It’s time to party for a cause! The Montgomery County LGBT Business Council is gearing up for Masquerade Gala: The Voice Behind the Masks. The event features an evening of networking, a silent auction, great food, a fantastic line-up of speakers, and dancing the night away, all while helping support LGBTQ+ and ally-owned businesses. We took a minute away from looking for sequins for the event to talk to the organization’s president, Brittany Kohler.
Where do you hail from?
I was born and raised in Lansdale, PA, and where I’ve settled down to live now isn’t too far from there. I grew up in Montgomery County and then my parents moved me to Perkiomenville in my middle and high school years. That was an experience. It’s a little bit more rural out there, and back then maybe not as accepting. I also lived in Florida for 10 years when I was in my 20’s, so I got to experience a great big beautiful world out there and then I came back home to settle near my family.
What part of Florida were you in?
I lived in Orlando for 3 to 4 years and I worked at Disney World, which was really fun. I also worked at Rainforest Cafe, so I’ve experienced working in the restaurant/hospitality industry, and from there I moved to St. Petersburg on the gulf coast and lived on St. Pete beach for a little while, so I got to experience life as a beach bum, which I miss every single day! After that I came back home to Lansdale, and my wife and I just bought a house in North Wales about 2 years ago.
So much exciting stuff!
Yes, I’m very lucky.
So what did you do at Disney World?
I was originally an attractions hostess, and then I worked my way up in leadership as a supervisor. I was really passionate about training so I got to be the first person to bring all the new employees through the park and show them the magic behind the scenes and why it was important to put on your best face every day. I mean, for some of the guests this would be the only chance they had to experience it in their lifetime so it was really important to be your best self there.
I had a friend who just worked at one of the Disney stores and he would tell me about some of the crazy rules they had to follow. Can you disclose a few of the stranger ones?
[Laughs] Well, yeah, we had them but I’ll just say that Disney has its reputation for a reason. They were very strict about certain things. Fortunately they’ve loosened up a lot since then. In the past, men couldn’t have beards. You could keep your mustache if it was already grown in but you couldn’t grow one on the job. So you basically had to take a vacation to grow a mustache. That’s changed.
That’s one of the things I remember my friend saying, because I think he had to shave his beard.
Yes, they were just very particular about what they expected from the employees. They called everyone cast members because they believed that everyone working there was putting on a show for the guests. I can’t disclose any more than that! But I’ll say that it was a great place to work. I had a lot of fun.
I did some work as a mascot and it was great fun. The thing that would make me crack up about myself is that every time someone would say “Cheese!” I’d put on a big grin, forgetting that they couldn’t see my face. The character was already smiling so there was no need for me to be getting smile creases in my face, yet I’d do it every time! But it was rewarding and brought so much fun to people.
That’s funny, but it says a lot, the fact that you were getting so much joy from it too.
What was a memorable moment for you?
Honestly, too many to mention, just that even though I was young, I knew how extremely fortunate I was to be able to experience the world because there were so many people from different cultures from all over the world working and visiting there. The best experiences were just standing there in awe and seeing the joy of people escaping the real world for just a bit to live in this land of fantasy. Everybody got along, there wasn’t anything that separated people when you were in Disney World. For the most part, we were all just having a wonderful time.
I will say that the “Make A Wish” visits were big at Disney World and were special to me. Being a supervisor you have a little leeway in what you’re able to do to make special moments happen. I worked at Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, which is one of the favorite parks and a lot of times it’s the first and possibly last chance for a kid to go on a roller coaster. And taking that family with a kid who might not make it to adulthood and taking their picture was one of my favorite moments. You knew that it was going to be something they treasured always.
And life as a beach bum, how beachy was it? Are we talking sleeping in a tent or waterfront property?
Somewhere in between! I wish I could have tented, and I did sleep on the beach a few times but no, I was in a house where my backyard was a canal at the bay and St. Pete’s beach was two blocks from my front door.
That sounds amazing.
Yeah, living in St. Petersburg was a much more relaxed lifestyle than it is up north; not as much hustle and bustle. It’s very laid back unlike up here where we have more unnecessary stress. It’s easy to see why: we don’t have a place like the ocean where you can escape to and just be captivated by just the size of it. It was an important time in my life because I was trying to find myself and figure out what my next move was. And it sure helps when you can go somewhere to decompress. I watched the sunset every night for a year. I think the whole experience made me more grounded as a person.
Speaking of finding yourself, when did you tap into your gay self?
I didn’t fully come out until I was 22. I think I’ve always kind of known who I was, I mean I can remember having crushes on girls as early as kindergarten but not understanding what that meant, because I didn’t hear anyone else talking about girl crushes. I pretty much knew definitely by 5th or 6th grade. I was never afraid of what my family was going to think; I was more concerned and afraid of what everybody else would think, which is the opposite of most people’s experience.
In middle school there was a time when I thought about maybe telling people but I tested out the waters by insinuating it a little and it did not go well. It became your typical bullying experience so I kind of “whoop” stepped back in the closet for a while. It wasn’t until I moved to Florida and got to experience every type of person you could imagine that I felt comfortable. It was a giant melting pot and everyone embraced each other and our differences. It was the perfect place for me to become what I am today. It took a long time to get to that person, but I’m grateful for the person that I was because it made me who I am today.
So let’s talk about what it is that you do today?
