Just weeks into her position as the new Executive Director of Pride Foundation, Kris Hermanns takes her first official road trip to visit supporters and grantees in Montana.
My time in Montana made it vividly clear to me why I choose to do this work. It also reaffirmed for me why Pride Foundation is committed to being on the ground in each state, inspiring and joining with community partners and leaders, donors, funders, and volunteers across the Northwest, in places where equality and fairness for LGBTQ people and families may be least expected or hardest to find. The possibility of making a profound and permanent difference in the daily lives of LGBTQ people drives me, and drives us all here at Pride Foundation forward.
My first night in Montana I met a girl named Casey (a pseudonym to protect her privacy). She is twelve years old and lives with her family in rural Montana. She is a lot like other girls her age, wearing the latest fashion and even a little bit of makeup. Unlike other twelve-year-old girls, though, I was struck by how very well-spoken and self-assured she is for her age. She impressed me right away.
Casey and her father, younger pony-tailed sister, and grandmother read about Pride Foundation in a local newspaper article ahead of my visit, and made a point to travel into town to attend. Three generations of family looking to connect with a community that would understand what they were going through and that could help them support their child would be moving anywhere, but in Missoula, Montana, it was profound. They didn’t know where else to turn.
Because you see, Casey was born a boy. For most of her life she has known she’s a girl, and has made her true gender very clear to her family. They love Casey and support her no matter what, because she is their child. But Casey has been having a hard time in school. She is relentlessly taunted and teased. Casey is battling for her safety every day. That’s why they came to meet us—to connect with Pride Foundation and our network of resources that are very much needed—especially in places in the Northwest where they are few and far between.
I’ve met twelve-year old kids like Casey before and I know that they are about fitting in and figuring out who they are in the world. It’s a horribly rough age for anyone. To have such a clear sense of self at that age, and to go against everything everyone has ever told you because you know that the truth you hear inside you is what is right is beyond brave. Whenever I meet kids like Casey, I always feel invigorated and recommitted to changing the world faster, for them.
That feeling was magnified on every stop of my first trip outside Seattle as executive director at Pride Foundation. I was inspired by everyone I met along the way in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, and Red Lodge. I have carried home with me the depth of the stories shared. Stories of hope, need, hurt, and—most especially and importantly—of courage.
My story about Casey doesn’t end with just meeting her. The night I met Casey and her family, we were able to introduce them to a local grantee organization, NCBI Missoula that runs Respect Clubs in Missoula public schools for LGBTQ middle school kids and Youth Forward, an after school queer youth group. Casey and her family never imagined that there would be a local group like that to support them through this difficult time.
And to be honest, I had been at a loss, not knowing there would be something out there for a rural family in Montana with a transgender daughter. But with the help of Pride Foundation, there is. It’s incredible to think what else we can imagine together, from Missoula, MT to Sandpoint, ID to Mercer Island, WA to McMinnville, OR to Bethel, AK. Suffice it to say, it has been four weeks that I’ve been on the job, and I am so honored to be doing this work.
I am so looking forward to my next trip already—Caitlin promises warmer weather and golfing on Flathead Lake.
I want to be sure to thank all the lovely and wonderful people who made my tour of Montana so smooth and such a delight: our hosts for our Missoula events, Jim Royan and Kim Edwards, Suzie Reahard, Ray Davis, Mark Heyka, and John Keegan and Tony Cesare; our Bozeman hosts and volunteers Greg Smith and Tom Marsh; and our Red Lodge event hosts Aaron Kampfe and David Heinzen, who generously opened their home for our first house party in Carbon County. I appreciated meeting the Leadership Action Team volunteers and the lovely (and deeply discounted) retreat setting at the Medicine Flower Lodge. See photo albums from Kris’ Montana road trip on Facebook.