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Fellowship has created a global home for LGBT members and friends


During a breakout session on “Welcoming the LGBTQ Community Into the Family of Rotary” during the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, Michelle Wilson, a member of the Rotary Club of Athens Sunrise, Ohio, had a question. “I asked, ‘Why doesn’t Rotary have a group for LGBT+ people?’” When she added, “We should start one,” she says, “the response was overwhelming.”

Before the session had even ended, Sean O’Hara, a member of the Rotary Club of Lake Charles Happy Hour, Louisiana (and later the fellowship’s first president), had opened a Facebook group for LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). Wilson left the meeting with a stack of business cards from people who wanted to be part of the new group. The LGBT Rotarians and Friends Fellowship was born.

In between regular Zoom events held in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, members like Wilson — who is the group’s current president — are talking to clubs about promoting diversity and telling the story of being LGBT in Rotary.

The fellowship is seeking to work with clubs on projects that support the LGBT community and to offer resources to clubs that want to be more diverse and welcoming to all.

Rotary pride

I’ve been a Rotarian for over 20 years, and Service Above Self is in my DNA. I’m 66 and came out at age 61. Serving the LGBT community is an acknowledgment that many others went before me, and it’s now my time to be of service. — Ronald Schoenmehl, Rotary Club of San Diego Downtown Breakfast, California

When I became president of my club, my husband was seated at my side. The following year, when I passed my gavel, my husband pinned on my lapel the past president’s diamond pin my late father received in 1976 when his term ended. I’ve worn it ever since! — David Bricka, Rotary Club of Sedro Woolley, Washington

To have a fellowship where I can meet and visit — virtually now — with other gay Rotarians in a completely “out” environment really affirms that we are now completely included in Rotary.

Rotary Club of Wellston, Ohio

Making progress

I was one of the first openly transgender presidents of a Rotary club in the world. When I was president, we had a Rotary/LGBT community information exchange meeting. None of those things could have happened 10 years ago. — Monica Mulholland, Rotary Club of Queenstown, New Zealand

I have been involved in Rotary since I participated in Rotary Youth Exchange in 1989. I was a member of the Rotary Club of Hollywood, California, in the late 1990s and helped to charter the Rotary Club of San Francisco-Castro. Rotary is far more inclusive today than at any other time in our history.

Rotary Club for Global Action District 5150, California

I’m optimistic that in the post-pandemic future, a couple of the Rotary clubs in our community will come together to participate in Pride events and support the LGBT community in other ways. Our clubs also need to identify LGBT community organizations that need our support, friendship, and mentorship. — John Culshaw, Rotary Club of Iowa City, Iowa

Fair to all concerned

Many members, and indeed clubs, tend to shut down people who talk about LGBT in Rotary, as they see this as being political. They are wrong! This is not political. This is human rights we are talking about. Remember The Four-Way Test!

As a transgender woman, I am interested in the issue of fair treatment of all genders. Today, most people understand that differences in gender identity are not a disease but are very common. Although younger generations are gradually adopting an open attitude toward LGBT groups, it is still awfully slow overall. — Wen-Yue Huang, Rotary Club of Taipei Nanlung, Taiwan

It’s past time that we tell the whole story of who we are regardless of whether it is different from some established norm, because living an authentic life takes courage. This acceptance is freeing people and allowing us an opening rather than hiding who we are. — Mary MacLean, Rotary Club of Bozeman, Montana

“Joining Rotary and connecting with the fellowship has given me more purpose and drives me to get involved more than I ever have before.” — R. Lee Donaldson, Rotary E-Club of Hawaii

This story originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.