It’s Pride Month, and like most members of the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m celebrating the occasion. Still, like several others in my community, there was a time when I didn’t celebrate the month. In fact, I dreaded it and outright condemned it. I was raised in a highly conservative area south of Chicago by a religious and conservative family. I was raised to condemn the LGBTQIA+ community, along with what I believed at the time was a lifestyle choice. In fact, I held these beliefs firmly until I moved up here, coincidentally, to Grand Rapids.
It was here that I realized I was part of the LGBTQIA+ community, where I met my spouse, and where I first truly understood what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation—to be condemned by others for who I am. Here, in West Michigan, I have been denied housing for being in a relationship with another AFAB person, and I have left several companies for feeling like I wasn’t able to be my true self.
But, with all of that said, it is also the community that brought me to my current workplace, where my preferred name and pronouns were respected from the moment I felt it safe to come out. It is also where I met my spouse, where we got married, and where I finally felt comfortable flying the Pride flag outside of my house throughout the year.
When I first heard about OutPro, I was blown away. The Grand Rapids Chamber valued the voices of LGBTQIA+ people enough to have a council and programming dedicated to advocating for the community. I could barely believe it. That’s why, when given the chance to join, I took it without a second thought.
As someone who came from my roots, who spent the better part of a decade in the closet for fear of losing my job, it’s my pleasure and honor to contribute to a culture that values creating safe spaces for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. With every program, participant, and action, we are moving a step closer to creating a place where LGBTQIA+ people can feel welcome, validated, and like they truly belong. It’s a slow climb, sure, and sometimes progress is a bit harder to come by than we may like, but in the end, when we can look back on how far we’ve come, it will be worth the journey.
The Chamber is proud to provide OutPro, an LGBTQ+ professionals group that can serve as both a resource to employers and employees, as well as an affinity group for the LGBTQ+ community.
OutPro promotes a welcoming culture in the West Michigan community and offers social and professional networking opportunities throughout the city. OutPro events are attended by professionals at all career levels, representing a diversity of corporations, small businesses, and public and non-profit organizations.
Rowan Leo is the Account Manager at 8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When not providing outstanding communication services for clients, they can be found spending time with their spouse, three cats, and more houseplants than they’d like to admit. Rowan is a member of the OutPro council, an alumnus of Grand Valley State University, and a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community.