Guest Blogger

More Signs that Times are Changing in DC for LGBT Americans

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 19, 2009 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics

Editor's Note: Guest bloggers Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications in Washington, and Wes Combs, President of Witeck-Combs Communications, advise Fortune 100 companies and nonprofit organizations on gay business and market research issues. Together they wrote the first business book on marketing to the GLBT market entitled "Business Inside Out: Capturing Millions of Brand-Loyal Gay Consumers" (Kaplan Publishing, September 2006).

The impact of diversity and full inclusion in any organization is strengthened when its leader "walks the walk" while "talking the talk." As business owners and residents of the Washington area, we are witnessing how the early actions of our current President are sending tangible signals to those in the nation's capital and around the world about the true meaning of diversity and its importance to successfully defining and promoting its policies.

This week, we witnessed first hand how the Obama administration is renewing its early commitment to diversity and equal participation.

We were fortunate to be among seven LGBT small business owners invited to attend a White House briefing when President Obama announced his administration's small business initiative. The President, joined by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, announced that the Treasury Department will purchase up to $15 billion in securities backed by Small Business Administration loans in an effort to unfreeze the secondary market for SBA loans. What this means to us and the other small business owners like us is that it should free up capital to make new loans to assist with business growth - and in this shattered economy, for many fragile businesses to ensure their survival too.

White House SBA Meeting.jpg

In the State Dining Room at the White House: Pictured from left to right: Bill Gehrman, President, Enroute Marketing - Philadelphia, PA; Kate Karasmeighan, Chief of Staff, National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; Eileen Kessler, President, OmniStudio, Inc., Wesley Combs, President, Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc.; Bob Witeck, CEO, Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc.; Megan Wallace, Wallace Law LLC. (Not pictured: Ingrid Duran and Catherine Pino, Co-Founders, D&P Creative Strategies)
Photo credit: Megan Wallace

As we wandered through the White House before the briefing began, we found ourselves among a very diverse group of roughly 120 other business owners and trade association representatives. The individuals mirrored many of us on Main Street USA - men and women, older and younger, black and white, gay and non-gay, Hispanic and Asian, as well as entrepreneurs with disabilities.

We now have been in business for 15 years, and as gay entrepreneurs - we understand that our financial and market challenges are like many others. We also strive, however, to be visible in commerce and in the community, so that our customers, partners, vendors, and allies really understand the many valuable contributions that LGBT families and households make to America's economic health. Our contributions today are recognized and felt more keenly than ever, and we believe thriving as businesses makes a political statement as much as an economic imperative.

Diversity is only a mantra unless it is put into action by ensuring inclusion at all levels of an organization. First, President Obama reinstated a key position that had existed during the Clinton years - the White House Liaison to the LGBT Community. The selection of Brian Bond to be Deputy Director for the White House Office of Public Liaison as well as the Administration's point person on LGBT outreach is a promising start. Brian brought his skills from his leadership experience at the Democratic National Committee, as well as his successful stewardship of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and he knows the terrain well. He is able to quickly engage many talented members of the community to assist the Administration in thinking through complex issues that impact all Americans.

So far, Brian is off to a good start. He has ensured that members of the LGBT community have been at the table to discuss some of the key issues facing the President in his first 100 days. He worked with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) to tap the seven LGBT business owners for this week's small business event, while on January 28, he brought NGLCC's co-founders Chance Mitchell and Justin Nelson to join other leading U.S. business executives and organizations to discuss President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package with his top advisors, including Jason Berman, the White House's economic policy director.

When it came to examining the healthcare challenges facing our nation, Bond ensured that leaders from NGLTF and HRC, and others, were invited to the March 5th bipartisan health care summit meeting at the White House, making certain that our leaders are included in the discussion. We also have learned that Bond and the White House are making very sure also to reach far beyond the Beltway for unique perspectives, and will be casting a broader net than ever - and building on the shoulders of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton who established the precedents for LGBT inclusion and appointment throughout the Clinton years.

Some may remember in past years, members of the LGBT community however were often included in Administration discussions for such specific policy issues as dealing with hate crimes or strategies to lift the military ban and to undo "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But, to think of diversity in this way today would be the same as including Hispanics solely for discussions about immigration policy, for example.

Our community's unique priorities such as enactment of an inclusive ENDA, fair-minded tax policies, federal hate crimes legislation and achieving full, open military service, for example, will be the acid test for successful policy - there's no question. Yet bringing all of us to all of the critical discussions is the right formula for achieving the best policies for all Americans.

President Obama seems to rely on his own experiences in guiding him through the assignments and appointments of his key staffers. He surrounds himself with people who come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, not unlike his own. He was able to win the election because he truly believed that change had come to America in terms of what it means to be an American. It was the diversity of voters from all walks of life who joined together and put their faith in this visionary leader - who saw and believed that he wanted them to be part of the process.

In his election night acceptance speech, President Obama made this even more clear:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer...

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

We are hopeful. We are especially hopeful that he is governing like he ran for office - by being inclusive and leaving no one out of the discussion about what really is possible. From the looks of the challenges he and all of us are facing, he will need every person he can leverage to get us through the steep road ahead. And when he succeeds, we will be part of that solution; if he should fail in any way, then we also take responsibility ourselves.

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Great post, Bob and Wes. Thanks for reminding us that it makes sense for LGBT business owners to be involved in broad-based initiatives as well as LGBT-specific causes. You wrote, "bringing all of us to all of the critical discussions is the right formula for achieving the best policies for all Americans." I agree, and would also add education to the list of areas where I hope LGBT Americans will take a particularly active role.