Sure, I’m the president of the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council. Our main focus is to elevate and promote LGBTQ owned and allied businesses. We’re also acting as a bridge between businesses and the community, so we have a business gateway that connects people to inclusive businesses. So if you’re new to town and aren’t sure how welcoming the area is and want to find companies that you know will be LGBTQ friendly, whether it be a barber or pet grooming service you can check our site. Doing business in areas outside of the city can be a little scary at times, but you know these businesses will be safe. And on the business side, we want to make sure our businesses are being supported and to help connect them to other businesses who can help them with their mission.
Outside of the business council I’m a full time wife and mom, and a foster parent, which has been eye opening and one of the best titles I’ve ever had. I was also recently appointed to the North Wales Borough Council, so I’m a new council member for my ward. That’s been amazing. Everybody’s been wonderful, and it puts my passion for activism to paper as I realize that real change is made on the local level. For fun, I’m the president of the Abington Area Women’s Softball League. That’s where my passion for volunteer work started. I stepped down from coaching this year because I had a lot on my plate, but I’m still running the league, and I still play.
What position do you play?
I can pretty much play any position, but I’m a pitcher. And then I have my day job. I work full time in the signage, maintenance and branding industry as a program manager.
[Laughing] Yeah, I tend to take on a lot. When I’m passionate about something I go all in, but all of my things end up somehow interconnected and related, so I put it all in one bucket and figure it out.
So with the business council, it looks like you do a lot of events and I have to say, having been to a few, you guys pull out all the stops!
Thank you, we definitely try to keep an edge here in the suburbs. We’re getting a lot of transplants from all over because the school districts are top notch and a lot of younger LGBTQ families are looking for that, and we want to keep people intrigued and having fun, so we try to do things that everyone will enjoy. Just because you have a mission and a purpose doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Did you play any other sports outside of softball? What was a favorite sports memory?
There’s not much I haven’t tried except for skiing and snowboarding (I’m much too clumsy for that), but I think my best memories were when I was a teenager and my parents coached my softball team. The friends that I made on the team were dear to me, and I still maintain friendships with a lot of them to this day. They were kids who I’m sure knew who I was and didn’t care, they loved me the same. I’ve coached at least 11 different teams since I was 16. I even coached at Disney. It’s just something that keeps me going.
One thing I noticed from one of the events where I saw you is that you’re somewhat of a fashionista! What’s a favorite article of clothing?
Hats. I love hats, I have literally been a hat person since I was one year old. My grandfather used to have shelves of all his different hats, and when I was little I loved to try them on and it just stuck. I always have one on; hats are my thing. I have my foster son wearing hats now too! It’s funny, he keeps wearing the hat with the bill in front and I keep trying to say, “No, you’ve got to wear it backwards to look cool” but he likes it with the flat bill sticking straight out, but you know what? Whatever makes him happy.
Right on! What can people expect at the Masquerade Ball and what do they have to wear?
It’s a black tie affair, and the theme is Masquerade Gala: The Voices Behind the Mask. As an organization, we recognize that right now there are many parts of our community that are being oppressed and are being targeted, The title is a play on just getting out of Covid with the masks, but it’s more about the fact that there are people who have to wear masks every day for protection because of who they are. We want to help elevate those voices and give those wonderful humans a platform to speak their truths and to speak their experiences and to inspire other people in our community.
Discrimination is very much alive, and there are loud voices feeling empowered to shout whatever they want, but they’re not going to drown our voices out, because as one, united, we’re pretty loud and strong ourselves. Our organization wants to help amplify those voices. We have Malcolm Kenyatta as one of our keynote speakers, and Corrine Goodwin who is the executive director of the Eastern PA Trans Equity Project. We’ll also hear from AJ Willis, who is a Tik Tok influencer who is also a law student. She goes under the handle, “That Gay Law Student” and does educational videos on how different laws affect people, and she breaks it down in layman’s terms. And it’s a party so we’ll have music and dancing and food, and though masks are recommended, they’re not required, (and we will have some on hand in case someone forgets theirs). There’s also going to be a photo booth, a gift station and a silent auction. And to top it off, a performance from drag queen Elektra Fearce St. James.
Nice, okay, random questions. Coffee or tea?
Coffee. I have a cup of coconut mocha coffee every morning.
Something you bought or sold on Ebay?
In 2001, I bought a signed Kelly Clarkson Vinyl of a moment like this. Absolutely no regrets in buying that.
Best gift you ever received as a kid?
What’s your favorite photo of your wife?
My favorite photo of Dana is of her in her Eagles winter hat at the Eagles Parade after they won the Super Bowl. The City that she was born and raised in as her background with the biggest smile of joy on her face!
Tell me something fun about her?
She is my best friend; she’s amazing. She’s the manager of the place where we’re having the gala. She’s selfless and wonderful and caring and the best parts of me that I don’t have. She’s the foundation on which I stand on. We always laugh together and I know it’s the kiss of death in the gay culture but we have matching tattoos! It’s a penguin holding an umbrella. Penguins mate for life and the umbrella represents the yellow umbrella from “How I Met Your Mother” because my wife and I have always been on these crazy life paths where we just missed each other and/or the timing wasn’t right. She was my brother’s good friend and we were in each other’s lives indirectly for 10 years, and then one day we just looked at each other and were like, “Wow, there you’ve been this whole time…” and we’ve been together ever since.