By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
The Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is a 24-year-old, 501c6 membership organization that exists to drive economic success for the LGBT business community and their allies. On September 21 they host the annual Community Awards Dinner, and we spoke to Sheila Merritt, Corporate Partner Relationship Manager, about the dinner and the mission of the AGLCC.
Why do you think Atlanta needs an organization like the AGLCC?
We serve as the LGBT leader and advocate for an inclusive business environment through 5 strategic pillars: Certification; Community & Networking; Business Development; Tourism, and Policy & Advocacy. Each one of these makes the AGLCC important to business owners and corporate partners alike- and all together, makes our organization uniquely positioned to serve as a leader in the fight for full equality and inclusion.
Tell us about the upcoming community awards ceremony?
It’s a GREAT event! We will celebrate the best and brightest among our members. This year’s program is scheduled for September 21 from 6:30-10. There’s a pre-dinner reception, then the awards dinner and an after-party with dueling DJ’s! The Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta will host this year. Tickets are $155 each. We’ve got a block of rooms so if anyone wants to make a night of it, mention the AGLCC when they make their reservation and receive a hotel room discount. Raffle prizes will also be available. To purchase tickets, go to atlantagaychamber.org
Can you highlight a few of the nominees and why they have been nominated?
We have seven categories in which voting is required, including Business Man & Woman of the Year, Guardian Angel, Rising Star, Corporate Ally, Small Business of the Year, and of course, Member of the Year. It would be impossible for me to highlight just a few – every category is SO impressive. Anyone could nominate during our open nomination period; then we narrowed that to the top 5. Member votes are combined with Executive Committee weighted votes to decide the final outcome. I’m THRILLED that so many people from across our community have been recognized as nominees! For a full list, you can go to atlantagaychamber.org/events/community-awards.
We will present two other awards: our Rosemary Jones Icon Award, which is the equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Award but is named to honor the memory of a longtime advocate and champion of Atlanta’s LGBT business community and the AGLCC. The other is our AGLCC Vanguard Award, which is given to someone on the national scale who has had success in their chosen field or industry, shows great leadership and whose achievements will have a lasting impact on the LGBT community as a whole.
What is the importance of certifying businesses as LGBT?
Once you have that designation, a business has access to and is able to build relationships with America’s leading corporations, generate prospective business, and collectively team with each other for contracting opportunities.
As corporate America becomes more inclusive and further diversifies supply chains, certification offers the opportunity for LGBT-owned businesses (LGBT Business Enterprises, or LGBTBE) to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
What is the current business climate in Atlanta like when it comes to LGBT businesses?
Georgia is 4th among certified LGBTBE’s throughout the US – and many of those are in Atlanta. That’s an impressive statistic. Our businesses are an integral part of the engine that keeps Atlanta’s economy moving forward. BUT; in a state where you can still be fired for being gay, and elected officials still try to legislate discrimination, we have much work to do. Thanks to the efforts of the AGLCC, our members, partners, and allies, we will continue working toward full equality and inclusion in Atlanta and beyond.