By Sunny Clark, PQ Monthly
Newly-appointed Pride Foundation Executive Director Kris Hermanns received an urgent phone call on her first day of work, asking if she could be in Olympia the next day for Governor Christine Gregoire’s announcement of her support for marriage equality. Hermanns wasn’t about to turn down the chance to witness Washington take a significant step toward becoming the seventh state in the Union to support same-sex marriage rights.
“We live in an historic, exciting time for LGBTQ rights,” Hermanns says, stressing the importance of marriage equality as a milestone in achieving equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.
“Washington is poised to become the first state that affirms the rights of LGBTQ individuals at the ballot,” she adds, and Pride Foundation is a leading partner in the Washington United for Marriage coalition.
Like generations of her family before her, Hermanns was raised on a dairy farm and worked hard, first on her parents’ and then on her grandparents’ farm throughout her youth.
“I was one of those kids that bridged many communities … both a jock and an academic. I was socially diverse,” she says. “Growing up in rural Wisconsin, you had to be creative. It was a great place to be a kid. I was raised in a wonderful environment with a great extended family. I consider myself blessed.”
Humble roots sometimes grow great ambitions. Hermanns recalls, “My parents were both very encouraging about education. Along with some scholarships and, of course, student loans, I worked my way through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then, encouraged by a mentor, I buckled down for Harvard to obtain my masters of education in administration, planning, and social policy. My parents were very proud when I graduated. My going to Harvard was a result of their incredible sacrifice and support.”
Hermanns brings more than pedigree to her role as executive director; there’s strength, determination, and a charisma that authentically engaged an audience of community leaders who gathered at Q Center to meet and greet Hermanns in April. With close to 20 years of nonprofit administration, fundraising, and program management, Hermanns comes to Pride Foundation directly from a successful stint as deputy director of the development department of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Prior to that position, Hermanns had already created an enduring legacy with the inception of Equity Action — a field-of-interest fund for LGBTQ concerns — when she was program officer with the Rhode Island Foundation. She also developed the grant-making program for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.
Hermanns also brings to her new post her experience working for Brown University’s Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, building relationships and nurturing partnerships that addressed needs identified by the community.
Hermanns now takes the helm of the Pride Foundation, which was created in 1985 “when the LGBT community was just coming to understand the depth of loss that was the AIDS crisis in America,” she says. “Four friends met in Seattle and formed the Pride Foundation, in order to build and create equal access for all LGBT people.”
Aided by the Greater Seattle Business Association, by 1987 Pride Foundation was awarding its first grants to organizations. “Since then, the group has become a leading philanthropic organization on the West Coast,” Hermanns says, “expanding to serve a region that stretches from Montana to Alaska, and has since awarded 40 million in grants, scholarships, and sponsorships.”
“We support both individuals and organizations because our philosophy is that we must do it together,” she adds. “Full equality for the LGBTQ community will not be achieved by one organization. This is why Pride Foundation’s Advocacy Fund provides financial support to crucial work that permanently changes the legal landscape for LGBTQ people.”
To serve and lead a new generation of philanthropists, Hermanns relocated from San Francisco to Seattle, where she is happily settling into her new role and enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest. “Between the coffee, the food, and the culture … who could ask for anything more?” she says.
An avid reader and sports enthusiast, among Hermanns’a favorite aspects of her position is the opporunity “to travel all over the Northwest, hear people’s stories, and support their dreams.”
Just a month after accepting her new role, Hermanns undertook her first official road trip. “My time in Montana made it vividly clear to me why I choose to do this work,” she says. “It also reaffirmed for me why Pride Foundation is committed to being on the ground in each state, inspiring and joining with community partners and leaders, donors, funders, and volunteers across the Northwest, in places where equality and fairness for LGBTQ people and families may be least expected or hardest to find. The possibility of making a profound and permanent difference in the daily lives of LGBTQ people drives all of us forward.”
“We aim to continue to pay special attention to the most vulnerable members of our community and to deepen our presence in all five states,” Hermanns adds, “so that when challenges emerge on the local level we can respond in a timely and appropriate way. Elders, youth, our transgendered brothers and sisters, and the more marginalized members of our community have our attention. We seek to ensure that the progress we make is more evenly felt by the most marginal members of our society.”