Starting today, qnotes will feature more in-depth profiles of the 18 leaders featured in our April 12, 2013, print edition cover story, “Out for Change: Young LGBT Professionals Making a Difference.” Today, we start with O’Neale Atkinson, director of youth programs at Time Out Youth.
Occupation: Non-profit staffer
Hometown: Chester, S.C.
On his coming out: I first came out to my sister when I 14 years old. The positive response I received and her love and support afforded me the courage to be who I was from a very young age. The process of coming out to all of my friends and family took a majority of my teen years.
Currently: Director of Youth Programs, Time Out Youth
Past employment and community experience: Operations manager, LGBT Community Center of Charlotte for one-and-a-half years; Editor, qnotes, 6 months; Board member, AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina, two years.
Alma Mater: University of South Carolina
Would you describe yourself chiefly as an activist, advocate, student, entrepreneur, professional or something else? Why?
I would identify most as an advocate. When I was in college I decided that Social Work was my calling because I saw the field as a means to be a change agent within society. Prior to working within the LGBT community I have worked with organizations that serve people with disabilities, the aging community and individuals living with HIV. Serving others and being able to be a voice against stigma and oppression are driving forces behind my passion to persue a career in this community.
Which LGBT/progressive causes are you most passionate about?
The need for protections for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace such as ENDA would be my top concern for moving our community forward. We have so many talented and skilled individuals in our community who are afraid to be themselves at work or who can not find employment because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a problem that we have to focus our attention on.
What inspired you to become involved in the LGBT/progressive community?
I think growing up in a small southern town, my experiences coming out as a gay man and the incidents of oppression I have witnessed in my lifetime are all factors which led me to want to be involved in the LGBT community as an advocate. Once you see social injustice, it is hard to look away. It truly is an honor to be able to serve within a community that means so much to me.
How does your passion for LGBT/progressive issues play a role in your work or education? Are there any intersections between your professional/educational career and LGBT/progressive causes or organizations?
I believe my passions directly impact my performance working within this community. One of my goals with TOY is to bring in more local and large businesses that are LGBT owned or supportive in their equal treatment and hiring of LGBT employees to come and speak with youth and engage them in programs so that LGBT youth in Charlotte will be informed and prepared to enter a workforce where they will be respected and treated equally on all fronts.
What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the LGBT/progressive community in Charlotte? In North Carolina? In the nation/world?
I believe we as a community need to more effectively communicate with one another and within organizations. I believe this is true of our community as a whole, not only here in Charlotte. The LGBT community here in Charlotte is so vibrant and full of groups and organizations to be a part of. Ever since moving to Charlotte in 2011 I have been so impressed by the scope of our community. I would love to see more groups and organizatiosn partnering to support one another and to do good in the greater Charlotte community.
How has your experience as a member of the LGBT community shaped your experiences in work or in school?
Being LGBT led me to Social Work which has ultimately shaped my career path. By growing up LGBT I believe I was afforded a different lense to view society which has made it hard for me to look away from social inequity.
Do you feel Charlotte is a progressive, friendly and welcoming place (e.g., business, educational, social, religious or political climates)? How could these climates be best improved?
I absolutely believe that our community in Charlotte is a welcoming one. The support of local government officials as well as major corporations here in Charlotte really speaks to me about the overall level of acceptance within Charlotte. There are so many great places to go and things to do both within the LGBT community and in general. I have never felt ashamed or scared to be myself in Charlotte and am proud to call the Queen City my home. This feeling of inclusion will only grow more as we continue to build relationships across Charlotte.