Friday, November 16, 2012 was proclaimed ‘National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Day’ in the nation’s Capital by Mayor Vincent Gray. He lauded the organization in comments to over 800 business people from across the nation and the world at the 10th Anniversary dinner held at the Building Museum.
In 2002 I wrote a column in the Washington Blade about the need for a new organization representing the interests of the gay and lesbian business community. There were many civil and human rights organizations but none such as a chamber of commerce that would focus on the economic clout of the community and the ability of the community to help grow our economy. It would be an organization dedicated to expanding the economic opportunities and advancements of LGBT people in the business community.
Shortly after the column was published I received a phone call from two young men, Justin G. Nelson and Chance Mitchell, asking if I planned to start such an organization. They told me that they had a similar idea and wanted to move forward with it and asked if I would support that. Never could I have imagined what these two amazing young men would accomplish in ten short years.
Today the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) is a thriving organization with a staff of close to fifteen and an international Board of Directors. Major corporations such as IBM, Comcast/NBC Universal, American Airlines, and Wells Fargo among 100s of others help to sponsor and participate in the Chamber’s programs.
Each year the organization honors a number of individuals and businesses and among those honored this year were Dawn Ackerman and George Pieper and their company Outsmart Office Solutions as LGBT Supplier of the Year. Corporation of the Year award went to Accenture and the NGLCC/American Airlines ExtrAA Mile Award was presented to Judith Light for her extraordinary efforts on behalf of LGBT civil and human rights. The Pinnacle Award was given to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who unfortunately couldn’t be there to accept the award in person. Those attending the dinner included representatives of the State Department, USAID, the Veterans Administration, and Department of Commerce, along with Dennis and Judy Shepard whose leadership led to President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act in his first year in office.
NGLCC is poised to move forward in their next ten years and will continue to play an important part in building the economy through understanding that the diversity in its work force and business ownership is a crucial component of that growth.
The District of Columbia has an epidemic problem with HIV/AIDS and we all need to do something about it. We need more education to keep people from getting HIV/AIDS and more programs to help people who have HIV/AIDS. We need to involve everyone in this fight and that includes government, religious organizations, community groups and individuals.
Saturday’s AIDSWALK was a great event on a crystal clear day perfect for walking or running. Before the start of the walk the 1,000’s participating saw a program emceed by Aaron Gilchrist and Eun Yang of NBC4 that included the final farewell performance of the DC Cowboys and then were revved-up and warmed-up by the boys from RESULTS the GYM. They heard from Mayor Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton who have both been stalwarts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Don Blanchon, the great Executive Director of Whitman-Walker Health (WWH), spoke of the progress that is being made and the successes that WWH has had. What is great to see is how when City leaders focus their attention on fighting this epidemic the community also steps up its efforts and makes all the difference. This support resulted in raising nearly $750,000 from this year’s walk.
WWH is one of the most effect organizations fighting HIV/AIDS in our community or for that matter in the nation. They have been in this fight from the beginning and today they are serving individuals and their families across the District who are impacted by this disease in epidemic proportions. We know that there are three percent of adults who are known to have HIV in our city and an additional three percent are infected but don’t know it. AIDSWALK plays a vital role in raising funds to fight the epidemic.
Today Whitman-Walker Health does more than just serve patients with HIV/AIDS. They provide primary comprehensive medical care for all patients including preventative exams and care for chronic and urgent health issues. Their medical providers have special expertise in treating chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, HIV, and hepatitis B and C, and in general gynecology.They provide this care in a culturally-competent and affirming environment. They have an on-site pharmacy, phlebotomy (blood-draw) services and complete medical, mental health, and dental providers in one location so they can be a one-stop shop for health care!
As long as HIV/AIDS continues to impact the people of the District WWH will be there to provide needed services. I look forward to the day when we can say that this is the last AIDSWALK but until that time we can all say thank you to those who step up to the plate and give their money, time and support to those in our community who so desperately need it.
I thought I had heard it all from the Romney/Ryan team. Then Ann Romney went on The View. Whoopie Goldberg may not have been "nice" in her question regarding Mitt's military service or lack of it but for Ms. Romney to suggest that going on mission for the Mormon Church is the same as going into the military is repugnant. Mitt Romney and I are the same age and, contrary to President Obama, when Romney and I were eligible for service there was a draft.
I grew up in New York City, upper Manhattan, and knew few people who went into the military during the Vietnam War. Some went to Canada; some claimed they were conscientious objectors; some did what George Bush did and joined the National Guard; and others even claimed to be homosexual when they were actually straight. But none ever claimed that what they did was equivalent to going into the military. Some didn't go out of fear and others out of opposition to the war, but today they are all honest about their reasons.
My draft number was 115. On the day that subway token arrived in my mailbox with my draft notice telling me to report to the induction center at 39 Whitehall Street my friends planned a going away party for me. I left a teary mother the morning of my induction day and took the subway to Whitehall Street.
I was petrified. At Whitehall we were instructed to line up facing forward and told that we were going to go through our physicals and then board buses to basic training. Then they said if anyone had a reason to believe they weren't fit for service to take one step forward and, this being New York, 95 percent of the line stepped forward including me. One by one they asked each of us our reason and people said they were flat-footed; they wore glasses; they had severe allergies; you name it, they had it. I had a bad knee. I had recently undergone knee surgery and still had a red nasty looking 6" scar. Each of us was sent to see doctors that would know about our specific ailments and make the decision that would impact our lives. It was 8 a.m. in the morning.
After many hours of exams and tests including mental tests to see where they would place us if we were inducted, I was called into a room and told, "We are very sorry but the Army can't take you because of your knee. You will be classified "1Y." (That wasn't a "4F" which meant you were totally unfit for service. My friends always suggested it meant that if the Russians or Chinese got to the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge I would be called up to collect tolls). I said how sorry I was and then ran out of Whitehall Street to the subway and home to celebrate.
I never believed that any other service was equivalent to serving in the military. The few friends I knew who went thankfully all came home safe. I saw them all as heroes even though I didn't believe in the war. They had served our nation and did it bravely. They had risked their lives which is something none of us who didn't go ever did. They deserved our respect and our gratitude as those who serve in the volunteer military do today. They are the heroes as are our first responders, our police and firemen, the men and women who willingly put their lives on the line to protect us here and abroad every day.
For Ann Romney to suggest that a two year stint for the church in peacetime Paris is in any way equivalent to serving in Vietnam is an insult to all those brave men and women who did. Incredibly she then went on to say, "Mitt was serving his mission and my five sons have also served missions. None served in the military, but I do have one son that feels he is giving back to his country in a significant way where he is now a doctor and is taking care of veterans. So, you know, we find different ways of serving." Romney further said, "... and my boys did serve missions, and they went away for two years, and I sent them away boys, and they came back men, and I think this is where military service is so extraordinary too, where you literally do something where you're helping someone else, you're going outside of yourself and you're working and helping others, and that changes you."
Today with a volunteer military many of our elected leaders will never serve. Bill Clinton never served and neither did Barack Obama, but I believe they are able to serve successfully as commander in chief. They never claimed that they did anything equivalent to serving in the military and they understand that there is very little that is equivalent to putting your life on the line for your country.
I would hope that Ann and Mitt Romney would rethink this. If Mitt Romney agrees with his wife that his Mormon mission and partying in Paris was the same as serving in the military then this is just another reason he is unfit to be commander-in-chief.
This article appeared October 23, 2012 in Huffington Post.com