Leading With Love

Meet the Woman Who Believes Even Small Towns Should Have A Safe Space for the LGBTQ+ Community

Emily Sproul didn’t even know what an LGBTQ Center was… until she started running one.

There is a sign that hangs outside of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center in Staunton, Virginia that simply says, “U Belong Here.” That is the message that the center’s Executive Director, Emily Sproul, wants to convey to every single person who walks through the center’s doors. 

LGBTQ+ centers are a vital resource in any area, but they’re especially crucial in rural communities and small towns across America, where access to support groups or gender-affirming health care can be hard to find. Sproul, who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, didn’t even know that LGBTQ+ centers existed until recently. When two of their four children came out as members of the LGBTQ+ community, she realized how life-changing it would be for them to have someplace where they could feel completely welcome and accepted. That’s why, in 2018, Sproul dove headfirst into the role as the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center’s Executive Director. 

Sproul immediately noticed how diverse the center’s guests were. “We had parents and grandparents who needed help with their kid. We had older folks looking for affirming healthcare… we’ve had high school students who drop in after school and just want to hang out together,” she says. 

Since they’ve opened, Sproul says the center has grown tremendously, providing support groups and mental health resources to people all over the region. But its biggest impact may be that it’s “making space for LGBTQ+ people to be themselves,” Sproul says.

Last year, all that was thrown into jeopardy by the pandemic, which forced the organization to cancel its Pride event in April and its annual gala. “2020, of course, was a challenge for everybody,” Sproul says. “For organizations like LGBTQ+ centers that rely on events for a lot of their income, it was really scary.” She worried about all of the people who might fall through the cracks without the center there to support them. 

Fortunately, P&G’s virtual Pride Month celebration and fundraising initiative Can’t Cancel Pride raised more than four million dollars to help partner organizations like CenterLink, a coalition that supports the development of inclusive and sustainable LGBTQ+ community centers across the country. With the proceeds from Can’t Cancel Pride, CenterLink was able to provide a $2400 grant to the Shenandoah center during the pandemic, along with 190+ LGBTQ+ community centers and organizations, helping them keep their doors open and continue to serve their community when fundraising events weren’t possible. 

With the support of these organizations, the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center has continued to grow and thrive. Although the center serves a small population compared to centers in larger cities, its impact has been enormous and lasting. Says Sproul, “I think it’s given folks courage to come out. It’s given them courage to finally address mental health issues that they’ve had around their identity. We have shone a beacon out in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley to say ‘you belong here, you don’t have to go to a big city to be who you are, we welcome you, we stand behind you, we support you, we will advocate for you.’”   

P&G and its brands believe they have a responsibility to be a force for good — through the products they create and the positive impact they can have. That’s why the Company committed to Lead with Love and do 2,021 Acts of Good in 2021. Can’t Cancel Pride, a virtual relief benefit for the LGBTQ+ community, is just one example and you can learn more about how Can’t Cancel Pride is helping to raise visibility and  funds for LGBTQ+ organizations here. And check back next week for another “Leading with Love” story, the third in a series of five new KCM videos produced in partnership with P&G.