“We always joke that the only Pride Parade in Lewistown is our family walking down the street,” says Pride Foundation scholar Michelle Knerr in regards to the LGBTQ presence in her rural Montana hometown.
As someone who spent the majority of her childhood on a ranch where her closest neighbor was a mile and a half away, Michelle never thought that she would go to college, let alone decide to get a doctorate in veterinary medicine. However, now a junior at Montana State University, Michelle exudes passion and excitement when talking about her future career working with animals.
After spending nine years doing construction with the Labor Union in Montana and raising her now eight year-old daughter, Michelle realized that the closeted environmentalist in her was “fed up with abusing the earth.”
She went back to school to pursue a degree in the only subject she was ever truly inspired by: animal medicine. “Growing up in Lewistown, my only real friends were animals,” Michelle said when reflecting back on her youth. This love for animals motivated her to further her education, and she received her Associates Degree from Casper Community College three years later.
While in Casper, Michelle continued to work construction, raise her daughter, and go to school full time. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to re-establish the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at her college. The group was controversial in the small Wyoming town, but Michelle explains that people came out of the woodwork to join the GSA as soon as it was formed.
She planned events, organized HIV/AIDS conferences, worked hard to raise awareness among non-LGBTQ students and community members, and supported her fellow students. Part of this support is her ongoing encouragement of LGBTQ individuals to enter science-related fields as a way to empower people and grow equality in remote regions. She explains, “Living and working as an out and open veterinarian, I know I will continue to change how the LGBTQ community is seen, especially in rural areas.”
As a student at Montana State University, Michelle continues her active leadership in the community, both in her fundraising efforts for a community pool with her daughter, Evangeline, and wife, Holly, and also in her fight for gender neutral bathrooms throughout the Montana State University Campus.
In regards to future plans, Michelle has been awarded a McNair scholarship to conduct veterinary research next summer in Bozeman and plans to begin graduate school upon completion of her project.
Looking back, Michelle tells me that she would not have gone back to school without the support from Pride Foundation. In the end, though, the financial support is not the only thing she cherishes: “As a Pride Foundation Scholar, I belong to something bigger than who I am alone. I belong to a community that embraces education, activism, and fights to bring equality closer to everyone.”
Katelen Kellogg is Pride Foundation’s Interim Community Giving Manager. Email Katelen.