Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Jessica Carreras
hawn Brier is the founder and executive director of the Kalamazoo GLBT Professionals Network. Over the past year, the 34-year-old Kalamazoo resident and Navy veteran has been juggling developing the new organization, studying law at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and preparing for his June 2011 wedding to his fiancé.
1 Why did you decide to begin the Kalamazoo GLBT Professionals Network?
Back in the fall of 2009 when the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality and the One Kalamazoo campaign were working on Kalamazoo’s non-discrimination ordinance, we were shocked by how little we knew about the GLBT and allied professional community. We knew that there must be thousands of GLBTA professionals in the greater Kalamazoo area, but we had no idea who they were, nor how to reach them. This brought the need for a professional networking organization to the forefront as a way for all of us to get to know each other.
2 How has the group developed in the past year?
Our first mixer, held in October 2009, had about 20 people in attendance. At that time, I was trying to figure out if there was a desire in the community for this sort of professional networking organization. I established a Facebook page and invited people to join and to ask them to invite their friends. The page very quickly grew to over 100 members!
Since that first mixer, we’ve had other mixers about every other month and have done a few joint events with the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center. We now have a board of directors that includes five people: myself; Bill Jefferson as the president; Terry Storey and his partner Bruce Trevino are co-directors of publications; and Angel Matthews as the director of the Women’s League of the Professionals Network, which is dedicated to women’s interests.
Initially, the network started as an independent organization. Seeing an opportunity to show greater cooperation and solidarity in the community, we recently decided to partner with the KGLRC and now enjoy a status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
3 What are you hoping to provide to Kalamazoo GLBT and allied professionals?
There are layers and layers of benefits to having the network. Students benefit by identifying potential employers and meeting great people in the Kalamazoo community. Businesspeople gain the opportunity to expand their businesses to new clients. The GLBTA community benefits by learning who these businesspeople are, what they do, and therefore can encourage supporting like-minded people who support us and avoid those businesses that don’t. The greater Kalamazoo area benefits because all of these things help to encourage people to live, work, play and worship right here.
Last fall, this city showed itself to be open and welcoming to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. People should and do feel safe here. There are many employment opportunities, safe neighborhoods, a “cool” city to play in and a youthful energy that is renewed every fall with the return of college students. This network will help all of its members take the fullest advantage of all of these great things.
4 How is your group similar to GLBT professional groups in southeast or mid-Michigan?
Fundamentally, I think most of these groups are the same. We want to expand the opportunities available to GLBTA professionals. We’re homegrown in Kalamazoo and operated by people who are from Kalamazoo and know this area. Our interest is to support this community. Likewise, I expect that the other professional groups do the same for their communities.
One of my goals over the next year is to seek out a coalition with other regional professional organizations. The opportunities for networking can only improve as we grow the network. I’m sure there’s plenty that we can learn from each other, like streamlining many of our processes and learning from each other’s successes and failures.
5 What events does the network have coming up?
We host our monthly mixers on the first Thursday of every month. We’re joining forces with many of the other community programs to put on the Fall Welcome Picnic on Sept. 11. The next Women’s League Mixer is planned for Oct. 10. Additionally, I’m looking at an educational event regarding same-sex marriage some time soon, depending on resources.
One of my pet projects that will hopefully see fruition next year will be an GLBTA-centered career fair here in Kalamazoo. I think that will be a fantastic opportunity for the city to help attract great talent to the area, for members of the community to find employment and for employers to hire fantastic employees.
Check the Kalamazoo GLBT Professionals Network website, http://www.kzooglbt.com , for information about upcoming mixers.