Editors' note: Eileen Kessler, a board member of the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and an NGLCC-certified business, is founder and president of OmniStudio, Inc., a Washington, DC-based communications and design firm.
In Washington, there is a battle being waged between the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over which best represents the interests of corporate America--the U.S. Chamber or business leaders themselves.
Recently, as the U.S. Chamber lost some members over its antipathy to climate change legislation, Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's senior adviser and a key business liaison, expressed the administration's frustration. "Does [the U.S. Chamber] still represent the community's interests?" she asked.
Throughout my 30 years in business, I've questioned the U.S. Chamber's positions. I realized long ago that it does not represent my views or interests.
From its opposition to family leave legislation, a public option in the pending health reform bill and minimum wage increases, to its silence on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, many of the U.S. Chamber's positions take an exceptionally narrow view of government and its role in our society.
I found there is little room in the U.S. Chamber for business owners like myself--people who understand the cost of federal regulations and mandates, but who also see the profound role government plays in a democratic society.
I am not a Pollyanna about the costs the federal government imposes on business. I pay taxes, and I have had to wrestle with red tape and rules. But I also believe that the federal government plays a strong role in ensuring the stability of our economy, equality in the workplace, the vitality of the environment, and access to health care for all.
So, where did I find like-minded business owners with more progressive views of business's relationship with government? I found them joining together in conversation and activism in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
The NGLCC and its network of local chamber affiliates is an essential meeting ground for business owners and entrepreneurs who believe that the protections established and imposed by government are often essential to ensure progress in society.
The NGLCC actively lobbies Congress and the administration on issues like health care, hate crimes, employment equality and energy efficiency. Its members are equally vocal in working with their local chambers to have their voices heard in state and local governments.
While the NGLCC may not have the financial muscle of the U.S. Chamber in Congress, it finally has a seat at the table as it participates in meetings with the President's top advisors on health care, energy and environmental issues.
The rift within the U.S. Chamber has proven there is no guarantee that businesses will move in lockstep behind one organization. LGBT business owners, especially, need to take a closer look at the organizations they join. Does a group like the U.S. Chamber represent your values and ideals?
As every single vote counts in the U.S., this battle proves that every single entrepreneur's and business owner's voice counts as well. We cannot cede this ground to the U.S. Chamber and its limited vision of what is best for the business community.
Only by participating actively and with purpose in business organizations reflecting our views can we ensure that every voice is heard and respected.