Stories in the Great Lakes

Midwest Pride in Conservation

Meet some of our incredible LGBTQ+ colleagues making a difference for people and nature.

A collage of photos of five people featured in the following story.
Hero Image Template - 1 Meet five of our LGBTQ-identified TNC Midwest colleagues who are making our work better by bringing their full selves to the table every day.

In the vast tapestry of our world, every thread matters. From the delicate petals of a wildflower to the ancient roots of a towering oak, biodiversity weaves resilience into the fabric of our planet. But there’s another vital thread—one that often goes unnoticed or dismissed but is equally essential: the beautiful tapestry of human diversity. As we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride month this year and every year, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recognizes that fostering a more inclusive and equitable conservation movement is not just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic necessity.

Since our founding in 1951, TNC has evolved beyond a singular focus on protecting land and water. We’ve embraced diversity, equity and inclusion as foundational pillars to work that also now encompasses cutting-edge science, nature-based solutions to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and direct engagement with Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including in city environments. Why? Because we’ve learned that conservation efforts built on empathy, compassion and cultural competence are what truly make us all thrive.

Whether it’s restoring wetlands, safeguarding forests or preserving marine habitats, our work is stronger when we honor the unique perspectives of those people who have been historically marginalized in the conservation world. By elevating the voices of communities too often overlooked, we ensure that conservation outcomes truly do benefit everyone. And by fostering an inclusive workplace, we empower our teams to bring their whole selves to the table—valued, respected and united in our shared purpose.

This Pride Month, get to know just a few of our LGBTQ-identified TNC colleagues who are making our work better by bringing their full selves to the table every day. 

Michelle Kalantari poses with a person dressed in a tree costume.
Michelle Kalantari started as a volunteer for The Nature Conservancy, which later turned into a job.


Michelle Kalantari, Major Gifts Assistant (she/her)

At 66 years old, Michelle Kalantari has seen enormous changes over the course of her career in the way LGBTQ+ members are received in the workplace. 

For much of her career, Michelle worked as an engineer in the corporate sector and eventually ran her own sheet metal business. After the 9/11 attacks, she was forced to close down that business. She found herself as a middle-aged woman asking, what do I want to be when I grow up? During this time, she started volunteering for environmental organizations, including The Nature Conservancy. That eventually led to a job.

Michelle has been at the Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota chapter of TNC for more than 20 years as the Major Gifts Assistant in the Philanthropy department, a role she jokingly calls the “head of the department of details.” She processes donations, fields calls from donors and manages mailings.

Since coming out as a lesbian in 1978, Michelle often felt like she couldn’t be fully herself at work, concerned about how she’d be received by others. “TNC is the first place I felt really accepted and at home,” Michelle said. “Where I didn't need to be as guarded.”

And it’s not just TNC. Michelle has felt very accepted as a lesbian at every environmental nonprofit where she has volunteered. She encourages other members of the LGBTQ+ community who are interested in conservation careers to get involved.

“If you have a passion for the natural world, there is a place for you in conservation to have a positive impact,” she said. “If you are unsure, you can volunteer for an environmental group and see if it feels as natural to you as it did for me.”

Emily Mills stands in the forest with a camera.
In the Woods Emily Mills works as the media & PR manager for TNC's Wisconsin chapter. © Emily Mills


Emily Mills, Media & PR Manager (they/them)

I’ve been out as queer for a long time, and I’ve always been candid and open about who I am when I show up for job interviews. Thankfully, the folks at the Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been the Media & PR Manager for Wisconsin for just over 4 years, during which time I’ve also come out as trans/non-binary. Again, my announcement was met with supportive responses and colleagues making good-faith efforts to use my new pronouns. I get to work with incredible colleagues who’ve taught me a lot about the “what” and “why” of our work at TNC and connected me with incredible partners and community members across the country. I’ve gotten to join our prescribed fire team, which is at least half women (a rarity in the fire world!), and tag along on scientific field projects in some of the state’s most beautiful places.

When I was first hired, I was also heartened to learn about the many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at TNC, including Nature’s Pride, which is specifically for LGBTQ-identifying staff. I’ve had the pleasure of helping create a “LGBTQ 101” video workshop for their Active Allyship program, and recently began my tenure as a member of the steering committee, where we work on everything from virtual programming to advocacy and accountability for TNC’s own policies and procedures globally.

I’m officially middle-aged now and the way that LGBTQ folks are treated, both socially and legally, has been a real rollercoaster just during my lifetime. We’ve made so much progress—the fact that I can be open and out at work about being queer, non-binary and polyamorous, without real fear of retribution? That’s huge. It’s also a privilege that I know not everyone yet enjoys, even within TNC. So while I’m grateful for how far we’ve come and all the support I get from my colleagues, I’m committed to working hard on those areas where not nearly enough progress has been made—or where we’re fully backsliding, like what’s happening in too many places in the U.S. alone.

