Martin Niemöller (1892 – 1984) was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for his opposition to the Nazi regime during the late 1930s and for his widely quoted 1946 poem ‘First they came …:”  Niemöller regretted his initial collaboration with the Nazis and expressed some of this regret in the following poem:

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

Closer to home and from a house nestled in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood area, sits another German immigrant who – during our current political climate – finds the poem (a personal favorite) quite apropos. 

Simply stated, sometimes we need reminding, just because our rights haven’t been infringed upon doesn’t mean they won’t be. 

As for why the interview trepidation, feeling outed and having our lives publicly on display still brings concerns for loss of livelihood, family and safety. For Nicole Hoerschelmann, the first openly transgender Dean of Queens University’s Knight School of Communication, she never knows whether she’ll be met with a warm and affirming reception, or bigotry. 

Fortunately for Hoerschelmann, her time at Queens University has proved there’s still hope for humanity and trans professionals can have positive work experiences in progressive cities like Charlotte, even if they are surrounded by the “bible belt.” 

You’re pretty new to the area, how do you like Charlotte so far?

I love Charlotte. I like all the diversity, all the opportunities, the entertainment, the culture. When I drive down Central Avenue, it is so wonderfully diverse. There are graffiti murals everywhere and pride flags. It’s just a wonderful neighborhood to live in. It’s a huge contrast coming from Arkansas where the best you could hope for was to be tolerated but not really accepted. 

How long have you lived in Charlotte and what brought you here?

A new job. I moved here from Arkansas in July and into our current house in August. 

Our house? Who are you referring to?

Primarily my wife Bettina Becker and I. And as it so happens, my daughter had already been a student at University of North Carolina’s School for the Arts in Winston Salem for the last two years. So, it made sense to move to North Carolina, partly because my daughter was already here, as well as the work opportunity. 

You mentioned your wife. Do you identify as lesbian?

Well, I don’t really like to label my sexuality, but I do identity as queer and I’m also a transgender person.

And your wife has accepted that.

Yes. We’re still married, and this is working for us. We’ve been married for 25 years now. 

How do you stay married for 25 years?

Ummmm – <chuckles> Can I ask my wife? I don’t know.

And your children, also accepting of your journey?

Yes, my children are Generation Z and I think it’s a very different mindset. I have a daughter and a son who is a couple of years older [than his sister] and just graduated college in Arkansas. He’s currently looking for graduate school and has temporarily moved in with us in Charlotte. I feel like they didn’t blink an eye [when I told them], they just asked me for pronouns and that was about it. They are very accepting to the degree that they are very unaccepting of institutions and politicians who promote hate and a lack of acceptance. For me that’s a huge difference, for them it appears normal that the colleges they go to, for example, are accepting and supportive of LGBT students. 

Did the college know they were hiring a transgender individual for your position as Dean? 

I was an Associate Dean in Arkansas and had started coming out to friends and family and medically transitioning. But I hadn’t started to socially transition until shortly before I left Arkansas because I felt apprehensive about the environment I was living in. When I applied to Queens, I was quite open about my identity and I have to say, nobody blinked an eye during the process. 

What I’m seeing in higher education, when you look at what’s really going on, it’s not very impressive. So, when I was interviewing, I was looking at mission statements and initiatives and I learned that things were on a different level at Queens University. It was one of the things that persuaded me to make that jump. 

That’s awesome and probably quite relieving. As Dean of the Knight School of Communication at Queens, what do you do?

I basically do scheduling, I’m in charge of the finances and trying to work on outreach to the community in various areas.

Speaking of communication and outreach, do you speak German?

Oh yeah. I was born in Germany and lived there for the first 25 years of my life. For all practical purposes I’m bilingual in English and German and I also speak a little bit of French and Italian. 

That’s impressive. German isn’t known to be an easy language to learn or master, especially for people whose first language is English. Are your children bilingual as well?

They speak some German but more English than anything. What happened was we spoke German to them for the first three years but then they started having their little friends, who only spoke English, and German went by the wayside a bit. They still have good pronunciation and they both took it in college but it’s not the same as being fluent.

What does Nicole do for fun?

Well , <laugher> generally speaking, we are foodies. We are quite excited about Asian food so we’re trying to cook it ourselves or find new spots, despite the fact that we turned vegetarian a few years ago which limits our choices – but just a bit. German food is horrible in that respect. It’s basically a slab of meat with some type of creamy sauce thrown on top. 

Can you share something with our readers most people don’t know or would be surprised to learn about you?

I really enjoy music. I started listening to a lot of queer alternative music over the last two years and I find it really enlightening. I really like Cavetown, a trans singer. When you go to their concerts it’s very different. It’s extremely community oriented. Everyone is very open and accepting and it’s quite queer too. There’s also a [sort of Alt-Pop or Alt-Rock] band called Wet Leg. It’s two lesbian women. They just published their first LP. Really fresh and exciting. 

Looking back on your life, what would you say to your 20-year old self?

Get out! I grew up in a small village of 1800 people in conservative religious southwest Germany and I felt that driving to a city with 1million people was very liberating. I should have done that more and more often.

Is that the advice you’d give to someone who is transitioning now? What would you say to that person?

Be safe and believe in yourself.

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