Chad Hershner has seen many people in the Fox Cities ready to embrace those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
In December 2011, a plunge was sponsored by the Fox Cities Community Health Action Team, or CHAT, led by Appleton Medical Center in Appleton and Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah. The plunge brought together community leaders to learn about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
This lead to the formation of INCLUDE, during a breakfast with community members. Hershner said the group wants to “engage the Fox Valley, deepen understanding, change behaviors and embrace the LGBT community.”
“It’s not just all LGBT community members,” he added, noting that many straight community members are also joining the partnership. “That’s one of the most powerful things about INCLUDE.”
To date the group has been speaking throughout the community, especially to schools, where members hope to reach out to students struggling with their sexuality. Unfortunately, many youth who commit suicide are identified as LGBT, said Hershner. “Our community has had experienced a lot of youth suicides,” he said.
INCLUDE, which is volunteer led, plans to launch a web site that will provide resources and information for LGBT community, parents, teachers, counselors and more. The group is gearing up for a big event in 2015, in which members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles will come for a week to launch the It Gets Better project, which aims to give hope to LGBT youth who face harassment. “They do activities in the schools, community presentations and workshops and at end of the week there will be a full community concert at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center,” said Hershner, noting that INCLUDE will recruit 80 community members to sing with the chorus.
INCLUDE will also work with AT&T, which is a national partner with the project, to produce “It Gets Better” videos.
ThedaCare, through the CHAT program, has provided $15,000 to be used toward the It Gets Better project and the INCLUDE initiative. “They continue to demonstrate a commitment to our mission,” said Hershner.