Nate Koch is Senior Manager of Social Marketing & Public Relations at Kohl’s, the department store with over 1,150 locations in the U.S. Based near the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee, he lives with his partner Justin and their rescue pups, Bennington and Chester.
He is also the Chapter Leader of the Pride Business Resource Group at Kohl’s, which is responsible for driving LGBTQ initiatives within the organization and community.
We chatted with Nate in late May, just as the 2021 Pride season was getting underway.
Hi Nate, Thanks for talking to Queerty! Happy Pride!
How have you been dealing with the pandemic?
It has impacted just about every aspect of our day-to-day and simply changed what our normal is, and still is. However, now that the weather is getting nicer and the outlook is improving, we’re looking forward to doing things we haven’t done for over a year now.
In one aspect, though, something positive happened this past year with my team that is split between our office in Menomonee Falls and our office in New York City, as we found new ways to engage through video. I’ve actually felt more connected to my team no matter where people are sitting. This is not something I expected to happen but have really come to appreciate in a distanced world.
In 2020 and 2021 Kohl’s received a 100 percent rating on the HRC Corporate Equality Index. What’s it like to work there?
I’ve been out at work from day one for ten years now and always have been able to bring my whole self to work. That’s important because not everyone has that chance to fully be themselves in the workplace. I’ve always felt fully supported to speak openly about my life and bring my perspective and passion to support the LGBTQ+ community into the conversation. At Kohl’s, we talk a lot about bringing your whole self to work, and that’s a lot easier when you have an organization that says we’re going to support you when you do just that.
Also, when Business Resource Groups (BRGs) launched five years ago, the Pride BRG was one of the first to get going. I was brought on as the leader of the BRG and that gave me a whole new sense of purpose in how and why I showed up to work each day. That early work launched a path that would pave the way for what our BRG has done over the years in terms of supporting LGBTQ+ associates, our community, and showing up for our LGBTQ+ customers and allies. Our BRG started as a group of less than 20 who were just trying to figure out how to operate and what we wanted to accomplish, and today we are a group of over 2,800 associates with executive-sponsored leaders and a pathway for direct involvement in influencing product, marketing, and community impact. And when I look at the celebrations we have planned for Pride 2021, a celebration like this doesn’t come from just a few dedicated people. It comes from an organization coming together to say this is who we are. We aren’t just recognizing Pride, we are saying this is part of who we are and this is how we’re going to show up to support Pride.
We are coming out of a pandemic. What’s on your travel bucket list?
Wine country! We love our yearly trips to Sonoma in California and are looking forward to getting back there to visit our friends and a few of our favorite vineyards.
What’s on your tablet/music player right now?
Cher is always first on the list, but Dua Lipa and Sia have been pretty consistently on repeat while we make dinner for months now. And of course, Chromatica has one full play weekly. At least.
How would you describe your own sense of style?
Right now? Haha. Right now I’m basically moving from one comfy sweatshirt to another. But I would say my style in general is pretty casual. I like solid colors and the basics. And a white sneaker is pretty much a staple for me. Another plug for Kohl’s here obviously, but the fact that we now carry Cole Haan makes the white sneaker options that much better.
What does Pride mean to you?
Pride has always been about having a moment to celebrate who I am with my friends and our community. It’s been a moment of freedom to be surrounded by those who will lift you and champion you – a moment to truly celebrate life together. It’s a moment to be seen for everything you are.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to more fully appreciate the full meaning of Pride. It’s about the work of LGBTQ+ individuals who have paved the way for me to be able to celebrate who I am and live as openly as I do. Pride is a moment of recognition of that movement to get where we are and celebrate the progress that’s been made over the past 50 years – actually even in just the past nearly 20 years that I’ve been out.
Where/How will you celebrate Pride this season?
Last year, with all in-person Pride celebrations canceled, we created a sign and set out Pride and trans flags in our front yard for people in our neighborhood to take in as they walked by and to then display at their homes. And our neighborhood was taken over with flags in all directions for blocks. We even got a letter from two kids in the neighborhood thanking us for the flags and that they talked with their parents to learn about what Pride meant because of them. We were both just so moved by the whole thing and what it became, so this year we’re doing it again. But we are going bigger. Justin and I have about 50 friends, family, and coworkers from all over who are setting out signs and flags in their neighborhoods all while raising money for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth.
What is your Kohl’s pride outfit this year?
The Love Wins Tee is one of my favorites in the collection this year, along with the Kohl’s Pride Graphic Tee. I bought them both as soon as they were available. The Simply Vera Vera Wang Rainbow Pride Lightning Pin is also something I bought immediately and have been wearing on my denim jacket everywhere I go.
What would be your gifts to the following:
I already bought him the matching Love Wins Tee and a matching Kohl’s Pride Graphic Tee. We try not to match when we leave the house, but with these, we might make an exception. Or I might – not sure he will! Haha.
The family tees in the collection and family jammies are great because the same styles are available for everyone in all sizes. Our Diversity Design Council designed some of these styles, a group of associates who work to develop, purchase, and curate culturally relevant products. I’ll be buying my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece, and nephew some of these matching tees for sure. And I know my sister will want some of the LC Lauren Conrad Pride pieces this year too.
Not to spoil the surprise, but I’ve already got some of the tall Rainbow “Love Wins” Slim Can Coolers ordered for our patio summer nights!
Kohl’s embraces LGBTQ families. What does that theme mean to you personally?
This goes right to the heart of Kohl’s purpose to inspire and empower families to lead fulfilled lives. That means all families, whatever that makeup looks like. When you think of the powerful message it sends and how that shows up, to an LGBTQ+ kid that walks into a Kohl’s store and sees inclusive representation or to a parent of the kid, that can mean everything when it comes to accepting yourself and being seen. I didn’t have that or see that when I was growing up, and to have seen a store I walked into with my parents say “We see you” would have meant so much in how I viewed myself and would have given me some comfort to know that I wouldn’t have to always hide who I was. Seeing yourself reflected is powerful.
To celebrate Pride Month this year, Kohl’s is donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization. It also supports Courage Milwaukee, providing housing, resources, and services needed for displaced and homeless LGBTQ youth.
Our Community mission within the Pride Business Resource Group has always been to focus on and support LGBTQ+ youth. Whether that’s through volunteer work or donations, supporting LGBTQ+ youth is core to helping the community thrive and providing what is needed to help kids become who they are meant to be. When it comes to the work of The Trevor Project, more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ young people seriously consider suicide in the U.S. every year, and the support from Kohl’s over the years has helped provide free, 24/7 crisis counseling to LGBTQ+ youth. To know the company you work for stands with the community and shows up to support the lives and positive outcomes of future generations is hard to find the words for.
It’s just incredible.