GLBT Chamber awards honor businesses, advocates


Clockwise: Harry LaRosiliere ; Marsha Thomas; David Henderson; Mary Gonzalez


JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

North GLBT Chamber of Commerce hosts the 11th annual Celebration of Excellence awards honoring businesses and individuals who for LGBT equality on Friday, April 15. In addition to presenting the 2015 Business in Excellence Awards, the chamber will also honor four legislative advocates for LGBT equality.

“The dinner pays tribute to our annual Business Excellence Award recipients, businesses, organizations and individuals who have distinguished themselves through positive business practices, business growth and community involvement,” Chamber President and CEO Tony Vedda said.

“It is difficult to make business sound exciting, however the dinner gives us a chance to have some fun and shine the spotlight people and businesses that are truly great,” he noted.

Among the recipients are out state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, former Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, Plano Mayor and straight ally Harry LaRosiliere and the Texas Association of Business.

Whether at the statehouse or at city hall, each recipient defended LGBT equality in the face of pressure from its opponents, Vedda has said.

Gonzalez said it is “truly an honor to be recognized by the North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce. I am proud to stand with the chamber as we work to create a more socially just and humane world and tackle LGBT justice issues.”

LaRosiliere is being honored for his passionate defense of his city’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in 2014. On the night of the vote, which passed 5-3, LaRosiliere told the crowd they were going to pass the ordinance because it was the right thing to do.

“I am proud and honored to accept this award on behalf of the entire city. Our efforts on diversity and inclusion are simply an acknowledgment of who we are,” LaRosiliere said in a written statement.

Likewise, Allen, who served as a Dallas city councilman from 2007 to 2015, is being recognized for his advocacy on council. As chair of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, Allen steered a number of changes in city policy that were recommended by the LGBT Task Force through the committee and the full council.

But the Texas Association of Business, the state’s largest business trade group, is a perhaps unexpected ally.

Seen as traditionally conservative, Vedda said, “they don’t normally step into social issues” like LGBT equality. But as LGBT rights become mainstream, the business community is realizing that discrimination hinders economic growth and drives away potential employers.

The Texas Association of Business, for instance, during the most recent session of the Texas Legislature, “came out in full force,” alongside Equality Texas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, against a proposal that would have allowed business owners to deny services and goods to LGBT people and others based on the business owners’ “sincerely-held” religious beliefs.

The resolution, originally filed by Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba, would have enshrined the state’s existing religious liberty bill in the Texas Constitution.

While Villalba dropped the proposal after hearing concerns from TAB leadership and others, Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, then filed his own bill. The senate sponsor, Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, rebuffed the criticism and defended her bill.

The bill died last session, but bills in Arkansas and Indiana passed despite similar pushback from LGBT rights and business groups.

“It was a big step for them to come out against an anti-LGBT bill,” Vedda said of the business organization.

Other recipients represent an array of LGBT-run and allied businesses across the Dallas/Fort Worth area and individual LGBT advocates.

Fantastic Moves and AIDS Arms are recipients of this year’s Business of the Year awards.

Tori Hobbs, director of development for AIDS Arms, said this is the first tine a community group has received the Business of the Year award.

“AIDS Arms has been a member of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce for many years, sharing similar values of diversity and inclusiveness. We are honored to be selected as the first community based organization to receive this award,” Hobbs said.

Other recipients include Jaime Duggan of Duggan Noriega who won the Emerging Leader Award, David Gifford-Robinson who won the Supplier Diversity Champion award sponsored by the Dallas

Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Sheraton Dallas that won this year’s corporate ally award.

David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, and Rainbow Roundup are this year’s community service recipients.

“For those of us who commit so many years to LGBT advocacy without a paycheck, a thank-you like this one from the NTGLBT Chamber means the world,” Henderson said. “There are days when sincere gratitude is the crucial element that keeps me grounded and resolute. Folks who persistently carry it forward inspire me. I’m humbled and honored to be recognized among such distinguished company.”

Marsha Thomas of TNT Promotions, recipient of the Member Service Award sponsored by Pride Pharmacy, said she is also honored “to be recognized by my peers and the GLBT chamber. I will continue to serve the chamber and members. It’s a pleasure.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2016.