April 8, 2010 | by David J. Hoffman
Getting our stories told

Cathy McElrath Renna, founder of Renna Communications, an LGBT media strategy firm, says she laughed when told she was this year’s recipient of the Business Leadership Award from the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

“I just laughed, because I would have never imagined my activism as a business,” she says.

Renna will receive her award tonight at CAGLCC’s 20th anniversary awards dinner.

Longtime New Yorker and current Mount Pleasant resident Renna is quick to share credit for the success of Renna Communications with her wife.

“I wouldn’t have this business if it weren’t for my wife,” she says. “Don’t ask me to even balance a checkbook,” she added, pointing out that her wife Leah McElrath Renna has experience as a financial planner and “I trust her more than anyone in the world.”

The firm was founded in March 2006, when their daughter Rosemary — now 4 — was just 6 months old. “On Friday I’m not going to step from that podium until Leah joins me on the platform,” Renna said, “because she so deserves to do so.”

They’re not legally married yet. “But we’re working on it … we’ve just been too busy working on D.C. marriage equality.”

Helping to spearhead the media coalition work of the D.C. Campaign for All Families, D.C. for Marriage and D.C. Clergy for Marriage Equality has ironically been getting in the way of planning their own wedding. But the couple made time to take Rosemary to the White House Easter Egg Roll this week. Renna Communications got a big boost from the White House Easter Egg Roll event in April 2006 — just a month after the firm opened.

“It was the first big thing the firm did,” she says. “In 2006 there were about 150 LGBT families, about 400 people. We understood it was not a political issue, but for us I like to say that just like breathing, our existence is political.

“So we wore rainbow leis, so festive and appropriate, and lots of straight families had them on also, they knew who we were, and they were supportive. In some ways it was a political statement,” she concedes, “to highlight that families can come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve gone every year since.”

She calls that kind of direct messaging “the goal of the work we do as a firm — and the tagline for our firm is ‘we’ll get your story told.’” She says the LGBT community has come of age in the last 20 years.

“We are no longer abstract — we exist. … Change won’t come until people understand the stories behind that need for marriage equality or for employment rights. We’re doing a better job now, but we still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there because now we’re a whole lot smarter.”

Also being honored at the awards dinner on April 9 are:

• David von Storch, owner of Capitol City Brewing Company and Vida Fitness among other businesses, for Excellence in Business;

• Jonathan Blumenthal, co-founder and president of Burgundy Crescent Volunteers, as Volunteer of the Year;

• Thomas Sanchez, principal of Wamwaw LCC, a web development and strategy firm, as Emerging Entrepreneur;

• Bob Summersgill, longtime LGBT activist instrumental in passing the marriage equality law in D.C., for Community Advocacy;

• and Wachovia, a Wells Fargo Company, as Corporate Partner of the Year.

The awards dinner is at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Ave., S.W. It begins with a silent auction and networking at 6:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $180 for CAGLCC members and $195 for nonmembers.

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