The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric heating up around the country is very worrisome for OutFront’s Tracy Hall, but it’s how it affects youth that worries her the most.
Hall, who grew up in Milford and came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University, says she knows what it’s like to be young, gay and feeling unsafe.
“When those political actors are spewing their hateful rhetoric, it trickles down to us and it’s damaging to younger people who might not realize that there are many supportive people out there,” Halls says. “I really do believe this is life and death for our younger people, whether they’re going to take their own life or some harm’s going to come to them because of all this hateful rhetoric. That is why we provide services like we do — to help keep them as safe as possible.”
Hall, who also served for three terms on the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, including a term as its first lesbian chairperson from 2020 to 2022, lives in the Oakwood neighborhood with her partner, ex-wife and four dogs. “I know, I know,” she says with a laugh about her unusual living situation.
“I’m proud of it. Life happens, and our marriage ended, but we are still very much family. We have a platonic partnership where we raise our girls, which are dogs. My partner has lived with us for about two and a half years now. They are the two most important people in my life. It’s a unique chosen family that I absolutely love.”
How did you get where you are today?
OutFront’s been part of my life in some fashion since 2007. I was a volunteer when it was the Kalamazoo Gay-Lesbian Resource Center (the name was changed to OutFront Kalamazoo in 2017). In 2010, I was hired as KGLRC’s first program director. At the same time, I was teaching at both Western and KVCC. I was here (at the former KGLRC) for about two and a half years but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I thought about a Ph.D., but I also wanted to get involved in politics.
I ran for the Kalamazoo City Commission in 2013 and lost but ran for the Kalamazoo County Commission in 2016, won and served three terms. (She did not run for re-election in 2022.) During that time, I still volunteered here and joined OutFront’s board of directors. In April 2022, our executive director, Amy Hunter, resigned and my former good friends on the board (she laughs) appointed me as interim executive director. I became permanent in July 2022.
I never really thought I was an executive director, but I absolutely loved it. It took, literally, just a few minutes and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ Because I love the organization and this space. Providing resources and services and programs for my community, it just fills up my heart.
What changes have you seen in Kalamazoo’s LGBTQ community?
Part of Kalamazoo’s greatness is that it’s been a really accepting place, at least since the ’90s. We have a rich gay and lesbian history here. In 2004, the city of Kalamazoo started offering same-sex benefits to domestic partners of its employees. In 2009, voters approved including sexual orientation and gender identity expression in our city’s non-discrimination ordinance, (a proposal) which passed by nearly 62 percent, which is a high rate. Most of those individuals were allies, and that is symbolic.
What do you see as the LGBTQ+ community’s challenges?
Our number-one challenge is still acceptance. We might have a larger, broader community that accepts us, but the political rhetoric against our community continues to heat up. Michigan just amended the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act (which had banned discrimination in Michigan against anyone on the basis of “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status”) to include sexual orientation and gender identity. But what we’re hearing from Montana, Oklahoma, Ohio, Texas and Florida makes it so much more important for OutFront and other LGBTQ organizations to be out there so younger people know there are safe, welcoming and affirming spaces. I’m glad we’re downtown and I’m glad we’re visible. We have a rainbow crosswalk on Lovell Street, and while I know some of these things are just symbolic, still, people see that, especially younger people.
Why is the Pride event so important?
Pride is our biggest fundraiser and allows us to do the important community work that we do. Our first one at Arcadia Festival Place was in 2007, and 1,500 people came for a one-day event. Now it’s two days, close to 17,000 came last year, and it’s been growing steadily. The first night there is a drag show and contest. The next day is about building community and education. We have vendors, supportive services and our community partners there, including the (county) health department, CARES, El Concilio and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, as well as live entertainment.
I will tell you, one of the big game changers is having a huge supporter and sponsor in Bell’s Brewery, which came on board in 2011. Some of our other big sponsors are Pfizer, Stryker and Zoetis. That support says a lot.