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Fellowship has created a global home for LGBT members and friendsimage

by Joseph Derr

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.

Valleri Crabtree
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.

Brian Rusch
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!

Monica Mulholland

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.

What Can YOU Do to Make Your Rotary Club More LGBTQ+ Inclusive?

By Grant Godino, president-elect of the LGBT Rotarians and Friends Fellowship and member of the Rotary Club of Strathmore, Australia

imageAs I have started to share my ideas, opinions, and stories about LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse, queer, and questioning) inclusion in Rotary, I have heard so many of our leaders say to me: “We’re a really decent club/district. We don’t have any bad people. So, we don’t have a problem. Right?” I’ve also heard things like “Why is Rotary doing something so political” and “There are no gay people in my community.”

These comments come from a place of ignorance but I always consider them a teaching moment. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. But while diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have climbed the Rotary agenda over the past decade, many LGBTQ+ members continue to face discrimination. When it comes to true inclusion, everyday interactions with peers and leaders matter as much as organizational policies or formal processes.



Here are ways to make your club and Rotary as a whole more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community:

Start having conversations

In order to understand the challenges for LGBTQ+ people, leaders at all level (club, district, zone, and international) should stay connected to what it means to be LGBTQ+ in Rotary. This means:

Once these conversations start both internally and with the communities your club serves, you may see that there are LGBTQ+ people in every community, and maybe already in your club.

Set a meaningful public example

We need to do this to become more welcoming to LGBTQ+ communities. This could include:

  • Small gestures like putting a rainbow flag at the bottom of your website, using the LGBT Fellowship’s rainbow heart logo on event flyers or Rotary’s global statement on DEI to make a bold statement that we are accepting of everyone.
  • Asking members to include their preferred pronouns on name tags at club meetings and in email signatures. This signals support for the LGBTQ+ community and is a powerful education piece, helping people understand the importance of using individual’s preferred pronouns. It reduces the chances that people will mistakenly misgender someone who is trans or gender diverse.

Support projects that address key issues for LGBTQ+ communities

When you are thinking of your next project, consider issues like HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, addressing mental health issues, and homelessness in LGBTQ+ communities, or preventing violence toward LGBTQ+ people

Support and promote the LGBT Rotarians and Friends Fellowship

The LGBT Rotarians and Friends Fellowship is dedicated to promoting global friendship, service, and education, aiming to create an inclusive, understanding and welcoming community, fostering goodwill and peace, and realizing a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for LGBTQ+ people.

DEI is complex, and Rotary is taking great steps forwards. We have started to address gender, generational, and cultural diversity. There are still other aspects for us to discuss including LGBTQ+, disability, indigenous people and others, and then also how these identities can intersect. For example, how someone can be both LGBTQ+ and disabled. I’m excited about our progress and encourage people to reach out to the LGBT Fellowship, leaders, and district membership committees to continue the discussion.

Grant Godino (he/him) is the charter president of Gateway Rotaract, a member of the Rotary Club of Strathmore (Australia) and president elect of the LGBT Rotarians and Friends Fellowship. Grant identifies as a gay cisgender male and lives with his partner Lee (he/him) (also a Rotarian) in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne.


Rotarians - People OF Action


Articles in July / August 2021 issue of Milwaukee Ethnic News. These newsletters often list over 20 ethnic events and involve these groups:

The issue features Ethnic herbs and spices and lots of resources to learn more about WI ethnic groups, a list of ethnic Wisconsin books and much more.

Rotary Curious??

What Does it Take in Time?  
  • One in-person meeting per month
What's Expected of Me?
  • To represent your vocation and help us know about you and that vocation.
  • Be a person of high ethical standards.
  • Give some of your time to Service in the Greater Milwaukee community and / or internationally.
  • Share Rotary and the opportunity to make a difference in the world with your Rotary Family in ways you could not individually.
  • Have Fun and WANT to see your Rotary club members because you miss them when you don't.
Rotarians - use this link to download the brochure and application form to sponsor / suggest a new member.
Interested in Rotary Club Milwaukee Amigos After Hours?  Please fill in this form (click here) and send without a commitment....simply wanting to learn more!
Did you know that Rotary does not require weekly attendance even though we generally meet weekly?
  • Did you know that our project and volunteer service counts as attendance?

  • Did you know that you can do a Rotary make-up by attending another club meeting OR by going on-line and read several "programs" and then apply for a make-up?  Use these links to get started.

