By Tammy Pitts - MNA Communications Director
Pride Month is still going strong, and we are turning the volume way up as we amplify and celebrate diversity, equity. and inclusivity. At Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), our core values include diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, and we support and embrace a work environment where our LGBTQ+ colleagues can be their authentic selves. Pride Month is a month dedicated to the uplifting and celebration of LGBTQ+ voices and that includes some of my colleagues. But before you hear their stories, a quick history lesson on why we are celebrating Pride this month. On June 28, 1969, police in Manhattan, New York raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn sparking a series of riots and protests in the LGBTQ+ community and igniting the modern gay rights movement. Pride is celebrated every June in honor of the Stonewall Uprising which was a tipping point for the gay liberation movement. Pride Month also honors and celebrates some of the most influential and inspiring role models from the LGBTQ+ community.
Introducing Meridith Murley
And speaking of role models, I like to introduce you to Meridith Murley, VISTA program manager at MNA. She identifies as queer or gay and her pronouns are she/her/hers. Murley, who grew up in Midland, was a senior in high school when she came out. She says her friends were cool about it, but it took some time for her family to come around. “I grew up evangelical Southern Baptist,” Murley laughed. “So, there were some difficulties for sure. My family was really waspy. Historically, we’re Midwestern white people who don’t talk about our feelings. We’re a really pretty conservative family.” Murley says she made the choice to advocate for who she is and to push her family toward acceptance. “A lot of it was just knowledge and exposure and giving them feedback and not letting them sit with their discomfort,” she explained. It took some time, but Murley says they have now all grown really close over the last decade and her family adores her girlfriend, Anna.
The Murley family fridge
Murley’s mom is one of those proud moms who loves to plaster pictures on the family fridge of her kids. “She has pictures of everyone,” Murley laughed. “She had pictures of me and pictures of our dogs, but she didn’t have pictures of Anna and I.” Oh how times have changed! A few months ago, Murley said her mom realized that she didn’t have any photos of her daughter and Anna together on the family fridge and instructed her daughter to send some over. Murley was ecstatic to learn that she and Anna would be placed on the refrigerator together as a couple. “I made the fridge with Anna!” Murley smiled. “That was a great moment. It was one of those we’re equal moments- and that was pretty thrilling.”
Murley on being her authentic self
While we have made progress in the fight for equality in the LGBTQ+ community, there is still widespread discrimination, ignorance, and harassment of gay and transgender people. And many will hide their true self in an effort to minimize the risk. Murley says for the most part that she believes she and Anna can be free and open in public but stressed that it depends on where they are. She says they might not feel as comfortable in a rural area versus the city. “I’ve had to work through, is it worth the hassle? Is it worth it for me to be authentic or do I just not care enough in this situation? So yeah, I think it depends on where I am. I’m much better now, especially in Lansing, we’re pretty queer.”
A truly inclusive culture exists well beyond Pride Month and a study from McKinsey found that coming out at work is a huge challenge for many LGBTQ+ people. The study found more than one in four LGBTQ+ respondents were not out broadly at work. I asked Murley if she believed she could be her authentic self at MNA, and she touched on an important point of being able to just be Meridith and not the ‘token’ gay. “MNA has been really welcoming which is nice. I just want to be the same as everyone else,” Murley said. She says tokenism is a very real issue. “It’s nice that I haven’t felt tokenized. I’ve been the token gay in workspaces which I guess is better token than nothing, but there are better options.” I completely agree, Meridith.
Pride festivities were postponed or held virtually last year due to the pandemic. However, as more people continue to get vaccinated, Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted and Murley is extremely excited about the parades and Pride events returning. “My first Pride was when I was 20, and we went to Minneapolis, and it was one of those things where you could look around and it was like wow-- everyone is like me. And I think that was when I felt genuinely comfortable and safe.” Murley and Anna have just purchased their first home together along with their dog and two cats. “Life’s pretty good,” she smiled.
