by Jessica Carreras
Monique Goch wants to get one thing straight: You don’t have to wear pants-paired business attire to come to a Suits and the City mixer. You just have to be willing to have a good time.
The Lansing-based LGBT social and business networking group holds such events once a month, with their next one happening Oct. 7 at Beggar’s Banquet. Now into their fifth year, the group boasts over 800 members – and growing. And, said Goch, who chairs the group, things have been gradually changing for Suits.
“It was a place for professionals to come together, to network, to find out about other LGBT and LGBT-friendly businesses and establishments,” she explained of the group’s original purpose. “But also, on the social end, to meet people who are like them instead of having to go to the bars.”
But Goch and others wanted to see the organization grow. “We needed growth and we needed to make everyone understand that just because we say Suits and the City, it’s not just for men and you don’t have to wear a suit – it’s just about professionals and mixers,” she said. “All are welcome. You don’t have to be a professional. Allies are welcome. We don’t discriminate.”
Now, Suits is taking on a larger role for its members and giving back to the community it thrives upon.
“(Suits) got so successful that we wanted to change our direction a little bit,” Goch said. “Not only are we still going to stay focused on business networking, but we found last year, especially through my involvement and other board members’ involvement with other non-profits, that we could do so much more. We have this power and opportunity to bring people to the table who want to give back. So why not throw that out into the community and start creating alliances between other organizations and partnerships and see where we can go?”
Why not is right. Goch, who took over as co-chair about two years ago, helped the organization ease into its philanthropic new function with participation in fun events like Toys for Tots and, last month, a drive for school supplies, which they donated to Detroit non-profit Angel House. In November, they’ll also be holding a coat drive.
“We’re so successful – Toys for Tots, we’re one of the largest groups collected. We usually give them boxes and boxes and boxes, because people don’t bring one gift – they bring three,” Goch shared excitedly. “You have to remember that a lot of LGBT professionals – a good majority of them are single, they’re educated, they make a good wage. So for us, maybe a $20, $30, $40 couple of gifts is insignificant.”
What’s not insignificant, however, is the ways in which Suits and the City gives back – not just to those in need, but to their own members.
The Oct. 7 event, called Know Your Community, Know Your Candidates, will do just that. Sponsored by statewide LGBT organization Michigan Equality, the night will feature appearances by candidates for local offices, including mayoral hopeful Carol Wood, incumbent Virg Bernero and City Council candidates Kathy Dunbar, Rina Risper and others. All are up for election on Nov. 7, and all are hoping to court the LGBT vote.
“We’re non-partisan, so we can’t support anyone in particular, but it’s a campaign year and … they started coming to our mixers because they’re using us as a voice,” Goch said of Suits and the City’s role in educating voters. “And while you’re not allowed to wave flags or have your banner out there, this is an opportunity to chat with everyone on a one-to-one basis, with about 150 people a month.”
Goch claimed it was a logical step after members began asking for direction from Suits board members on local issues and political races. “People are asking us questions, like, ‘Monique, board member of Suits, who are you voting for?'” she explained. “I can’t take a position on that, but people will pry and ask me who helps our community. But what I can do is help you find your own answer. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Challenge them.”
But though Suits and the City is becoming more socially active, the group remains true to its original purpose: helping local LGBTs meet people, make connections and have fun. “It’s meant to be a social mixer in a light atmosphere. We don’t want everything to be heavy,” Goch explained. “It’s meeting people of caliber that you want to relate with on a one-to-one basis. That was one of the reasons why they started it – not only to have business networking, but also to communicate with people that were like each other.”
And while Suits maintains the purpose of business networking at their events, they don’t discourage having a few drinks, making friends or even scoring a date at their mixers. Events are usually held at bars or restaurants, and many have themes such as beach night or ugly sweater night.
“It’s still a professional business networking mixer for the LGBT community,” Goch added. “However, it’s with the social entity brought back into it. Our motto is that we’re the ultimate LGBT mixer in Lansing. We want that; we want people to feel comfortable and welcome and warm.”
Pants or no pants.
Know Your Community, Know Your Candidates
5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 7
Beggar’s Banquet, 218 Abbott Road, East Lansing