CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Business Guild hosted nearly 100 people for an anniversary dinner marking 22 years of service in the Queen City on Tuesday.
Members of the organization gathered at the VanLandingham Estate in Plaza Midwood. There, they were addressed by Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, in his first public interaction with the LGBT community since taking office in April. He read from his proclamation commemorating the Guild’s anniversary.
“It is great to have the mayor welcome and embrace the community and speak directly to the LGBT community,” Charlotte Business Guild President Chad Sevearance said following Clodfelter’s brief remarks.
Sevearance told dinner attendees the organization has grown and changed since its first founding in 1992.
“We’re more than just a chamber of commerce,” he said. “We provide a place were people can learn.”
In recent years, the organization had also struggled to attract new members. Through the work of past leaders, Sevearance said, the group was reinvigorated.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said, thanking past president Theresa Davis for her work and taking leadership during a “tumultuous time.”
Sevearance added, “She stood up to organize and solidify our membership with a core group of people to keep the Charlotte Business Guild alive. Because of that work, we are able to do what we do today.”
In the past several months the group says they have increased membership to over 200 individuals and businesses and say they are the largest LGBT chamber of commerce in the Southeast. Earlier this year, the group became a local chamber affiliate of the National Lesbian & Gay Chamber of Commerce. The group, said Severance, has recommitted to its primary mission of providing resources and tools for small businesses.
“We want you to make money — that’s the most important thing to the Charlotte Business Guild,” he said, stressing the LGBT business community’s ability to impact the local economy and government.
“We have a voice and we can make choices and we do show up. That means something to leaders,” Sevearance said. “Money is coming to Charlotte and businesses are coming to Charlotte and people are moving to Charlotte — Charlotte is viewed as an LGBT-friendly city.”
The dinner’s keynote address was to be delivered by Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Murray was sick and unable to attend, but in his place sent Mike Butts, CRVA vice president of sales and executive director of Visit Charlotte, the sales and marketing arm of the local tourism organization.
The CRVA recently became engaged in in-depth talks with several LGBT Community leaders following their support of the Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year. Leaders had called on CRVA to distance themselves from the event, which had some exclusionary, anti-LGBT policies and donated money to an organization known for its anti-gay lobbying. The policies were later modified by the parade organizers and CRVA met one-on-one with LGBT leaders.
Butts said the CRVA works to attract travelers to Charlotte.
“We are so lucky to live in North Carolina,” he said. “We have fabulous beaches. We have fabulous mountains and we have fabulous things all in between.”
The bulk of that travel in this sixth most-visited state in the nation is in the Charlotte area. And, the CRVA, Butts said, wants to attract LGBT visitors, too.
“LGBT visitors tend to spend more and travel during tough economic times,” Butts said. “Six to eight percent of the travel economy in the United States is LGBT driven,” he added, noting international travel to Charlotte is approximately the same.
In what came as a welcome surprise to both guests and dinner attendees, Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield was awarded by the Guild for her “exemplary achievement.”
“She doesn’t just blaze a trail for the LGBT community, but for all of Charlotte,” said Sevearance, noting Mayfield’s commitment to a wide variety of social justice causes and her work on City Council.
Mayfield, elected to represent District 2 in 2011 as the city’s first openly lesbian or gay elected official, was given the Guild’s new Torchbearer Award.
“I am completely humbled and honored for this community believing in me,” Mayfield said in response. “The Charlotte Business Guild has so much to be proud of and the City of Charlotte has more to be proud of — that it has the Charlotte Business Guild,” Mayfield added, noting the group’s leadership from young adults and entrepreneurs and their focus on diversity and inclusion.
Guild leaders say the award will honor those making a difference now and serving as unique role models. Like a torchbearer, who passes off his torch to a new runner, the award will be given quarterly, as a way to regularly highlight new and longtime leaders.
Several other officials attended the event, including City Councilmember Al Alston, County Commissioner Pat Cotham, former County Commission Chair and mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts, Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Chair and North Carolina House candidate Robin Bradford, LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County Chair Gary Leake and several non-profit leaders including LGBT Community Center of Charlotte Chair Ranzeno Frazier, Time Out Youth Executive Director Rodney Tucker and several board members of Charlotte Black Gay Pride.
Entertainment during the dinner was provided by 7th Son, the small men’s ensemble of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, singer and performer Clay Smith and spoken word artist Fatima Mann.