At the helm of any great thing, any monumental effort, is usually some dedicated and passionate person with a team of accomplices. Natalie Watson is one such person. Watson, practically a Durham native (living in the area since 1995) is the Interim Executive Director and former Deputy Director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham.
While totally leaning into the role, Watson is just fine with interim status, although modestly not particularly thrilled about being the face of an organization. Regardless, they revel in keeping things going in the background with vigor and enthusiasm.
Outside the walls of the center there’s a wife, two cats and a very full life where warmth and compassion are exuded in all that is done. During this interview, we learn a little more about the person who serves as a guiding force at Durham’s LGBTQ Center and beyond.
L’Monique King: What brought you to Durham?
Natalie Watson: My mother. She spent her formative years in North Carolina and let my father know that when he retired from the military she wanted to come back home.
LMK: Do you like Durham?
NW: I love Durham. It’s not just home, it feels like home.
LMK: Acknowledging that your preferred pronouns are They/Them – when did you come to the realization that the binary [Her/Him] pronouns did not work for you?
NW: I started using They/Them pronouns in January 2017. Prior to that I started to realize I didn’t like She/Her but didn’t know what to go by. It was one of those things where you’re sitting in a room and someone asks what your pronouns are, and I really didn’t know what to tell them. I just knew that when people said she, I felt icky.
LMK: Any advice for those who still struggle with utilizing They/Them pronouns?
NW: Folks need to remember when it comes to pronouns, it’s not about their feelings. It’s about an individual’s request to be respected for who they are. Part of being respected for who you are includes pronouns.
LMK: Are you partnered?
NW: Yes, I have a wife. We’ve been together for over five years and married for one.
LMK: You sound happy. What about your wife makes you smile whenever you think about it?
NW: When I think about her smile – I smile. It’s bright, full of life and genuine.
LMK: What would she say is your worst quality or the most nerve wracking thing about you?
NW: I read ahead when we watch horror movies, so I know the ending. <apprehensive giggles> I pull up Wikipedia articles and read. She’s a huge horror movie fan and can’t stand it – but I’ve gotten better <chuckles>.
LMK: If you do, what’s your favorite or most utilized curse word and when do you use it most?
NW: Three come to mind, let’s see…I say fuck a lot. I say fuck when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m mad. It’s full of emotion so I say fuck a lot.
LMK: Do you believe in a supreme being and if you do, is there gender attached to that deity?
NW: Yes, I do and no I do not think they are a solid He/Him. I was raised Christian but not in church. My mom is a non-practicing catholic and my dad, I don’t remember. So, I consider myself to be Christian, but I’m spiritual not religious. My relationship is with Jesus and God and no one else.
LMK: If you were growing up today, still in middle or high school, what would you want teachers to know about how to best support LGBTQ youth?
NW: My mother is a teacher and I have had conversations with her [about this]. My mom is an amazing teacher, teaching for almost 20 years now. Specifically, during the pandemic, more and more kids were coming out as Trans, to her – not their parents. She’s always been supportive. She lets kids know about language and tells them about her kids. She tells them about me and my brother – who has autism. They appreciate that. They understand her, understand that she gets it and why they shouldn’t use derogatory terms. Her students can talk to her and she honors these children by listening to them, caring about what they are saying and using their [self-identified] pronouns.
I think teachers need to realize they have these students longer than parents do, during the day. So, there will be questions that pop up about gender. Again, I’d remind them, it’s not about your feelings – it’s about creating an environment so that when you teach, students listen. It’s about seeing the humanity in your students just like students need to see the humanity in their teachers.
LMK: Best meal you’ve ever had, where and why?
NW: <Long pause> I’m a foodie so it’s hard for me to answer this. I love eating. I love cooking. This is going to sound really corny but – it was actually the catering for our wedding. It was amazing food and it encompassed both my wife’s culture [Cuban and Puerto Rican] and my southern culture. There were Cuban sandwiches, a build your own waffle bar, build your own grits bowls with all the fixings. It was a brunch themed wedding reception.
LMK: When you’re not having delicious meals with your wife or spoiling her horror movies, what motivates you to do the work that you do?
NW: It’s two-fold. I really enjoy genuinely helping the community and doing what I need to in my role to make sure services, programs and trainings are available to folks because it’s so important that LGBTQ people have their humanity and their joy.
LMK: What exactly is the center’s involvement with Durham Pride?
NW: We put on Durham Pride. The pride committee for Durham Pride is housed at the LGBTQ Community Center – so I work directly with the folks organizing Pride.
LMK: Durham Pride 2023’s theme is “Give Them Their Flowers” and pays tribute to the courage and leadership of the trans community. Any thoughts or comments on that?
NW: I think it says enough in itself. I think the theme is a suggestion and a demand.
LMK: What can Durham Pride goers look forward to this year? Anything new on the agenda we should look out for?
NW: There will be lots more vendors, we have a new location for the concert in the center of downtown Durham and I’d like to say that our Pride has a 360 approach; we’re hitting every mark with health vendors, vaccines, food, retail merchants and a lot more. I would like to mention something else special though – the City of Durham and the County of Durham are both sponsoring Pride for the first time this year.
LMK: Sounds awesome. When it’s all said and done, this year and the next, what will Natalie Watson be doing say, 10 years from now? NW: In 10 years, I see myself with my MBA, at least one kid, still living in Durham with my wife and working in a field that lets me use my operational skills while helping to improve the lives of others.