When Chad Sevearance-Turner first became a member of the Charlotte Business Guide, he admits that he had only just heard of the organization. He was asked to speak at a presentation on the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte as an HR expert, and was given a free membership to the Guild, which hosted the event, for his time.
“I had never heard of the Charlotte Business Guild and really didn’t know what they did,” Sevearance-Turner admits. “I just knew that I was going to be speaking to a room full of individuals about the repeal of DOMA and how that affects their benefits, and health insurance plans and things of that nature.”
This in spite of the fact that he is from the area, having grown up in Gaston County before moving to Charlotte, N.C., for going on 14 years, and was aware of other LGBT community organizations.
From featured speaker to president
Sevearance-Turner began working as a regular member of the Guild in 2011. A few years later he was asked to be on the nomination committee for the annual meeting. He was elected as president in January 2014, even though he was not originally nominated.
“The vice president [Natasha Tutt] and I were both elected, and both of us had served on the nomination committee and nominated other people, but for some reason we were elected,” he remembers, laughing.
The board obviously knew what they were doing when they selected him for the job, as Sevearance-Turner has presided over the organization at a pivotal time and has helped bring it to a level of prominence such that it is much less likely that anyone living in Charlotte could be clued into the LGBT scene and not know about the group’s place in the community.
“When we came into the position, both the vice president and I, we did a huge overhaul of an organization that [had dwindled to] less than 50 members at the time,” Sevearance-Turner says, adding, “We inherited an organization that didn’t have any corporate sponsors.
“So [Tutt and I] just rebranded, created a new logo and sort of focused the mission on really being a chamber.”
He says they also did away with holding two to three events per month to instead focus on just one event per month.
“That way we could do one thing really well instead of trying doing multiple things,” he explains.
The changes were obviously effective, as the organization has seen a 37 percent growth in membership since he took office in 2014. There were other early indicators of success as well.
“Our events were beginning to sell out. There were waitlists for tickets. We were starting to see a huge shift in interest in the Business Guild,” he says. “I think that taking on the mindset of giving the members a return on their investment in the Charlotte Business Guild was the most important thing. The Charlotte Business Guild became less of a social club and more of an opportunity for people to tap into other businesses to gain knowledge, and also gain expertise in areas of entrepreneurship, and also become members of corporate America.”
These partnerships have been key in spurring the group’s impressive growth. It provides them, as he puts it, with “a better network to tap into.”
“We affiliated with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce [in March, 2014], and we also renewed and strengthened our relationship as one of the five diversity partners for The Charlotte Chamber,” Sevearance-Turner says. “So that broadened the network for the members, and it also broadened the network for our corporate sponsors to be able to be in a larger group, to provide more of a supply of diversity type environment for them to not only gain access but also to gain notoriety.
“Because obviously small businesses have a very hard time with branding, especially if they have a small budget and they’re not able to market properly. Giving them a network such as The Charlotte Chamber, and also The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber, as well as the Business Guild, became invaluable, and they started to see the great value of paying that yearly fee to be a member.”
After these partnerships were cemented, membership grew from around 50 members to well over 250 in less than a year.
Fighting for equality and unity in Charlotte and beyond
The group is not only involved in creating a network for its members to help grow their businesses, they also work to make the city of Charlotte, and beyond, a more LGBT-friendly environment.
“Probably the second most important initiative that we do [after providing a network for our members], is partnering with organizations within the community to assist in endeavors to bring equality to Charlotte, N.C., and the nation,” Sevearance-Turner notes. “We have strategic partners through the Charlotte Chamber, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the HRC [Human Rights Campaign], Equality North Carolina and Visit Gay Charlotte.”
It is a necessary development that, as he points out, cannot be taken for granted.
“The gay community in Charlotte — our organizations have not always worked well together, or played well together in the sandbox. In years past, organizations could carry grudges…[which] could get in the way of actually accomplishing good for the community. What we did was, as a board, we decided to put aside all the strife or any issues that may have arisen within the community — whether it was through the Community Center, or if it was through HRC, or whatever group it was — and we endeavored to partner with every organization that shared the same mission.”
Charlotte Business Guild becomes the Charlotte LBGT Chamber of Commerce
Adding new members, selling out events and partnering with major players in corporate America were not the only ways in which the Guild endeavored to become more visible.
In October of this year, the organization announced that they would no longer be known as the Charlotte Business Guild, but were changing their name to the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce. It was a move many, including Sevearance-Turner himself, saw as the organization effectively “coming out of the closet.”
“We must embrace who we are and allow others to realize what market we represent. When a corporation or company makes a commitment to sponsor or join as a member, they want the full value of being a part of an organization that is proud of and deliberate in its mission for economic empowerment and equality within the city it serves,” he said in a press release during the announcement of the name change.
While he admits the board had a contentious debate over the name change, they eventually came to an agreement and have seen an overwhelmingly positive response from both the LGBT and ally communities.
A time of continued change, growth
Sevearance-Turner has seen the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce effectively create a unifying space for organizations and businesses throughout the region and beyond, and is confident that the trend will continue.
“This year, most of the organizations [affiliated or working with the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce] adopted the theme ‘Stronger Together,’ and it is the first time that I think most of our organizations have come together and said, ‘Okay, this is the umbrella we’re going to be under this year,’” he says, noting the non-discrimination ordinance, the upcoming presidential election and changes in Charlotte as motivating factors for unity around shared interests and concerns.
It is also a time of change in his personal life, as he recently married his partner Nate Turner, himself a small business owner.
Sevearance-Turner credits his success to his husband’s support and patience.
Oh, and that’s not all. Shortly after concluding this interview, he contacted qnotes again to let us know that he had forgotten to add another piece of good news: For the first time in 23 years the organization will have permanent office space, in Packard Place in Uptown Charlotte.
Sometimes there is so much good news to deliver that you forget to mention it all. It is clear that Sevearance-Turner and the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce are living in those times.