Diversity is the key to thriving natural systems—and humans are no exception. TNC is made better by having a more diverse workforce. Queer and trans folks bring unique perspectives and experiences that help drive our vital work forward. I’m proud to play even a small role in that effort, and I have been heartened to see more and more LGBTQ+ folks making space for themselves in the environmental and conservation worlds. As someone with a background in writing, music and communications, I didn’t always see a place for myself in this work. But if I have one piece of advice, it’s that whatever your skills, there’s a place for you in the fight to protect our Earth. And that when people are allowed to bring their full, authentic selves to the table every day, everyone benefits. 

Tonyisha Harris stands by a tree in a park.
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Tonyisha Harris, Climate and Energy Program Manager (she/they)

While new to TNC, Tonyisha Harris has been an ardent youth climate and environmental justice activist in Chicago for 12 years—and she's only 26 years old. 

She first learned about climate change and its intense impacts on communities thanks to an eccentric high school biology teacher who booked an assembly from Action for the Climate Emergency, an organization she went on to work for.

“Coming from a community in which most people suffer from a respiratory illness—my family and I have asthma for example—I finally had the knowledge to connect the dots to something I thought was normal.”

Now, Tonyisha is excited to apply her experiences, expertise and passion for environmental justice to lead TNC Illinois’ climate and energy strategy. She shares, “My background provides valuable insight on the perspectives of people from my community that aid in creating policy solutions that don’t leave communities behind.” 

She believes this community-centered approach is the key to creating equitable climate change solutions. “Due to the higher risk of homelessness, BIPOC LGBTQIA+ youth experience a disproportionate exposure to the impacts of climate change,” she explains. “Climate change solutions require queer people at the table.”

Tonyisha encourages the next generation to lean on their communities and fellow colleagues: “While this field is often lacking in diversity, I’ve found a community for myself with other queer, BIPOC colleagues that keep me grounded, supported and sane. This community gives me the space to be my most authentic self in the face of adversity and respite for challenging situations."

Three women posing for a selfie by the ocean.
By the ocean Lynn Boomer (right) on vacation with her family. © Courtesy of Lynn Boomer

Michigan & Ohio

Lynn Boomer, Development Program Specialist (she/her)

As Mary Oliver so brilliantly put it, “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I spent my childhood on the east side of Detroit, where there were not many green spaces readily available outside of the schoolyard. To know that the work I’ve been doing for 32 years provides an opportunity for future generations to experience some of the rare, the wild and the beautiful places across the globe is so gratifying. 

Working for both the Michigan and Ohio chapters, I am constantly amazed by the depth and breadth of the work we do at TNC. Far from just buying land, we’ve worked to ensure neotropical migratory birds have spaces to rest and refuel after traveling thousands of miles, studied how specific types of land respond to the application of fire, enhanced reefs in Lake Michigan to aid fish population recovery, and that’s just in Michigan and Ohio. The list is so very impressive.

As we know from managing natural landscapes, a monoculture is not a healthy or sustainable environment. When it comes to conservation projects, the same is true: we must acknowledge and incorporate nuance into our work just as nature does in order to thrive. I think of our society as less a melting pot and more a hardy gumbo, citrusy ceviche, or spicy chakalaka. The whole is made better by the ingredients. An abundance of perspectives leads to a wider, deeper experience for more people. While we cannot “fix” everything, we must do our level best to meet folks where they are, and, guided by science, reach more diverse outcomes.

Chad Duplain Senior Associate Director of Corporate Relations for The Nature Conservancy, Chad Duplain (right), with partner Matthew at Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve. © Grant Beachy


Chad Duplain, Senior Associate Director of Corporate Relations (he/him)

When I began my career in conservation, I quickly realized that the emotion and human connection of conservation felt neatly boxed and separated from our focus. I was simultaneously struggling with my own identity. It would take me years to find myself, and when I finally came out to close family and friends at the age of 19, I quickly learned what it was like to jump into the deep end of the pool—my privileged life had an awakening. When my partner Matthew and I first visited a remote nature preserve, we found ourselves looking over our shoulders, releasing our embraced hands when others approached and questioning our safety. It was in that moment that I realized that not everyone experiences the same right and access to nature as we should.

As one of the largest private landholders in the country, TNC plays a key role in creating access and equity in conservation. We have a commitment to diversity and respect for people, communities and cultures, and how this shows up in our work is critical. Diverse communities have diverse needs, and to effectively create equity, we must build trust by centering the experience of underrepresented communities in conservation. This work recognizes that there were many before us, and who are still here, who have a deep connection, appreciation and respect for the natural world, a relationship that existed long before colonialism saw nature as something to be sold. Nature is not a resource to be extracted, but a beautiful, synergetic relationship of which we are all a part. Through trust, transparency and authenticity, I strive to create a culture of inclusivity in our supporters through intentional outreach, active listening and acknowledging and repairing past harms as we engage diverse communities.