Tom Grote is Matriarch and past member of The Matriots PAC board of directors. He was instrumental in our organization’s early growth and is active in his community. He currently is leading the opening of the Grote family innovation center and is a partner at Grote Turner, which works with companies and non-profits to clearly define and align purpose in their organizations. He sits on the COTA board of trustees and previously served on the board of trustees for the United Way of Central Ohio. He helped found Equality Ohio, and most recently co-chaired the capital campaign for Stonewall Columbus. Tom lives in German Village with his husband, Rick Neal, their daughters Amoret (9) and Sophia (7) and their newly adopted dog, Muppy.
You joined the board of directors of The Matriots PAC when it first formed. What drew you to our work and how did it feel to be the only man on the board of an organization dedicated to women’s leadership?
My husband and I and our girls, Amoret and Sophia, participated in the DC Women’s March in 2017. I was impressed by the energy and tone of the March. There were thousands and thousands of mostly women, and it was intense. But intense in a peaceful, determined way. It was powerful. And I was proud that my girls had that experience. Amoret’s take away was one of the chants, “My body, my choice.” She uses this as a way to claim her own power about all kinds of things. She has internalized this and her daddies could not be more happy and proud.
The women who founded The Matriots were also at that march. And that is what drew me to them. They have that same peaceful determination. The Matriots are right that we need more women in office. Because we need more of that peaceful intensity making the decisions that affect our communities and our children’s futures.
I was proud to be the only man on the Matriots’ steering committee and board. There is a different dynamic in a group of women rather than a group of mostly men. Most of the dynamics are better in that there was more discussion and more sensitivity to points of view, and less worry about who got credit. There were some tears and sharing that were helpful as well. There were comments made that are not typically made in front of men, I think. Some were surprising to me, but I will take them to the grave 🙂
You were instrumental in the founding and success of Equality Ohio, a statewide organization that advocates and educates to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Are there similarities between that experience and helping to get The Matriots off the ground?
So many similarities. Both statewide, political organizations led by highly motivated volunteers seizing a moment in history. Both working with many constituencies, challenging them to come together despite differences and backgrounds. Most importantly, both with an opportunity to define a bold vision and inspire folks to donate time and treasure. I was able to lean on my experience with Equality Ohio, particularly around challenging us to be bold and clearly define our vision. The Matriots’ bold goal: 50% of all officeholders will be women in ten years! It is bold, but achievable. And achieving it will make Ohio better.
In addition to grassroots organizing, you have spent the last year helping your husband, Rick Neal, campaign for US Congress. How was that experience and did it change your view of politics?
I could write a book on this one. I learned so much. First off, many folks complain about the work around running for office. But, if you have the right attitude, it can be fun. Our family was all in and we had a blast. We liked the campaigning. And we liked being able to stand up for our values, particularly in this time of Trump. While Rick did not win his race, we did get to participate in taking back the house, particularly since Rick ran against the chair of the NRCC. Despite the loss, this was a huge win for our democracy. Democracy works, but not for the lazy. We got to show our kids that first hand. No regrets.
What motivates you and Rick to be so politically active?
Rick is a peace corps guy. He took an oath to uphold the constitution. He has community in his DNA. For me, I had some dark days in my life dealing with my sexual orientation. I had an awakening as I navigated through that process. I am deeply connected to a sense of WE versus ME. I resonate with leaders who fight for all of us. I want to be that type of leader too. So, I usually say yes to opportunities that show up around social justice and community. And a lot of those opportunities are political in nature.
Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.
Given that we had to fight for the right to marry and adopt our kids, family is everything to me. I love spending time with my kids. And I love being goofy with them. The best times are blaring Alexa to kids bop and 70’s disco songs and singing and dancing our hearts out. This gay boy is un-stereotypically a very bad dancer, just ask my girls. But those are the best times ever!