CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 150 community members gathered for the Charlotte Business Guild’s annual fundraising dinner on Saturday night, complete with calls for community unity, diversity and inclusion, philanthropy and annual awards honoring community leaders and businesses in Charlotte.

The event, held at Label at the NC Music Factory, featured several speakers, including Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, state Sen. Jeff Jackson and Rocio Gonzalez, executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte.

Philanthropy and inclusion

But the focus during the evening — dubbed “A Giving Gala” — was on local organizations and non-profits, with the Guild encouraging attendees to donate to Time Out Youth, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network and Genderlines, a transgender support group.

“I don’t want you to give because your heart was touched or you shed a tear for story. I want you to give because it’s the right thing to do,” Charlotte Business Guild President Chad Severeance told the community members and business owners gathered.

“Our diversity and inclusion doesn’t just go for black and white, gay and straight,” he said. “Inclusion goes for the homeless teen, the person who has HIV and can’t find a job because they keep discriminating against him or the transgender person who can’t get a their name change and she’s facing discrimination at work. These are types of inclusion as well, and that inclusion will only occur if our businesses put their money where their mouth is.”

Sevearance added: “We can put our non-discrimination policies on our walls and in our employee handbooks, we can preach it in trainings, we can say we are inclusive, we can put bumper stickers on our car or we can go to all the parties in the world, but if the rubber doesn’t meet the road and you’re not giving to these organizations for sustenance, then these organizations can shutter, and if they shutter, who’s going to take care of that teen, who’s going to take care of the person with HIV, who’s going to take care of the transgender person who’s trying to step out into the world and find their way?”

Representatives from Time Out Youth, Genderlines and RAIN each spoke briefly at the event, thanking sponsors and donors.

And, as the importance of philanthropy was stressed, so, too, was the importance of community unity and inclusion.

Mayfield, who took heat for her transgender-inclusive stance on local non-discrimination ordinances, told audience members it was crucial for the LGBT community to stand united.

“It is vitally important that we as an LGBT community stick together,” Mayfield said. “If we are going to be effective advocates for equality, we must speak with a unified voice and we must speak in unison. We must not be distracted by petty arguments that seek to distract us from our goal.”

Mayfield added: “Our community must do a better job of embracing its members before we can ask outside groups to embrace us. We cannot afford to exclude any part of our community. … We must not exclude anyone or their contributions. We must model inclusion on the highest levels.”

Remarks from Gonzalez stressed the importance of true inclusion, especially in communities with great diversity — those like the Latino community.

“When I look for a person that looks just like me who is Latino, most of the time we are very different,” she said. “We might be from different countries, call the same thing with different words or the same word has a different meaning. We come to the conclusion we need to communicate and get to know each other better, because we are not the same even though we are both called Latinos.”

Gonzalez added: “We speak about diversity and our differences among Latinos, but what is more important is not only speaking about diversity, but also about inclusion. How many times have you been to a place filled with diversity, but you find out that groups still don’t integrate with one another? … We must challenge ourselves to look beyond the superficial and focus on the qualities in each of us and see each person’s attributes. Let’s give ourselves the opportunity to understand the intelligence and greatness of others.”

Leaders awarded

Several leaders, entrepreneurs and businesses were honored with annual Charlotte Business Guild awards.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham was given the group’s Bridge Builder Award.

Frank Kalian, a Charlotte Business Guild board member and longtime community leader, received the group’s Teresa L. Davis Lifetime Achievement Award. Named after a former Guild president, the award honors a local leader who has dedicated their life to the betterment of the LGBT community. Kalian is the owner of Sir Speedy on Caswell Rd. He is a former board member of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, currently serves on the board of the GayCharlotte Film Festival and has often donates or assists with printing services to local LGBT groups and causes.

The Guild presented its Professional of the Year Award to Kelly Durden and Sarah Demarest, former staff attorneys for the now-closed LGBTQ Law Center.

Additionally, the group awarded Sarrah Kelly its Entrepreneur of the Year award. Kelly owns and operates Eaglespeak Coffeehouse and Tropical-Sno on South Blvd.

The McCall Center of Art + Innovation and Fifth Third Bank received the group’s Non-Profit of the Year and Corporation of the Year awards, respectively.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.