  • Rotary e club One - the original - /www.rotaryeclubone.org

  • Rotary Club of E-Club of the Southwest USA - https://www.recswusa.org

    Rotarians Address Mental Health Issues Head On


    Rotary has a remarkable record when it comes to health initiatives. We’ve helped bring polio to the brink of eradication, and clubs have carried out myriad projects focused on preventing disease and supporting maternal and child health. Now the global pandemic has brought attention to another aspect of health that is often overlooked: mental health. In many places, depression, anxiety, and suicide are seen as things to be ashamed of and kept quiet. But Rotary members are recognizing the gaps in understanding and resources and are stepping up to help.

    More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization.

    “A year ago, we had 50 members of the Rotary Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives,” says Bonnie Black, a member of the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh, New York, and the chair of the action group. “We’ve tripled our membership during the pandemic, and I believe it’s due to the heightened awareness of mental health and wellness.” 

    More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization, and although many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at relatively low cost, many people who need treatment do not receive it. 

    Felix-Kingsley Obialo, a member of the Rotary Club of Ibadan Idi-Ishin, Nigeria, manages the local arm of a project called Wellness in a Box, which his club has worked on in partnership with the Rotary Club of Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Mental health is an area that has been neglected by many people for too long because of the stigma associated with it,” says Obialo. “The involvement of Rotary clubs will gradually reduce the stigma, and more and more people will begin to be comfortable around the issue.”

    Mental health is an area that has been neglected by many people for too long because of the stigma associated with it. The involvement of Rotary clubs will gradually reduce the stigma, and more and more people will begin to be comfortable around the issue.

    Member of the Rotary Club of Ibadan Idi-Ishin, Nigeria, and Wellness in a Box manager

    Refugees and migrants receive free access to mental health services in Germany

    When Pia Skarabis-Querfeld saw refugees pouring into Germany to escape war and other atrocities in 2014, the Berlin-based doctor felt compelled to help. Skarabis-Querfeld, a member of the Rotary Club of Kleinmachnow, eventually launched a nonprofit called Medizin Hilft (Medicine Helps). With support from a Rotary Foundation global grant and clubs around the globe, the nearly all-volunteer organization donates thousands of hours of medical care to refugees and migrants each year.   

    But doctors in the group quickly noticed that in addition to needing care for physical ailments, about half of their patients had symptoms of psychological problems or psychiatric disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. In 2020, the Rotary Club of Morehead City-Lookout, North Carolina, worked with Medizin Hilft to secure another global grant that allows the organization to offer free mental health services.

    Under the guidance of Ulla Michels-Vermeulen, a psychologist who is also a member of the Kleinmachnow club, psychologists, psychiatrists, translators, and social workers help people like Fatma, a Syrian nurse who once treated bomb attack victims. When the situation became too dangerous in Syria, she left home. But fleeing was traumatic, explains Michels-Vermeulen.

    It costs society a lot if we ignore these mental health problems. And it’s a human right to get support if you are ill.

    Psychologist and member of the Kleinmachnow club

    While crossing the Mediterranean, Fatma watched several passengers drown before another vessel came to the rescue of their drifting boat. She spent time in a refugee camp, where people slept in tents, there were no doctors, and there was not enough to eat. She was sexually assaulted several times on the journey.

    “Fatma has been accepted to stay [in Germany] and is going to school to learn German, but she is still getting counseling. She is suffering from nightmares, sleeplessness, concentration problems, and flashbacks,” Michels-Vermeulen says. “It costs society a lot if we ignore these mental health problems. And it’s a human right to get support if you are ill.”

    Social media campaign strives to break the stigma of mental health

    After Darren Hands invited speakers to talk about mental health at a District 1175 (England) conference a few years ago, he and other local Rotarians were inspired to do more. “It was very powerful, and afterwards we thought, ‘What can we as Rotarians do when it comes to mental health? We’re people of action but not mental health professionals. But surely there’s some-thing we can do to help,’” says Hands, president of the Rotary Club of Plympton.

    They came up with a social media campaign called “Don’t Bottle It Up,” which encourages people affected by depression, anxiety, or other issues to reach out for help. “The majority of people with mental health issues wait over a year to talk to someone,” explains Hands. “Hopefully we can help break down some of the stigma through this campaign.”

    Darren Hands has made it easy for Rotary members to participate in the “Don’t Bottle It Up” campaign. “You simply take a photo of yourself holding a bottle and send it to me,” says Hands, who posts it on social media and adds local health statistics to make the message more relevant.

    Launched in 2017 in District 1175, the campaign features local athletes and celebrities posing with a water bottle and the message “Don’t Bottle It Up.” The ads note that one in four people in the United Kingdom have some form of mental illness, and urge people not to suffer in silence.

