By Sean O’Hara, Chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rotarians and Friends Fellowship (LGBT RAF)
I joined Rotary two and a half years ago by chartering a club and serving as its first president. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Before that, I had only a few years of experience with Interact in high school and a year of experience with Rotaract in college. My Rotary experience was by no means vast, but when I approached our District 6200’s Past District Governor Mike Hayes to start our Lake Charles Happy Hour Rotary Club, I was given nothing but support. That’s been my biggest take away from being part of Rotary.
I had the good fortune of being encouraged by several Rotarians to attend the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta in 2017 and I decided to explore the LGBTQIA breakout session organized by Ric Meyer. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I didn’t go to that convention expecting to be involved in starting a Rotary Fellowship. I didn’t go to that convention expecting to do anything related to myself being LGBT+ in such a public way. I was in that breakout session though and it sparked an idea. I had experience bringing people together online from starting my club, and I wanted to bring together people that shared interest of LGBT+ related topics. Service Above Self kicked into gear, and I made a Facebook group.
The spirit of support, leadership, and infinite possibility that exists in the promise of Rotary’s ideals is present at all levels of the organization. My fellow club members backed the idea of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rotarians and Friends Fellowship (LGBT RAF), my district officers offered their support, and fellow Rotarians/Rotaractors answered the call to join and gathered even more support in their home districts. Rotary International staff, senior leadership, and many more paved the way for the Fellowship to exist, and turned a procedure that can be complicated and fraught with roadblocks into a collaborative building process.
I personally appreciate all the support, bridge building, and change that occurred as an effect of just working to create the group. I know that by following the tenants of the 4-Way Test and practicing our organization’s motto of Service Above Self we can achieve so much more.
The LGBT RAF Fellowship was organized to provide a space for Rotarians, Rotaractors, Family Members of Rotarians, and our Rotary Program Participants & Alumni to meet over the shared interest of LGBT+ related topics. It is for individuals that identify along the LGBT+ spectrum and for Allies, the family, friends, and supporters, of individuals that identify as such to meet and create fellowship among one another. The Rotary spirit of Service Above Self is ever present for our Fellowship members. We plan to work towards ending discrimination and promoting fairness and equality through our works of service in our home communities and around the world, while having as much fun as possible along the way. Below are a couple of quotes from current members:
“I have worked with LGBTQ Rotary Youth Exchange students, volunteers and family members the entire 28 years I’ve been in Rotary. My own daughter and people I rely on for the Rotary Youth Exchange program are members of this vibrant, talented community. My goal, along with many of my friends from my Rotary Club want this Fellowship to thrive and allow Rotary to take advantage of the incredible talents of our LGBTQ Rotarians, Interactors, Rotaract, and Rotary Youth Exchange students. We also want to strike down the prejudices against them.” – Bill McMurray