As part of its inclusivity work, the SaintA Equity Council is proud to sponsor the LGBTQ Affinity Group. The group was founded by Monika Walbergh, Child Welfare Case Manager; Misty Knuteson, Family Preservation Specialist; Thomas Ecks, Community Engagement Specialist; Jenny Keefe, Family Preservation Program Manager; and Sarah Morschauser, Child Welfare Case Manager.
The group provides its members and agency colleagues with peer support, educational opportunities and open discussions about identity and sexuality. Staff do not have to identify as LGBTQ to participate in the affinity group or any of its events.
“The purpose of the LGBTQ Affinity Group is to provide support and advocacy for LGBTQ staff, clients, and families while also providing LGBTQ cultural competency education and training for staff, regardless of an individual’s identity,” says Monika Walbergh.
LGBTQ Affinity Group Supported by Equity Council
The group was about two years in the making and began as the first pilot affinity group ever launched at SaintA.
“The SaintA Equity Council creates Affinity Groups based on alignment to our Equity and Inclusion priorities. Staff expressed a desire in starting the LGBTQ initiative because it is a group that has been historically disenfranchised and excluded,” says Kenyatta Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer of Equity and Human Capital at SaintA.
For Walbergh, the purpose of this professional group is extremely personal. “As soon as I came out at the age of 12, everyone started telling me I would have to kiss my dream job of working with children goodbye,” she recalls. Again and again, she heard the same message from her school counselors, family and friends.
“There was a reason gay and lesbian teachers stayed firmly in the closet back then,” she continues. “And I learned the hard way when I was fired early in my career for being openly gay while working with 12-16 year olds.”
Serious – But not Too Serious – About Equity
The LGBTQ Affinity Group is diverse, passionate and creative; its Pride Month events have included a Trans 101 Lunch and Learn, Drag Queen Bingo, and a screening and discussion of the film Kiki. Many of its members volunteered SaintA during Milwaukee PrideFest and the Pride Parade.
The group is also quite serious about bringing to light the importance of equity for LGBTQ staff – and perhaps more important, SaintA clients.
“I truly believe we are the last generation of human service workers who were not required to be educated and competent around LGBTQ issues,” says Walbergh. “The number of youth in America who identify as LGBTQ is three times larger than in the 1990s. Nearly 25% of youth in foster care self-identify as LGBTQ.”
“We are on the precipice of a wave of LGBTQ clients, youth and families and the work of the affinity group can help us be a leader in LGBTQ competence.”
In the next year or so, the group plans to co-host The Human Library™ with the SaintA Diversity Committee. The Human Library is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices. According to its website, The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers and where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.
Affinity Groups Help Create Competence
Affinity Groups have a long history in workplaces that are committed to diversity and inclusion. In the 1960s, especially, these groups were started to helped reduce isolation of black employees as corporations became more integrated.
By the 1990s, the LGBT community began organizing and establishing their own affinity groups, as did women, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, veterans and Americans with disabilities.
“Human dignity should never be compromised. The interest, passion and knowledge of this group creates awareness and makes a difference to the inclusion of LGBTQ staff and clients,” says Sinclair. “The purpose of the LGBTQ Affinity Group is to foster sensitivity, competence and inclusivity.”
On a more personal note, “It means so much to be open about this part of my life and identity and still be allowed to work with vulnerable kids. And with this group, I feel like I’m not only ‘allowed’ to be who I am; I’m supported and celebrated for the strengths and knowledge I bring to my practice as part of the LGBTQ community,” says Walbergh.
The LGBTQ Affinity Group is joined by other affinity groups that have recently been created, or will soon be launched, at SaintA. The Aspiring Women of Color Affinity Group (AWOC) launched in March of 2018 and a Supporting Men in Social Work Affinity Group just had its inaugural meeting in June.