By Alan Beck
PALM SPRINGS–The 13th annual National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Conference was held in Palm Desert, California at the JW Marriott Resort last week. One thousand participants from the United States, Canada, Central America, South America, and other world ports attended.
The Conference, which lasted four days, started with a plenary session as nationally acclaimed LGBT business leaders spoke about the growth of LGBT businesse, becoming vital to the economic engine of the United States: Eugene Cornelius, SVP of the Small Business Administration; Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications, a pioneer in gay public relations and an early advocate of LGBT inclusion spoke about the history and advancement of gay rights within corporations; Aaron Walton, an out gay black man, spoke eloquently about the commitment to seeing messages of equality getting out to both the black and LGBT communities from Lexus, and the success of those campaigns; and Heidi Lehmann, ResponsiveAds Inc., spoke about connecting businesses together and “dancing with everyone “ at least once to get to the right person and make the sale.
Breakout sessions covered many business topics and Chamber of Commerce issues, giving attendees the opportunity to face each other and learn about business developments, changes, opportunities and more.
An evening reception sponsored by Delta Air Lines, Caesars Entertainment, and the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority was well attended and received.
Luncheon the next day featured a conversation with and performance by the legendary singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge. Her down home style of speaking, earthy and honest talk brought the audience to laughter and to tears. When she told the story of a song she wrote, just after the Pulse Nightclub disaster, and how she brought it to rehearsal at a NYC sound studio, and on to the internet in 72 hours, one got the true power of Melissa and the depth of her commitment to the LGBT community as a symbol of strength. When she sang the song, “Pulse,” dry eyes were hard to find in the audience.
In the afternoon, checks were awarded by Wells Fargo Bank to numerous Chambers for their growth, fine work and dedication to certifying LGBT businesses. Locally, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce received a $5,000 grant to launch its “Business Connect” program; and the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chambers received a $10,000 check to expand a program to foster development, growth, and sustainability of certified LGBT business enterprises.