Human Resources and Nonprofits

Chamber programs LGBT networking group

January 30, 2014
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Chamber programs LGBT networking group
OutPro is a networking group for LGBT professionals and program by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Photo via

LGBT professionals have a new way to connect in Grand Rapids.


The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is launching the LGBT networking group OutPro with an event tonight at SpeakEZ Lounge, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

“The chamber is working to foster a business environment that supports a diverse workforce, and we welcome the chance to include OutPro as one of our growing number of professional affinity groups that help employers attract and retain talent in West Michigan,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber.

The OutPro group was created to promote a welcoming culture in the West Michigan community for LGBT professionals, and it will offer opportunities for both social and professional networking through monthly gatherings at various venues throughout the city.

The gatherings are expected to attract LGBT professionals at all career levels, representing diverse corporations, small businesses and public and nonprofit organizations.

In addition, OutPro has a Facebook page for people to share news and resources that impact the LGBT community.

The group has more than 300 fans since it was officially announced last month.

OutPro actually came out of the informal meetings of a handful of prominent LGBT individuals in Grand Rapids who recognized a need for providing a supportive environment to LGBT newcomers.

“OutPro is the outcome of a few individuals from the community identifying a need and creating a solution that resulted in the support and participation of many,” said Sonya Hughes, chamber vice president of inclusion and community leadership. “OutPro’s goal aligned with the chamber’s goal — to be a magnetic community that is welcoming to all — so taking this group in as a program of the chamber made sense.”


Grand Rapids has long struggled to attract and retain diverse professionals.

The chamber previously created the Multiracial Association of Professionals, which is focused on connecting professionals of color in the community.

It said that OutPro was a natural next step in its diversity efforts.

“One of the chamber’s strategic goals is to help build an inclusive and magnetic community that attracts and retains diverse talent,” Hughes said. “Our hope is area employers will use OutPro as a tool to help connect and engage their LGBT talent.”

This is the first time the chamber has specifically focused on LGBT professionals through its programming.


Grand Rapids has long had a reputation for being a conservative environment, which has sometimes led LGBT talent to seek other cities with seemingly more inclusive business climates.

Over the years, however, more West Michigan companies have made efforts to become more inclusive to LGBT professionals through affinity groups, partner benefits and non-discrimination policies.

The chamber wants to ensure that LGBT individuals know that the business community in Grand Rapids is a welcoming one.

“I think that Grand Rapids’ image is evolving, and it’s becoming known as the place to live, work and play, which is attractive to diverse individuals in general,” Hughes said. “In addition, there are a growing number of organizations within our community who are putting diversity policies in place to be inclusive of all talent, which is helping with creating a new narrative about the community.

“And there are a growing number of social spaces that are welcoming to all, which is making it easier for members of the LGBT community to build connections.”

Hughes said that companies could best roll out the welcome mat to LGBT professionals through being explicit in their HR policies about being an inclusive organization for all and by establishing a LGBT employee resource group.

“Also having leaders within companies that are part of the LGBT community communicates it’s acceptable to bring your whole self to the workplace and your contributions are important to the success of the organization,” Hughes added.


Businesses in Michigan competing for LGBT talent still contend with several less-than-inclusive laws that negatively impact LGBT individuals and their families, however.

Michigan is an anti-marriage state for gay couples, does not allow for LGBT couples to adopt and does not include LGBT individuals in its workplace and housing non-discrimination laws. The city of Grand Rapids does include LGBT people in its non-discrimination ordinance.

All things that Hughes agreed potential LGBT talent take into account when deciding to remain in or relocate to the state and, therefore, West Michigan. 

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