Upon retiring from her 20+ year career from Carolinas HealthCare System, Judith A Jeffries began devoting much of her time to volunteering in the LGBTQ community.
Jeffries began her volunteer work by advocating for families who were seeking information on the needs of transgender patients. She fought for these families to have educational literature provided and was successful in doing so.
Jeffries continued her work and began volunteering for RAIN, where she is now board chair. She is a member of the Charlotte LGBTQ Elders group and also serves on the board for the Center for Prevention Services.
As a more seasoned member of the LGBTQ community, you’ve had the opportunity to see our community grow and evolve. What comes to mind when you think of significant milestones as well as setbacks in the LGBTQ community?
I remember being young and appreciating what my elder LGBTQ mentors went through. I lived and thrived on their shoulders. I remember going to gay bars and switching partners when the blue light came on because the police were coming. I remember going out to the parking lot and finding all our windshields smashed. Mostly, I remember how much we loved and adored each other.
Milestones: I remember when “Angels in America” was presented and celebrated in Charlotte even though there were obnoxious protests. Rough times. There was no agency to protect us. We just kept living and loving. Marriage equality! Woo Hoo! Brenda and I got married on May 23, 2015, and have been together for 30 years. Becoming a founder of the Carolinas HealthCare System’s first LGBTQ System Resource Group, EQualityOne. We garnered super support. Our executive sponsors were the cream of the crop, Derek Raghavan, M.D., and Craig Richardville. Of course, coming out at work was a big-ole milestone. Scary but big!
Setbacks: Bill James, county commissioner. Now there’s a guy who can’t let go of fairy tales. Terrified of being outed at CHS. Knowing full well I could be fired for being suspected as a gay person. I consider super conservative, “evangelical Christians” as setbacks because they have difficulty listening to their hearts and absolutely no difficulty listening to their spewing preachers. I only wish I could understand better and help them feel safe.
How have these milestones and/or setbacks affected you personally?
Staying in the closet for so long made me physically ill because I could not bring my whole self to work. By nature I am gregarious, and I want to help make situations better. I want to bring dignity and humanity to the forefront.
What was your experience like as an openly-lesbian professional during your time at Carolinas HealthCare System?
Once I came out (I felt safe enough to do so), I felt like I could do anything! Acceptance was gleeful. The Diversity Department at CHS was superior. However, I understand that if I had come out years before, I would most likely have lost my job.
What does your position as chair of RAIN entail?
I serve as an ambassador for the organization, telling RAIN’s beautiful story and representing RAIN at events and elsewhere in the community. I partner with our CEO, Debbie Warren, to plan our board meetings and involve all members in various aspects of leadership. We as a board ensure that we have a solid strategic plan and a sustainable business model. We deliver on our mission year after year and so it is a joy for me to serve an organization so beloved and so vital to our community.
What type of contributions do you provide to the community as a board member of the Charlotte LGBTQ Elders group?
Well, I am an LGBTQ Elder. I hope to help with the transition experience of our LGBTQ Elders when they may face losing some of their independence and dignity. Hopefully, housing, homelessness and family support are not part of the equation.
How has your volunteer work in the LGBTQ community impacted your life?
My life is full and beautiful now. I have always been a happy person, but now I believe there is a large dose of joy factored in.
What has been your biggest motivation to continue your volunteer work?
Oh, I am selfish. I get so much from volunteering, connecting and encouraging people. RAIN, LGBTQ Elders and Innovate Charlotte are all near and dear to me. Another volunteer passion I have is with the substance-dependent and recovering community. The Center for Prevention Services is a strong non-profit that addresses the opioid crisis by building support systems for people who use drugs, syringe access program; Youth Drug Survey with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, peer support, etc. Being able to connect people with people, resources, and agencies is great and fulfilling.
What is your strategy when encountering individuals who may object to your being openly lesbian?
Perhaps the initial reaction is to lash out, but that is just being defensive and not helpful. I truly do want to know why. As I said before, I would like to gently get to the root of the objection or the discomfort. Perhaps turn the objection around and understand by using four to five “why” questions. That is if the individual can connect with me for a little bit and me to him/her. Hopefully, we can get to a safe place in our conversation.
Outside of your volunteer work, how do you contribute to making the world a better place for the LGBTQ community?
Staying involved. I hope I understand sustainability better than I used to. We could all use a little more of that. We humans just have such trouble giving back to Mother Earth.
What advice can you offer the younger LGBTQ generation?
Keep being your authentic self and changing minds for the better. You are the future. Reach out to us if you get stuck. Don’t forget: Time Out Youth is there to help. We are not “OK Boomers” all the time.
What sort of challenges or obstacles have you and Brenda faced as an interracial couple in the South?
It’s tough to distinguish if the setbacks and disrespect came from being an interracial couple or homophobia. We still have trouble getting seated and served in restaurants in the order in which we arrived. Brenda doesn’t put up with it. The wait staff often look to me first for my order, and I always redirect them to Brenda. At retails, Brenda often has to deal with the salespeople following her around the store. I am usually oblivious because I am looking for something. Brenda grew up in inner-city Louisville, and she is wary. I am doing better about paying attention and being an upstander. I speak up more.
What knowledge or insights have you gained from Brenda in relation to her being a woman of color?
She has taught me to pay attention when people get too close to our personal space. Always be aware of your surroundings. Know where the exit is, keep your back to the wall and your front to the door and never, ever look at the person in the car in the lane beside you. Don’t go Uptown during the Republican convention. She insists this will help keep us alive. She is probably correct. I hate it, but she is probably correct. I also am examining my unconscious bias with regard to race and different origins. I want to understand and embrace it. Being a privileged white person is not something that brings me happiness.
Where did you grow up?
Saint Clairsville, Ohio. It’s between Columbus and Pittsburgh, Pa.
What’s your favorite color?
Red. Absolutely. Real red not orange-red.
What are some of your and Brenda’s favorite hobbies or pastimes?
We love to garden. We also like to rescue animals; we have five dogs and four cats. Luckily we have one-and-a-half acres the animals have access to play on. We also like to spend time in the mountains and at the beach. We enjoy spending time with our friends and families.