The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce packed the Wildhorse Saloon with a Who's Who of corporate leaders, small business owners, civic leaders, and professionals at its annual Excellence in Business Awards ceremony April 28. Over 300 guests attended the high energy event that included powerful presentations, emotional acceptance speeches, and optimism on the day of the marriage equality hearings in the United States Supreme Court.

LGBT Chamber Executive Director Lisa Howe encouraged members to provide the means for employees and suppliers to be able to self-identify as LGBT. "In order to prove our existence and our worth, we must be counted and measured," she said. "Women get to check a box. Hispanics get to check a box. If you value your LGBT employees, give them a box to check."

There was no shortage of elected officials and candidates in the room. Representatives included Judge Melissa Blackburn, Jason Holleman, Sarah Martin, Brett Withers, Nancy VanReece, David Briley, Steven Butler, Bob Mendes, Jim Shulman, and Megan Barry.

Many of the presenters brought with them beautiful messages of what equality means to them. They spoke of personal experiences in the workplace and in their families. They issued challenges to the finalists, winners, and all those in the room.  Presenters included Trish Crist of NECAT, Jamie McPherson from the Nashville Post, Michael Burcham, LGBT Chamber co-founders - Maria Salas, Mark Lee Taylor, and Sam Felker, and past winners - Brad Pinson, Jim Robert, Jesse Ehrenfeld, Mary Berst, and Travis Parman.

One of the best presentations came from Nissan, the 2014 Corporate Diversity Award winner. Mary Berst spoke of the pressure put on the winner to live up to the standards set by the expectations of the award, and she challenged everyone in the room to continue forward on their journeys of diversity and inclusion. Being a finalist or a winner was not enough. Travis Parman credited people in the room for holding Nissan's hand to help get them to 100 on the HRC Corporate Equality Index in less than 2 years, and he presented the award to the 2015 winner, Fifth Third Bank.

An emotional acceptance speech was delivered by the Business Leader of the Year, David Brzozowski. The Dollar General Senior Manager of Learning and Development accepted the award in front of 4 Vice Presidents and the Chief People Officer from Dollar General.

History was made as the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce signed a Strategic Alliance Memorandum with the Small Business Administration.  The two organizations are partnering to share resources that will continue the formation, growth, and success of small businesses in Middle Tennessee. While on stage, Walter Perry, LaTanya Channel, and David Tiller presented Emma with the Small Business Diversity Award.

Full List of Excellence in Business Awards Winners:

President's Award - Cathy Werthan, CPA Consulting Group

Leadership in the Arts Award - Nashville Opera Association

Mark Lee Taylor Community Service Award - Marisa Richmond

Ally Award - Megan Barry, Metro City Council Member, At Large

Sam Felker Business Leader of the Year - David Brzozowski, Dollar General

Maria Salas Entrepreneur of the Year - Bruce Pittman, Bruce Pittman, Inc.

Small Business Diversity Award - Emma

Corporate Diversity Award - Fifth Third Bank


About the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce:

The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce is a 17 year old organization that advances common business interests, economic growth, and equality in the workplace for its LGBT members, businesses, and allies by providing educational, networking, and community building opportunities.  The LGBT Chamber empowers the LGBT and ally community by contributing to the economic growth of Nashville.





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