Ernesto Santalla, president of Studio Santalla architecture and interior design, accepted the award with Guenther in Chicago this morning. Along with sharing the stage, he also shared Guenther's surprise.
''There were 23 applications for this award, and we hadn't applied for it,'' Santalla explained. ''They thought enough of us that they thought we ranked in a higher category. That the organization does well is important, but recognition from your peers is equally important. The recognition of the umbrella organization is absolutely the highest honor we could receive.''
Drafting the application for the Rising Star award fell largely to Sean Bugg, vice president of the chamber and Metro Weekly co-publisher. He said that process was important, but couldn't accomplish anything more than what CAGLCC had to back it up.
''An application is only as good as the stuff the chamber is doing,'' Bugg said. ''We have great leadership in terms of what Mark, Ernesto and the executive committee have put together. We also have a really strong board. … For that kind of growth and effort to be recognized by the NGLCC, that is a really amazing honor.''
Santalla agrees. He said that it's gratifying to have years of effort recognized, and that he is trying to savor The Chamber's achievement.
''As a volunteer, as a board member and ultimately as president, I just went about the work we needed to do, finally getting to a point that all this hard work we've done gave me the realization of, 'Look what we have,''' Santalla said. ''That realization gives me tremendous pride.''
Guenther added that regardless of whatever connection an LGBT Washingtonian or ally may have to the chamber, this NGLCC award is a point of pride for the entire community.
''It says that D.C. has it together,'' Guenther said of the honor. ''We're a great community with a strong, thriving LGBT chamber. Our chamber can excel because the backbone of our community is there. Our ability to succeed really stems from all the LGBT people in Washington. We're a strong organization because we have a strong community.''