It all started with a birth announcement of sorts.

When Lisa Howe, then a coach at Belmont University, let her players know that she and partner Wendy Holleman were expecting a child, a controversy began that eventually made her a national poster child for GLBT job discrimination. Two years later, after becoming an unexpected activist for employee rights, she now brings her old and new skill sets to the helm of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce.

“I am being given the opportunity to build this position, to make it be what I’d like it to be, which is an amazing challenge,” said Howe. “I knew that I was going up against a lot of people with more experience in nonprofits, but I believed that my coaching skills and what I’ve learned in the last couple of years about community-building and advocacy would be beneficial to the organization. I was very excited when the board of directors agreed!”

Although she is new to the Chamber, its members are well aware of her history. Despite her winning record and solid work ethic at Belmont, the controversy over her coming-out led to her leaving her job amid campus and citywide protests but also led to the school's eventual addition of sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policies. From that victory, Howe became a visible spokesperson during the successful efforts to pass the Contract Accountability Non Discrimination Ordinance, or CANDO. She also spoke out against the Tennessee General Assembly's near-simultaneous efforts by to enact legislation that ultimately led to CANDO's nullification.

“Lisa Howe knows firsthand how it is to come out in the workplace and suffer discrimination because of sexual orientation,” said Michael Fluck, president of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce in a statement when Howe was hired in February. “She has a passion for workplace equality that can’t be matched and is the perfect fit as our new executive director.”

Howe has identified several initial priorities including membership recruitment along with a website and social-media overhaul.

“I am looking at our existing structure and also taking a look at GLBT chambers in other cities to see how we can reconfigure ourselves,” she said. “I am looking at everything from our day-to-day operations all the way up to the big-picture stuff.”

The challenge, she continued, will be to take existing platforms, such as the chamber’s website, and further integrate them into social media such as Facebook and Twitter to deepen the organization’s reach.

“One of our major benefits is networking, so we need to show that we’re taking advantage of all the ways to network that are out there,” Howe said. “We’ve been adding more to our Facebook page and have seen a 2,000 percent increase in usage. We know what works, and so we’re strengthening our interactions with the community. If you share the right things, it goes viral and your message stays out there.”
She also plans to work closely with other nonprofit groups and organizations in Middle Tennessee and help expand the chamber’s reach that way as well.

“I really do see myself as a middleman, getting people to work together,” she said. “That’s what you do as a coach. I’m going to work with our members on common goals within the chamber, and then take those goals out into the community and find the areas where we can tie in with the nonprofits and the advocacy organizations.”

She also will be making a membership push and will be coordinating an event in late March. The event will serve as an “open house” for Howe in her new position while offering existing and potential members a chance to speak with her about her plans and goals.

“We’re going to launch a six-month membership campaign in April, which is the midpoint of our fiscal year, and so we’ll be signing people up for six-month memberships. I believe that once they join for that length of time and see all that we’re doing and planning to do, they’ll want to remain with the Chamber and grow their business along with us.”

Want more information on Chamber programs and events? Contact Lisa Howe by clicking here.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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