DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers continue the Pride Month Game Changers series this week as they recognize and honor Kevin Heard, the founder and president of the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Heard founded the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2013 to promote and empower the Metro Detroit LGBTQ+ community, allied business members, non-profit members, corporate partners and their employees through leadership, advocacy and education.
The Detroit native was inspired to start the city’s Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce after returning from earning his bachelor’s degree from Clark Atlanta University.
In Atlanta’s thriving and accepting LGBTQ+ community, Heard felt free to be himself and be open with his sexuality, but when he returned to Detroit in 2012, Heard felt like he had to take a step back with his openness and divert back to seclusion.
So when Heard received a call from the City of Detroit for a survey about city-wide issues within 12 hours of moving back home, he took it as a sign and as a call to action.
Heard joined a meeting with the city council president and a small group of constituents in an attempt to cultivate the city and create a community that caters to LGBTQ+ residents, like many major cities across the country.
“You have DuPont Circle in Washington D.C., you have Boystown in Chicago, you have Castro in San Francisco, so it’s only right for Detroit to have one of those areas,” Heard said. “My question to the group was where are the LGBT businesses in the city? Who are the owners? How can we help them and how can we get them to commit to create this neighborhood or district. And that sparked the conversation of needing to create an LGBT Chamber of Commerce.”
Since founding the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce eight years ago, Heard has worked tirelessly to advocate for inclusive business practices while educating businesses on LGBTQ+ certification and business growth.
In May 2017, Heard was honored by Crain’s Detroit’s 20 in their 20s recognition program, which celebrates young professionals who are making their marks in the region, and now, the 33-year-old is being honored by the Red Wings and Tigers for his impactful effort in the community.
“The Red Wings and Tigers continually seek to create meaningful access leading to opportunities for young people to succeed across Detroit,” said Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown. “Through Kevin Heard’s leadership with the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he’s changing the game for businesses and individuals in our region.”
Heard said he’s humbled to receive such tremendous recognition from such impactful organizations like the Red Wings and Tigers.
“It’s an honor,” Heard said about being named one of four Pride Month Game Changers. “I’ve been working with the Tigers since 2016, when we had our first unofficial Pride Night. And I think the Tigers have come a long way with including LGBT folks and everyone within their games since then. The representation, the signage, the conversations, the logo, the visibility that you can see during the Pride Night game now is really awesome.
“And the Red Wings have always partnered with an organization called You Can Play, which is about LGBT youth playing the sport of hockey and other sports as well. So it’s an honor to be recognized for this work. But there’s so much work that I still have to do. So I’m not necessarily going to be stopping anytime soon.”
Heard said that as a Black member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, it’s crucial for young people in similar situations to see people they can connect with who are in positions of success.
“Representation is extremely important,” Heard said. “I grew up not having any references to any black masculine gay males — or black gay males, period — so it really means a lot to have representation. I think the most important thing is not necessarily that you can be Black and gay, but you can be yourself.
“And I think that’s the message that the LGBT community wants to put out there more than anything, that you can be yourself and understand your intersectional identities matter and they are valued and your perspective is unique. And that’s what a lot of companies are looking for now.”
Heard said he’s thankful for the Red Wings and Tigers that these professional Detroit organizations are promoting diversity, equity and inclusion with the Pride Month Game Changers series.
“It just comes back to how much representation matters,” Heard said. “I think the Game Changers series is a great opportunity for people to get to know these folks that are just doing the work, and that people can understand it and recognize that you can do this, too.
“But the most important thing is that you continue to do the work. And I think the Game Changers series is great to continue to recognize individuals that are humbled and just focused on making their communities better.
And while Heard is happy to receive recognition for his efforts, he said there’s still an incredible amount of work to be done. Heard said one of the biggest items on his current agenda is ensuring more established businesses in the area are focused on bringing more LGBTQ+ tourism to the city.
“I hope to see more people who are LGBT running for office so we can have more representation from people who are writing those policies, and I’ll be there helping along the way,” Heard said. “LGBT folks in this community spend about $80 billion alone just on travel. And we need to make sure that Detroit is a hotspot for people to come and enjoy the city and all it has to offer. We really want them to be able to come here and have a good time all year.”