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Rotary takes Pride in becoming inclusive

15 March 2023 at 3:44 pm
Danielle Kutchel
The face of Rotary is changing thanks to an internal movement to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ members.

Danielle Kutchel | 15 March 2023 at 3:44 pm


Rotary takes Pride in becoming inclusive
15 March 2023 at 3:44 pm

The face of Rotary is changing thanks to an internal movement to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ members.

When Rotary was originally founded more than 100 years ago, the organisation’s constitution restricted membership to “adult male persons of good character and good business or professional reputation”.

Now a century on, its membership is looking far more diverse as the organisation embraces members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Stacie-Mei Laccohee-Duffield, a trans lesbian woman, joined Rotary’s Ellenbrook branch before her transition. Her introduction to Rotary was through its work to eradicate polio, and she joined to try and reconnect with her community.

In the midst of transforming a run-down community garden, Laccohee-Duffield formed a friendship group that stuck with her during her own transition.

“I… had that space and that support to make the transition,” she recalled.

Rotary changed her name when she requested it and accepted her chosen identity and pronouns.

After a few weeks, some of the more “traditional” members found the confidence to ask her their questions.

“And then I just felt part of the team, both as my previous self and now as my true self,” Laccohee-Duffield said.

Fellow Rotarian Grant Godino, who is part of the e-club Rotary Social Impact Network and Rotary’s LGBT+ Fellowship, knew of Rotary growing up as a “men’s-only club” that his best mate’s dad was part of.

After a US Supreme Court decision in the 1980s opened up membership to women, Godino, who is gay, said he has watched that change “seep in” over the years.

More recently, he said, “Rotary has really started looking at itself a lot more closely to think about what our legacy is going to be and realising that if our membership keeps ageing the way that it is, there’s not going to be much of a Rotary legacy left.”

He’s referring to the traditional older, male membership base, the stereotype that often comes to mind when people think of Rotary.

Fortunately, that membership base is evolving. Now, Godino says, the clubs better reflect the diversity of the communities they work in.

“Rotary is a massive grassroots organisation, which means you’ve got little clubs all over Australia and all over the world that operate in their little square,” he said.

“There’s definitely still some clubs that are still quite old and quite white and quite male. But generally speaking, these days I can walk into almost any club and be myself and know that I’m safe because Rotary has done a whole lot of work to educate our members and, and just let them know that people are different.”

Creating fellowship

Godino is president of the Rotary LGBT+ Fellowship, which promotes education and inclusivity globally within Rotary.

He said Rotary has put lots of resources into better understanding its members, surveying them regularly to understand characteristics like their sexuality and race. Rotary’s senior leadership has led the change, he added, communicating a desire to be a more inclusive and diverse organisation.

“We need to meet [people] where they are and we need to make them feel safe to really participate in our organisation,” he said.

Laccohee-Duffield said Rotary is “really about humanity and community and people”. She came into contact with Godino at the LGBT Fellowship and offered her support, happily sharing her story across Rotary more widely.

See more: The power of pride networks

Laccohee-Duffield is not the only trans member of her club anymore, but she said when she was, she felt like she was on her own.

“But through that power of Rotary and that global platform, I’ve been able to connect with Grant and a worldwide community of LGBT folk, which I never would have believed existed,” she said.

“A lot of organisations will raise the flag and will say ‘we’re inclusive’. But actually, Rotary created a policy of inclusion. Grant and the Fellowship have created a little toolkit… that’s live on a website which members and clubs can access and use, and that’s really amazing.”

The toolkit walks clubs through the steps of becoming inclusive by understanding members and how to engage the local community.

Laccohee-Duffield said in her experience, Rotary leaders were “totally on board” with learning more about inclusivity. She created a video in which she spoke about her journey and how to overcome any challenges in creating inclusive environments, and shared this with other clubs.

“It’s just been 100 per cent support right from the get-go,” she said.

The Fellowship has provided LGBTQIA+ Rotarians with a space to come together and have safe conversations about any struggles they’re facing. It also created a community that could advocate for change and for its needs as a minority group.

It currently has around 300 members worldwide, with approximately 15 to 20 per cent hailing from Australia.

Through its club assessment, it focuses on actions that individual Rotary clubs can take to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive.

Laccohee-Duffield said: “It takes you on that journey of understanding your club, where your members are at and really taking on that journey to being inclusive and then getting involved in the communities that you serve. And it’s beautiful.”

“True inclusion” from the top

She added that part of the education that the toolkit provided was around ensuring that clubs understand that the LGBTQIA+ community may not generally feel safe with Rotary — so engagement and support is crucial.

She said true inclusion needs to flow from leadership. 

The decision by Rotary’s leaders to allow the LGBT+ Fellowship empowered members to push for change, while also creating sustainable and systemic change from within — “taking a firm stance and making it quite clear from leadership that the old way is not acceptable”, she said.

“We don’t put up with discrimination and abuse in the clubs. We have avenues for escalation. Basically all any organisation has to do is really embed it and put protections and safety in. There’s no point putting another barrier in for an individual to join your club.”

Godino said organisations looking to be more inclusive need to be mindful of the pace of change. He cautioned that not everything can happen at once.

“It’s OK for things to go slowly. This has been a long-term change for Rotary, and it continues to be a journey for us. Rotary is now really great at talking about gender and sexuality and cultural diversity and things like that, but we’re also still continuing that journey too. The organisation’s not quite ready to talk about things like intersectionality yet because we’re still on a journey. We’re getting better and taking steps. It’s happening slowly, but it is happening.”

Godino said he can’t wait for the day that “every [Rotary] club around the country looks like its community. We need to be representative of the people that we’re serving.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

Tags : LGBTQIA+, Rotary,


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