Pride Month: A celebration of diversity

By Anne Matthews
D9560 Passport Rotary Club

Every year In June, most countries observe Pride Month. The month celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

In New Zealand, Pride Month is celebrated at different times. In Auckland it is celebrated in February and in Christchurch and Wellington Pride Month is in March.

The concept of Pride Month began with the Stonewall riots, a series of riots for gay liberation that took place over several days, beginning on June 28, 1969. The riots began after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The following year, the first Gay Pride marches were held in cities across the US.

However, it has taken years for organisations to accept the diversity of the people in our world, to include them and make sure they are treated equally – no matter their race, sexual orientation, disability, or political and religious views.

PICTURED: Charter President of the Rotary Club of Briz Pride PDG Craig Bowen, centre, and Charter Vice-President Sylvester Tan, second from right, at the District 9620 Conference celebrating 100 years of Rotary in Brisbane in 2023.

Currently, most countries have gender equality and discrimination laws. However, despite these laws there is still a lack of acceptance and equality. From 1965-1969, American activist Barbara Gittings fought to stop the United States government from barring LGBTQ+ applicants from seeking employment. Once laws were passed, she said her greatest wish was not for laws, but for true acceptance.

“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”

Gittings also fought to have homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder. She celebrated this win in 1973, when she was photographed for the Philadelphia newspaper, published with the headline ‘Twenty Million Homosexuals Gain Instant Cure’.

In June 2021, the Rotary International Board of Directors adopted a new commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. They stated that “at Rotary, we understand that cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture is essential to realising our vision of a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change”.

Serving with pride

PDG Craig Bowen was born in Brisbane, Qld, in 1951 and educated at Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School – Churchie. After leaving school, he worked in the Insurance industry for 48 years.

Craig married his wonderful, supportive wife Denise in 1983 and they had three beautiful daughters born in 1984, 1987 and 1989. The three girls are now married, and each have a delightful child. So, Craig in the proud grandfather of two granddaughters and one grandson, with a second grandson due this month.

In 1998, Craig joined the Rotary Club of Ingham, Qld. Over the following years, he served as club president five times. However, he says he was disappointed to find that “Rotary was a white homophobic men’s club” with several of the clubs in his district not permitting women to become members.

PICTURED: Charter President of the Rotary Club of Briz Pride PDG Craig Bowen, with Charter Vice-President Sylvester Tan at the club’s charter celebrations.

Unfortunately, some such clubs still exist today, but progression, such as Rotary welcoming its first female internation president, is promising.

“It was so wonderful to see Jennifer Jones become the first female Rotary International president,” Craig says.

In 2004, Craig was asked to serve as District Governor of D9550 for the year 2006-07. At that time, the district was the third largest in the world. It ran from Proserpine to Thursday Island, then west to Mount Isa, out to Tennant Creek and up to Darwin in the Northern Territory. It also included the island country of Timor Leste.

Craig visited Malaysia in 2006 and spoke at the District Conference in Kuala Lumpur. He was also honoured to undertake an official visit to Uganda in 2008 and noticed how different Rotary in Africa was compared to Australia. In 2008, Craig represented District 9550 for the 100th anniversary of the Rotary Club of San Francisco, US – the second Rotary club to be chartered.

These visits fostered a true appreciation of Rotary, which he describes as an incredible organisation he really loves being a part of. Through his Rotary service, Craig has always worked to help the underprivileged. However, he noticed that Rotary was missing out by not representing the entire community, especially the LBGTQ+ population.

In 2016, Craig came out as a gay man, with the total support of his wife, daughters, and their families.

“But I was put down by a lot of people in Rotary and told by many that I can’t be a Past District Governor of Rotary and a gay man. I was even told by a PDG that he didn’t want me to visit his club as I might turn them all gay. I found that so laughable, but that’s what gay people in Rotary had to put up with.”

From 2016 to 2023, Craig performed his Rotary life behind a veil of secrecy, not letting people know his sexuality. During this time, he served as Chair of Rotarians Against Malaria (RAM) for then District 9630.

However, he could see that there were other gay people in Rotary, and he was asked to join the LGBT+ Rotary Fellowship – Rotary’s largest fellowship.

On August 19, 2023, with the help of Sylvester Tan and several others, Craig became the charter president of the first LGBTQ+ Rotary club in the southern hemisphere – the Rotary Club of Briz Pride. This is the fifth club of its kind in the world. It is a mix of gay and straight men and women, which demonstrates its commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Craig says the club would never have happened without the support of Immediate Past District Governor Tim Keeler AM, the current District Governor Paul Roger, and District 9620 Membership Director PDG Jitendra Prasad. The charter of Briz Pride was featured in Rotary Down Under in the Dec-Jan 2023-24 edition.

Since August, Briz Pride club members have been working with Open Doors Youth Service Inc., which provides support to young people with diverse genders, bodies and sexualities. Open Doors outgoing CEO Chris Pickard is also a member of the Rotary Club of Briz Pride.

Craig says he is very privileged that his ex-wife, three children and their families back him 100 per cent in what he is doing with Rotary. Their support gives him the courage to keep moving forward as “it can be very lonely being the only person in a club when you know you can’t come out”.

He says this is happening in many clubs throughout Australia. He has spoken with many gay Rotary members, who tell him that if they came out, they would be ostracised and asked to leave.

Craig is currently serving as President of the LGBT+ Rotary Fellowship. He is the second Australian to hold this office. The Fellowship had a booth at the Rotary Convention in Melbourne, Vic, last year and Craig was proud and excited to have the backing of Rotarians from around the world. The Fellowship also had a booth at the Singapore Convention in May 2024, with members from all over the world helping sell their merchandise.

Craig says he truly believes that Rotary has turned the corner and is now an inclusive organisation that believes all genders can join and work together to make the world a better place. He says the days of Rotary being a white man’s organisation have passed.

He is so proud to be a Rotary Past District Governor and is looking forward to seeing how the changes will influence the future.

“Men, women and the LGBTQ+ community can lead the way in taking Rotary into the next generation as a truly international organisation of all people,” Craig says.