Being a champion for any cause takes dedication and true grit. From the willingness to tackle tough issues to standing up publicly for social justice and more, the women depicted here are ones whom qnotes calls its annual “leading ladies” who are taking up the charge in helping make the world a more equitable and fair place in which to live.

Jan Anderson

Jan Anderson. Photo Credit: The Charlotte Observer. Personal Collection.

These days, the call for more American girls and young women to pursue education in the hard sciences is inescapable. A foray into online shopping for kids’ toys can quickly see shoppers lost in Amazon’s labyrinthine STEM section, the omnipresent acronym denoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the trendy Holy Tetralogy of early scholarship. A working pink rhinestone microscope is the new Easy Bake Oven.

Not so in Jan Anderson’s day. The retired engineer looks upon the 1970s, era of Ms. Magazine and second-wave feminism, as “the dark days,” not only for women in science like herself, but for women everywhere. She believes things today are better than they were — and that’s exactly why, when she learned that citizens would be descending upon the nation’s capital for the historic Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, she knew she had to be there. And she had to make sure others were too.

So Anderson, never one to shy away from a challenge, teamed up with a friend, ultimately organizing a charter bus to ferry dozens of Charlotteans the 400 miles to the demonstration. By February she was overseeing a meeting of hundreds, laying the groundwork for the Charlotte Women’s March. Her team keeps their membership aware of local events and rallies their support for causes beginning with gender equality and women’s health, but expanding to include LGBTQ rights, immigration, education, the environment and more.

When she recalls those dark days in which she says “I had degrees from Duke, Carolina, and N.C. State, yet I couldn’t get a credit card or a mortgage on my own,” Anderson knows the reason for her commitment to activism is simple: “We will not go back.”

Shakira Clarke

Shakira Clarke. Photo Credit: Facebook

Time Out Youth Center (TOY), the community support and advocacy organization whose programs and facilities expand as fast as they can secure funding, reports that in the past two years alone it has received more than 200 individual requests for emergency housing. Leading the charge to secure shelter for LGBTQ youth facing housing insecurity, including many who have been ejected from their family homes or fled abuse because of their queer identities, is housing specialist Shakira Clarke. A Johnson C. Smith University graduate and onetime inductee to the prestigious Phi Alpha national honor society for students of social work, Clarke has lived out her passion for service in Charlotte since she was as young as some recipients of TOY’s aid are today. Even as she pursued a dream degree, her drive for excellence — and, vitally, an intense commitment to teamwork — helped carry her celebrated college squad to 2010 CIAA women’s basketball champion status.

Most recently, Clarke’s mission to eliminate housing insecurity among LGBTQ youth saw her address a Feb. 6 meeting of the Mecklenburg County Commission. She spoke about the devastating impact and shocking scale of the homelessness that continues to plague this uniquely vulnerable population. While the scourge can be eliminated only by defeating the ignorance and bigotry that all too often cost kids their homes and families in the first place, as a more immediate remedy Clarke and TOY are working tirelessly to establish a more extensive shelter community capable of providing longer-term services to meet the complex needs of those with nowhere else to go.

Clarke has frequently advocated for enhanced institutional awareness of the circumstances facing LGBTQ people who come into contact with any of a variety of social service organizations, be they government entities or private charities. She has worked to educate Safe Alliance staff at the Clyde and Ethel Dixon Domestic Violence Shelter, training them to respond with greater insight to LGBTQ survivors and families. In remarks to Creative Loafing in January 2017, Clarke identified ingrained heteronormativity as a critical obstacle to productive collaboration between public service bodies, particularly law enforcement, and the queer community. Simultaneously she draws parallels between queer and immigrant populations in the need to overcome longstanding and too often justified reticence to engage with officialdom. In recognizing same-sex partnerships as well as in the increasing visibility of non-cisgender identities, Clarke says, there is massive room for improvement: “If a non-binary or gender nonconforming person comes in and they’re misgendered, they don’t feel safe to share their story or feel that the information that they’re going to share is going to be trusted.”

As director of housing programs at TOY, Clarke is singularly placed both to comprehend and to shape the lives of the queer community’s next generation. In a pivotal era in the battle for civil rights, her unwavering commitment to the betterment of these young lives is vital not simply to one tragically underserved population, but to the future of a global society.

Joan Gale

Joan Gale. Photo Credit: Facebook

For Joan Gale, founder and president of PFLAG Concord/Kannapolis chapter, issues of acceptance and equality hit close to home. Like Jeanne Manford, who in 1972 sparked the phenomenon that would come to be known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, she took up the mantle of activism after being inspired by her own unconditional love for her child. Having retired from her job as a school counselor and galvanized by the struggle to support her son, who came out as gay while in middle school, she brought one of the world’s foremost LGBTQ ally networks to Cabarrus County in 2014 — the same year the national organization officially adopted the name PFLAG in order to reflect the full diversity of its membership.

Despite her and her husband Don’s willingness to embrace every aspect of their son’s identity, Gale was forced to confront the difficult reality that other family members and friends would not always share her values. Her public advocacy soon taught her that some ties might have to be severed in favor of her principles and, above all, her dedication to her child. While nearly three decades in education, the first of which Gale spent as a teacher before making the switch to counseling, meant a wealth of invaluable experience working with LGBTQ students and their parents, no professional history could have entirely prepared her for the personal sacrifices she would eventually be called upon to make. If anything, though, her passion for activism has only grown stronger as a result of those trials.

