Taylor Heeden didn’t plan on going into journalism, but after taking an introductory course in college, she found her passion for storytelling and uplifting marginalized voices. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in December, 2020 with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Heeden went on to work in various rural North Carolina newsrooms, including the Johnstonian News in Smithfield and the Chatham News + Record in Siler City.

Now, Heeden will be joining Qnotes as a full-time staff writer, covering LGBTQ+ communities across the Carolinas.

“I’m very excited to be joining a news organization dedicated to reporting on issues affecting queer North and South Carolinians,” she said. “As hate against the LGBTQ+ community continues to escalate, it’s important to put a spotlight on how queer folks have come together to rise above the circumstances.”

What better way to get to know Taylor than a round of 20 Questions. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming her to the team.

What movie do you know all the lines to?

I know it may sound childish, but the Muppet Movie. Something about Jason Segel and Amy Adams singing with Kermit and Mrs. Piggy just boosts my serotonin. Man or Muppet?? Iconic.

Who do you think is a true LGBTQ+ icon? 

There are so many names who come to mind, but for me personally, two people have always been inspirations for me: Marsha P. Johnson and Freddie Mercury.

Johnson, a Black trans woman, was one of the most famous faces of the LGBTQ+ movement in New York City. She, along with other trans and queer-identifying activists participated in protests and marches, including the Stonewall riots of 1992. It’s important to remember that we, as a community, wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the work of Black trans and queer people like Johnson. If you haven’t read her story, you can find it here.

Mercury is best known for being the frontman of rock band Queen. As someone who loves music more than the air I breathe, I have always felt a deep connection to Mercury’s story. Born to a family of immigrants, Mercury paved the way for queer singers and songwriters. He was never afraid to be himself, from his theatrical and flamboyant performances to his openness about his sexuality, which he shared in an interview with Gay Times.

What was your first job?

I was a cashier at Pizza Inn for most of my time in high school. Definitely dealt with my fair share of “Karens.” 

What (or who) makes you laugh the most?

My fiance, James. He’s the funniest person I know, aside from my parents. He never fails to brighten my day, and I’m excited to marry him next April (he’s also a classical music composer, so please feel free to check out his pieces on his YouTube channel)!

What never fails to make you cry?

Those animal abuse commercials. Every. Freaking. Time.

What’s one thing on your bucket list?

To write and publish a book! It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I have been dabbling in writing fictional scenarios, to see how it goes. If anyone is also into creative writing, I would love to connect!

Instagram or TikTok?

It depends on what I’m looking for, but most of the time, I go to TikTok for entertainment and Instagram to keep up with friends.

What’s your favorite free thing to do in North Carolina?

I love going to the various museums in Raleigh, and spending time among the historic, scientific or artistic exhibits. It’s always a way to jog up my brain and get those creative juices going.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where my family has lived since immigrating to the U.S. from Hammana, Lebanon, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Goldsboro is a tight-knit community in the heart of Wayne County and is home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. I lived there with my mom, dad, younger brother and sister until graduating from Wayne Early Middle College High School (WEMCHS) in 2018 with both my high school diploma and Associate’s Degree in Science.

What’s your best piece of advice for LGBTQ+ youth in our community?

When I was growing up, I attended a private, parochial school where conversations about LGBTQ+ issues just didn’t exist, and as a result of that, I felt alone and ostracized while trying to sift through my thoughts and emotions. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I met other LGBTQ+ identifying people, and ultimately, they’re who helped me become confident in my own queerness. So my advice: you’re not alone. There are so many people, like you, who’ve had their own trials and tribulations. You’re an amazing human, and you’re going to continue to grow up into a fireball, a force to be reckoned with. You’ve got this! I’ll be cheering for you every step of the way. Find your village — find those people who support and love you, and stick together. Together, you’ll stand tall. We are the future, and it’s up to us to ensure everyone is accepted and loved.

What would your superhero name be?

Because I’ve always wanted to have telekinesis, I would probably name myself “Telekinetic Terminator” or something like that.

What’s one thing you wish more people cared about?

Mental health. As someone who’s diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, it’s always been my wish for society to be understanding to those of us with various mental health disorders. More youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth, are experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. It’s important for society to understand mental health is just as crucial and important as physical health. I wrote about my personal journey with mental health, which you can read here. You’re not alone, and it will get better.

What’s your favorite thing about being a journalist?

The best part about what I do is sharing the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The concept of community is something I’ve always held near and dear to my heart, so being able to cover different events, impactful legislation, businesses and people is my way of contributing to my community and keeping people informed on what’s happening around them. By sharing the stories of others, it uplifts entire communities. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world.

Judging from your Twitter account, we’re going to guess that Taylor Swift is topping your playlist right now, but what’s the top song for you?

Ever since I saw her live in Atlanta for her Eras Tour, my obsession for my name twin has only grown. My favorite song of all time by Taylor Swift honestly is either “illicit affairs” from her album folklore or “Dear John” from my favorite album, Speak Now. Both are very emotion driven, arguably sad-girl anthems, and they’ve both been on my Spotify Wrapped for years. However, I’ve been listening to one of her newest tracks, “I Can See You” from her re-release of Speak Now. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you should! I 100 percent recommend it. 

Any pets?

Yes! My family has a dog named Buster, and he’s six years old. He’s a gem, and a cutie. I love him. In 2022, I adopted my own furry companion: my black cat, Rudy. He’s bigger than both of my roommate’s dogs, and he likes to snuggle and play fetch. His favorite food is his tuna flavored greenies, and he has a wide array of hats he hates to wear.

Cold brew or iced coffee?

My coffee order hasn’t changed in a long time, though I will alternate between flavor syrups. My go to: a large, iced oat milk latte with lavender or brown sugar syrup. If neither of those are an option, I go for caramel or vanilla. 

Video games or board games?

Video games all the way. I have a Nintendo Switch that I treat like my child, so if you’re ever interested in playing a round of Mario Kart or Splatoon with me, my friend code is SW-4504-1838-1501.

What smell takes you right back to your childhood?

Mint. Growing up in a Lebanese-American household, mint was something always used in various dishes, including tabouli and kibbeh. The moment the aroma hits my nostrils, I’m transported back to my dad’s vegetable and herb garden.

What’s your favorite podcast?

I’m a true crime girlie, so I’ve been really into this podcast called Crime Junkies. It’s hosted by two women and they go over some of the most infamous true crime cases. I do recommend!

Finally, you mentioned you didn’t initially plan on going into journalism. What did you want to “grow up to be?”

I always knew whatever I did, I wanted to help others. Through middle school and high school, I was dead set on becoming a pharmacist and helping others understand how medicine affects the body. However, when I took calculus at UNC, I quickly realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my academic career stuck studying for tests. I wanted to “be in the field” helping others. That’s when I registered for my first journalism class, and I quickly realized the important work journalists do every day to keep communities informed on what’s happening, how legislation could impact them, and hold those in power accountable. I knew that was something I wanted to do, and I haven’t looked back since.

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