Introducing Caleigh Noonan
Our celebration of Pride continues with MNA’s executive coordinator Caleigh Noonan who came out when she was in high school. As a gay woman, Noonan says it is important that she be able to be her authentic self at work. Prior to coming to MNA, she says she didn’t feel like she could be out and open at her previous firm. “It was a good place to work, but I wasn’t really out there-- I didn’t really feel like I could be,” Noonan explained. However, she knew immediately upon arriving at MNA that the culture was different. “It’s a diverse environment and I could tell that I wasn’t the only one and that was helpful.”
Growing up with two moms
Families come in all forms and Noonan’s family includes her two moms, Karen, and Lisa. She grew up in Ann Arbor and it wasn’t until she began attending school that she realized that some people’s families were not like hers. “Once I got to about the 2nd or 3rd grade, I became way more aware that it was out of the norm,” said Noonan. “Between drawing family portraits in class, friends asking me about my dad, seeing the “father’s name” and “mother’s name” on various forms and hearing classmates say things like, 'that’s so gay', is when I started to realize that my family was different.” Noonan says she found solace in the fact that some of the other kids in her school also had two moms and it felt like they had an unspoken bond even though they didn’t know each other that well. While gay parenting is more normalized today than a few years ago, Noonan is optimistic that one day kids raised by gay parents won’t feel like they are different. “My hope is that one day it won’t necessarily be expected that a child has two parents or a mom and a dad.” She advises parents to teach their kids about inclusivity and different family structures at a young age.
While some kids are afraid to come out to their parents, Noonan didn’t have any issues coming out to her parents or her friends. However, she admits that she didn’t publicly disclose that she was gay until she got to high school. “I came out publicly on Instagram so everyone at my high school knew. Most of my friends already knew, but it wasn’t necessarily something I would talk openly about until then,” Noonan stated. “Once I kind of came to terms with my own sexuality, it became much easier to speak openly about having two moms as well.” She says these days she is super open about who she is, and who her parents are and she thinks that it’s pretty cool having two moms. “Being raised by strong women definitely made me the person I am today,” Noonan said. “Despite the challenges when I was younger, I wouldn’t trade it for having different parents. Honestly? I would just challenge society to do better!” I'm right there with you, Caleigh.
While progress is being made when it comes to the ongoing discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, we still have a long way to go. Myths and stereotypes play a role in the discrimination and mischaracterization of gay people, and Noonan is setting the record straight on gay stereotypes. “Be accepting and don’t assume that somebody is straight,” she said. “I don’t necessarily look like what some people might think the typical gay person looks like.” She says when she goes to the grocery store with her girlfriend Lindsay, people automatically assume the two of them are sisters. “And it’s like no, but why do you care?”
Living in fear
Because of the ongoing prejudice, violence and discrimination against gay people, Noonan admits that sometimes it’s just easier sometimes to tell people she and Lindsay are roommates. “It’s easier than being like no, we’re together. And that is out of fear of what they might say. It still sucks that you have to be nervous about what reactions might be.” Many people is the LGBTQ+ community have admitted to me that living out is harder sometimes than actually coming out. But Noonan is deliberately conquering her fears. She and Lindsay live with their three-year old dog Martha, and proudly fly the Pride flag outside of their home in southeast Michigan.
Be an ally
Any person regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity can support the LGBTQ+ community. But being an ally is about much more than silent acceptance or sharing a rainbow flag meme on social media during Pride Month. Here’s what a good ally can do:
- Educate yourself and advocate for the gay community.
- Challenge stereotypes that others might have about LGBTQ+ people.
- Speak out.
- Use inclusive language.
- Check your unconscious bias and understand the challenges and adversity that LGBTQ+ people face.
- Serve as a role model and uplift and celebrate those who are marginalized within the LGBTQ+ community such as people of color and trans and gender-nonconforming people.
- Include your pronouns in your email signature. Adding your pronouns is a quick and easy way for cisgender people to have a powerful and positive impact.
While Pride Month is only 30 days, MNA’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is 24/7/365. Happy Pride!