Along with providing resources for LGBTQ individuals and allies, including rallying her chapter in support of a nearby Time Out Youth satellite program, Gale donates her time to the Cabarrus Health Alliance as a member of its Community Advisory Council. In keeping with her lifelong dedication to the needs of local kids, teens and young adults, she uses her platform to campaign for comprehensive LGBTQ-affirming sex education in North Carolina schools, and she has been instrumental in demanding an active Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) in every high school in her district.

Gale’s invaluable efforts to battle discrimination in the greater Concord/Kannapolis area began with love of family and community, but in a relatively short time her success has garnered accolades from significantly farther afield: she has not only taken part in her organization’s mammoth National Convention, but has been singled out there as the recipient of its PFLAG Advocacy Award.

Cindy Hostetler and Elizabeth Pruett

Cindy Hostetler

Anyone who has attempted to navigate the bureaucracy of modern healthcare, whether for themselves or on behalf of someone else, knows how quickly the task can overwhelm. The process becomes even more complex when the intended recipient of that care is an older adult whose needs and capabilities may evolve over time, and sometimes change overnight. Meanwhile, as qnotes has explored in its “Gay & Gray” issue and featured content, aging as an LGBTQ person can mean special challenges too often overlooked by the eldercare establishment, however well-meaning an individual practitioner may be. With all this in mind, partners and registered nurses Cindy Hostetler and Elizabeth Pruett founded Care Weavers — “connecting threads of care,” per the company motto — to advocate, educate and advise older adults and their loved ones in pursuit of outstanding quality of life.

Elizabeth Pruett

Hostetler has been guided since adolescence by the memory of a cherished grandfather, and progressed from Licensed Practical Nurse certification through Master of Science in Nursing with the goal of helping others avoid some of the distress and disorientation her family experienced when her grandfather’s declining health took them by surprise. When off the clock she volunteers with Hospice and Palliative Care of the Charlotte Region and nurtures community connections as a member of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Like her partner, Pruett brings to Care Weavers the benefits of long experience and personal dedication — in her case, the responsibility for her mother’s treatment in residential memory care. While she credits many healthcare professionals with good intentions, she joins Hostetler in observing that medical staff typically have neither the time nor the training to wade through a deluge of service and support options for each one of any number of patients. Her passion for community service is evident in her work with the Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte, instructing elders in the use of technology and free time spent at Novant Healthcare Hospice. Currently holding a Bachelor of Science in Nursing alongside her RN, Pruett aspires to enhance her expertise with a University of North Carolina at Charlotte Graduate Certificate in Gerontology.

Ann Hooper

Ann Hooper. Photo Credit: Facebook

As a member of the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Ann Hooper knows a great deal about activism. Since the early 2000s she has played a role in committees directing the group’s silent auction and flagship HRC Gala, and was named Gala co-chair in 2013. But the full story of her service to the Charlotte and LGBTQ communities is much broader in scope, and begins well before the millennium.

Hooper was raised in the area as part of a family deeply committed to equality. Speaking to qnotes in 2015, she cited her mother’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) membership as evidence of the values to which she herself would be exposed from an early age. She returned to Charlotte after college graduation, active philanthropy and advocacy not necessarily foremost in her young adult mind, but by the 1990s found her place fostering LGBTQ pride as a volunteer with One Voice Chorus and eventually on the board of Out Charlotte. She sings the praises of all those who took part in the chorus in those first years, in an era when many were still closeted in every other area of their lives.

With her partner Kathryn she continued to organize music events, including an anti-bullying program in support of the Tyler Clementi Foundation. A survivor of breast cancer, Hooper has also worked to benefit Komen Charlotte and cancer research. Most recently she has volunteered with the Southern Queer Oral History Project — a fitting endeavor for a person who says she finds herself “slowly becoming — or maybe quickly becoming — one of the elders of our community.”

Rev. Sonja Lee

Rev Sonja Lee. Photo Credit: Facebook

As pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte, Rev. Sonja Lee seeks to imbue each service with the message that “God is love, and love is for everyone.”

That philosophy is central to the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, founded in 1982 as a safe space for lesbian and gay African-American worshippers, of which her Wedgewood Dr. congregation is a part. It is central to Rev. Lee’s life as well. Far from restricting herself to religious guidance from the pulpit, she exemplifies the belief that spiritual and what might at first glance appear to be secular sociopolitical leadership are inextricable. She holds an at-large seat on the governing board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, where she and like-minded stewards harness ecumenical ideals in pursuit of civil rights and economic equity. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Rev. Lee took up residence in Charlotte in 1999 and has simultaneously answered the call to service in her adopted home as a member of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Rev. Lee adds healthcare philanthropy to her already extensive résumé, having founded and remaining as CEO of the Lionel Lee Jr. Center for Wellness. The 501(c)(3) organization devotes itself to uninsured and underinsured individuals and families, as well as those battling chronic physical and mental illnesses. In this as in all things, the Reverend proves herself committed to community-focused solutions, including through her participation in the Congregational Health Promoter initiative sponsored by Presbyterian Hospital.

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