The former Stonewall Pride and program coordinator stakes (steaks?) out a career in butchery

Some career changes are thrust on people by industry changes or mass layoffs, while others are driven by the individual's desire to try something entirely different.

Then there are those transitions brought about by a culmination of factors. Such was the recent shift undertaken by Lori Gum, whose career, though unbeknownst to her at the time, took a radical turn the moment 10 protesters linked arms and stepped into the street on June 17, 2017, temporarily blocking the Columbus Pride Parade.

In the response, police deployed mace on the group, which had gathered “to raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of black and brown queer and trans people,” among other considerations, and in the ensuing scrum four protesters were arrested. Trials for the quartet, which has been dubbed the Black Pride 4, are scheduled to begin this month.

Less than a week later, Gum, who had been employed by Stonewall for six years, resigned from her position as Stonewall Pride and program coordinator, expressing support for the protesters in a public Facebook post in which she wrote, “I can no longer be part of Stonewall Columbus's indifference to the pain of our community.”

Now, seven months removed from her resignation, Gum regularly returns to the Linden home she shares with her fiancee, Laura, wearing clothes stained with beef blood or fish guts, depending on the role she served that day in her position with the Whole Foods Market in Upper Arlington. And she couldn't be happier.

“I've been recharged spiritually, but physically it is kicking my ass,” said Gum, and laughed. “I love that your work is at work. It's a whole different life. Sometimes I'd leave Stonewall and be on the phone all night. … I come home now and get to read. It is leaving the work behind.”

Studying butchery is a dramatic departure for Gum in more ways than one. For nearly two decades of her life, Gum, 55, lived as a vegetarian, returning to her carnivorous ways in 2007 — a year after moving back to Ohio following stints in New York and California.

The lifestyle change stemmed from an interest in farmers' markets, as well as local meat purveyors who raised animals that lived outside a factory-farm system where they existed solely as products “on a conveyor belt from birth to death,” as she explained.

“The things that made me look at Columbus as a cow town before now excited me,” she said. “I became aware of local, grass-fed beef, and I thought, ‘People are going to eat meat forever, so let my money support this grass-fed beef and humane, local meat.'”

After leaving Stonewall, Gum returned to this idea, weighing potential careers (her resume includes stints doing everything from event planning to construction) before opting to pursue whole-beast butchery. In September, she sent an email to Tony Tanner, owner of Butcher & Grocer, a full-service butcher shop in Grandview, inquiring about an unpaid apprenticeship, and within weeks she was shadowing the shop's butchers, learning how the sausage was made (literally) and eventually carving primal cuts from whole pigs, cows and, on one occasion, a goat.

“I'd come home and tell Laura, ‘I am enchanted.' I was so fascinated by it. I was standing by meat [covered] in blood and I'm in heaven,” said Gum, who, following her apprenticeship, applied for and received a job working the Whole Foods meat counter (she hopes to find work with a local, whole-beast butcher after she learns the craft more thoroughly). “They know the farm. It's here. We get the animal. It's really making my philosophy a reality, and that's what I feel has become my true inspiration. We have to do more and more of that if we're going to change things.”

According to Gum, she's comfortable pursuing a career less intrinsically tied to the political and social movements that defined her time at Stonewall — “As an activist I think it's time for younger people to be in leadership roles,” she said — and she's now more concerned with activating change within her direct spheres of influence, including her home and her neighborhood, and making each the best it can be.

As part of that, Gum encourages everyone to pursue a passion, and to not be afraid to take those first steps toward a new, potentially rewarding career.

“I am a testament to the idea that over and over and over again you can start over,” said Gum. “Figure out what you want to do and write an email to someone like Tony Tanner. People can sense your enthusiasm, and I think the cosmos starts to conspire to help you when you do that. … I've always been amazed at the people who have been willing to help me or give me a chance. I think that's how you stay young, I really do. Even when you're slogging fish and sides of beef.”