A very cool thing happened at the June 2018 Board Meeting of Rotary International. The creation of a LGBT+ RAF (Rotarians and Friends) Fellowship was approved! Full disclosure here – I am proud to be a Charter Member of this very important new group.
Now let’s back up a little. Not everyone is familiar with the work of Rotary, one of the world’s largest volunteer service organizations. Rotary got its start in 1905 when a lonely Chicago lawyer by the name of Paul Harris started meeting with three friends, rotating the location of their get-togethers each week. It wasn’t long before this little group grew and got busy being of service to others, at first locally (with the construction of a public “comfort station” in Chicago) and then internationally (with many water and sanitation projects as just one Rotary Area of Focus).
Today, there are over 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 35,000 clubs around the world who unite to take action and create lasting change in communities of all sizes and globally in the End Polio Now campaign to eradicate this debilitating disease from the planet (just two countries to go!).
Rotary Fellowships provide an opportunity for Rotarians worldwide, their family members, Rotaractors, program participants, and alumni to unite around a common interest, vocation or recreational activity to network and further friendship. Fellowship activities are conducted independently of Rotary International (RI). The new LBGT+RAF Fellowship is “dedicated to promoting global friendship, service, and education with the goal of creating an inclusive, understanding and welcoming community, fostering goodwill and peace, and realizing a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for LGBT+ people.”
Wow. That is a big task. So what cool things will fellowship members be doing? We recently presented a breakout session at the 2018 Rotary International Convention that explored how to welcome people from the LGBTQ2+ communities into Rotary, into our clubs and our service projects. Attended by 285 people, the session provided a safe place for people to share their stories and ideas about what inclusion and diversity really mean and how best to create vibrant Rotary clubs that benefit from everyone’s participation.
During Pride Toronto 2018, some Fellowship members also had the opportunity to meet M.P. Randy Boissonnault, member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ issues. Randy was part of a panel discussion, organized by the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Toronto. Other panelists included Warda Shazadi Meighen, a human rights and refugee lawyer, and Josh Scheinert, an international lawyer, activist, and writer, whose recently-published first novel, The Order of Nature, is set in Gambia and explores a relationship between a Gambian and American man.
Looking ahead, with Rotary International approval as an official fellowship, members are getting organized into work groups to create resources that can be used to assist with the full inclusion of LGBT+ community members in Rotary clubs and projects. New people are being welcomed into the fellowship as the word spreads about this opportunity for global dialogue and friendship. And plans are being made for a breakout session at the 2019 RI Convention in Hamburg, Germany.
Very cool indeed.