    Two years later, the initiative launched nationally in the UK and in Ireland. The group has a Facebook page and a website, and today 28 public figures and about 60 Rotarians have shared their image and message on social media.

    “We have no direct way of knowing that the campaign has made a difference,” notes Hands. “But if just one person who has suicidal thoughts or is suffering from depression or anxiety sees one of these images and decides to seek help or at least talk to someone, to me, that will be a success.”

    Wellness in a Box builds communities to rally around teens

    The statistics on teenage suicide and depression are troubling — in the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the global pandemic has meant that kids are more isolated than ever.

    Wellness in a Box, the school-based mental health awareness campaign that Felix-Kingsley Obialo’s club supports in Nigeria, was started in 2013 by Bob Anthony, then a member of the Rotary Club of Wellesley, Massachusetts, at a local high school. The program has expanded to 20 schools in Nigeria, 18 in India, and three in Puerto Rico.

    Through videos, workshops, and group discussions, Wellness in a Box presents information to students, parents, and teachers about depression and suicide, about activities to foster coping skills, and about how to seek help. Student leaders are taught to help lead a curriculum focused on preventing depression. The program promotes awareness, decreases stigma, and creates a network of teens and adults who can identify those who need help and refer them to professionals.


    During a Wellness in a Box training session in Ibadan, Nigeria, Felix-Kingsley Obialo works with students on how to be peer leaders.


    More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression.

    Although there are effective treatments for mental disorders, between 76% and 85% of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for their condition.

    Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds globally.

    Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion per year.

    There are 800,000 deaths per year from suicide. 

    Mental health conditions are especially common in populations affected by humanitarian crises. 

    Source: WHO

    “We measured students’ knowledge of depression and their confidence in seeking help, and the numbers improved at all the sites — even more so when peers delivered the information,” says Anthony, who is now a member of the Rotary Club of Naples, Florida, and the treasurer of the mental health initiatives action group. In Nigeria, where mental health issues are especially stigmatized and rarely talked about publicly, “we’ve made people aware that treatment is possible,” Anthony says. In India, where some schools lacked counselors, the program publicized local hospital contacts whom people could go to for help and is paying for teachers to be trained in school counseling. “It starts with teens, but there’s a parent education workshop that every school is encouraged to provide,” he says. “Ideally, this is for everyone.”

    Rotarians working on this project are hopeful that more clubs will focus on improving mental health. “Being a Rotarian confers a kind of legitimacy and authority on Rotarians in whatever they do,” says Obialo. “Rotarians thus become a moral force against the stigmatization of people with mental health conditions.”

    Learn more about the Rotary Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives at ragonmentalhealth.org.

    Rotary Spotlight



    You likely know someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bi-, transgender, or queer....though you may not know. In May 7-10, 2009, USA Today/Gallup poll, Americans were asked their views on a number of issues relating to gays and lesbians. Overall, a majority of Americans (58%) say they have a friend, relative, or coworker who is gay or lesbian -- basically unchanged since Gallup first asked this question in 2003. Especially as a parent or a grandparent, you may not know how to start an open communication to know and understand. You may be unsure how to understand if it currently goes against your present beliefs and/or values.  Hear from some parents who have been in that place...that space. Bring your questions for an interactive session!




    • Tues., July 13 6-7:15 p.m. - MUST pre-register - Zoom link then emailed - Excellent program for Rotarians AND non-Rotarians - Planned by Amigos member Angela Rester for Rotary District 6270 DEI Task Force

    Please join us TOMORROW, Tuesday, July 13, from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m. for

     "Someone just came out to me ... Now what?!" A conversation with parents and children who are coming out as LGBTQ

    As a global network that strives to build a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change, Rotary values diversity and celebrates the contributions of people of all backgrounds, regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.  As Rotarians, the Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do is our moral code for personal and business relationships.  
    Did you know...
    ·       “[Y]ounger generations are far more likely to consider themselves to be something other than heterosexual. This includes about one in six adult members of Generation Z (those aged 18 to 23 in 2020).”  (2021 Gallup Annual Update
    ·       “About three in 10 Americans (31%) report having a friend, relative or colleague who is transgender.  Fully half of adults younger than 30 have a transgender person in their lives.”  (2021 Gallup Survey)
    Panelists include Parents and Adult Children:
    Brenda Peterson
    Brian Monroe
    Heath Johnson
    Rev. Tony Larsen
    Barb Farrar - Executive Director of LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin
    Register in advance for this meeting by clicking on the link below:
    After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
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