As I start my term as Pride Foundation Board President, I’ve been reflecting on how pivotal the organization has been to my personal and professional development over the years. Family. Inclusion. Home. Innovation. These are the top words that come to mind when I think of Pride Foundation and my involvement as a volunteer, donor, and grantee.
Many of you can probably relate to my story. I grew up in Nebraska, in a rural community where I attended a one-room country school and had the great luxury of being the only person in my grade. Later, my family moved to Omaha where I graduated from high school. Throughout those years, I searched for ways to describe my experience. I learned the word ‘transgender’ by listening to news reports about Brandon Teena, the victim of a horrible hate crime. Brandon was murdered when I was 16, just a few hours from my hometown. I knew then that I needed to leave and would likely never return.
At 19, I took a Greyhound bus one-way across the U.S. from Bar Harbor, ME to Olympia, WA. Destination: Not my home state. Along the way, I met interesting people, ate bad food, and truly learned what it means to start over. I didn’t know anyone in Olympia and for many months my heart ached for just one Midwest thunderstorm rolling in over the horizon.
I began my gender transition at 21, and later that same year I started volunteering with Pride Foundation. As a grants and scholarship volunteer, I made new friends, challenged myself, gained new insights and inspiration. I also became connected to an exciting and inclusive regional LGBTQ equality movement. Through Pride Foundation, I met incredible people in all five states where Pride Foundation works. From Billings, MT to Joseph, OR to Mount Vernon, WA, this organization attracts people who are making a lasting impact in their communities. And from day one, I’ve felt lucky to be a part of something so special and so much bigger than myself.
So as I reflect on my love of Pride Foundation, and my new role as Board President, it’s really no surprise why I have been with Pride Foundation all these years. I’m involved because of you and because of the countless ways Pride Foundation shows up. The Foundation exemplifies the truest meaning of philanthropy: the practice of giving energy, money, and time to make the world a truly better place.
Everyday, I see the impact of Pride Foundation dollars in Tacoma, WA where I live and work. As the executive director of Oasis Youth Center, a grantee organization, I am privileged to have taken part in Pride Foundation’s Queer Youth Initiative (2009-2012) that convened five LGBTQ youth centers in Portland and Washington to build organizational capacity, grow leaders, and develop a field of professional standards for serving LGBTQ youth and young adults. Oasis works in daily partnership with other area Pride Foundation grantee organizations and programs including Rainbow Center, Pierce County AIDS Foundation, and Prism.
As Pride Foundation nears its 30th anniversary, we have this unique opportunity to connect, reflect, and build a vision for the future. This is our moment in time and the Northwest is leading the way. While youth will always grow up and set out on their own path, I look forward to the day that all LGBTQ youth in our region can just as easily decide to stay in their home community because they are welcome there.
I look forward to a time in which young people learn about sexual orientation and gender identity not through another media report about a hate crime, but because families, schools, faith communities, and workplaces are openly welcoming. I look forward to statewide non-discrimination laws in each of our five states, to inclusive nursing homes and care centers for our elders, and to legal protections for our families. I’m excited to see how a united LGBTQ and Allied community across an entire state will next advance equality after seven Idaho cities passed non-discrimination ordinances over the past few years. And I’m thrilled to learn more about how the investment of Pride Foundation staff in each of our five states will yield equality for generations to come.
Whether you are a longtime member of the Pride Foundation family, or new to our mission, I look forward to meeting you and hearing your story. Thank you for all you do each and every day.
Seth Kirby is the Pride Foundation’s board president. His term started January 1, 2014 and will run through December 31, 2015.