Sarah Mikhail is looking forward to her new job at Time Out Youth. (Photo Credit: Jim Yarbrough)

Charlotte’s 30-year-old LGBTQ organization Time Out Youth (TOY) is welcoming a new executive director. Coinciding with the landmark anniversary year for the city’s queer youth services institution, Sarah Mikhail has been named to the position following a unanimous vote of the search committee and Board of Directors.

Mikhail officially takes the reins at TOY Aug. 9. “This is a dream job for me,” says Mikhail, a social work leader and advocate with over 15 years of experience working in the LGBTQ+ community and youth leadership, “and it came at such a perfect time; it was like a gift.” 

As a queer, first-generation Egyptian-American woman, Mikhail’s personal modus operandi is deeply rooted in recognizing the value of intersectionality. As well, she’s devoted to social justice matters for LGBTQ youth. 

In her position as executive director at Time Out Youth, Mikhail plans to increase the visibility of TOY and expand outreach programs to the many LGBTQ young people the organization serves. Additionally, she will handle strategic and operational planning along with administrative and financial decisions for TOY.

Sounds like you’re about to be extremely busy. While you still have time, tell us how you find power in intersectionality.
Intersectionality is at the core of my social work. I’ll use myself as an example: I am more than one identity. So it seems like “Oh this queer person came in” and that’s it. It’s all under the lens of queerness. Well, sure, yeah. That’s true but I’m also informing the world of my femme identity, I’m under the lens of my leadership, my work, my friendships, the cross-cultural experience I’ve lived. Everything I do is under that lens. All of that is my identity. That informs the way I show up in the world. So to me, it’s seeing we are all showing up with many identities. Sometimes, I know, it seems like we talk about that only when we’re talking about marginalized identities. But intersectionality is noting that we all have multiple identities that bring something to the issue that we’re talking about. We can’t ask someone to say, “Oh, I’m talking to you as my brown self, or my queer self.” We’re all of it. We’re all of it all the time. Like Audre Lorde said, “We don’t lead single issue lives, so there’s no such thing as a single issue struggle.” 

How do you anticipate applying that to your new position at TOY?

I want to come to Time Out Youth, talking to the team as their whole self, with every part of them being seen. In the work I’ve done, and what I want to do, we help the most marginalized, and we’re helping everyone. It’s very exciting to be the first woman of color serving as executive director at Time Out Youth, but it’s also very important for me to ally myself with people who don’t necessarily share that identity. Intersectionality isn’t just about marginalization. It’s also about this great moment for us to see there’s another perspective, there’s more work to be done and to be able to draw from the experiences of those people around us.

Tell us about your journey to Charlotte.
I moved here in September [2020] from New York. It had become unbearable to live there during that point of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m originally from northern Virginia, but I moved to New York right after college. I lived in Brooklyn for 15 years, and I was already getting to a place, like many New Yorkers do, after about 10 years or so. I’m not 23 anymore, and I was already thinking about leaving. Then the pandemic hit, and my partner and I were working out of our one-bedroom apartment. My previous job was remote already, but I used to travel a lot and that just stopped. It seemed like the time was right, we already had friends here and my goddaughter is here. We visited in the summer of 2020, and we just packed up and came back three months later. I still love New York, but it was really hard and exhausting. I came to Charlotte and really loved it. It’s a big city that is robust and growing. There’s just a time in life when you don’t want to try so hard to live. Life shouldn’t have to be that hard and coming here for like a month and realizing there were affordable places to live made the move such a no-brainer.

Are you enjoying life in the city?
We live in Country Club Heights, [and] I’ve found I like to live a quieter life, so, yeah. I love nature, I love outside, and I love all [the] things that were really difficult to access in New York. I found that it had impacted my wellness and my sense of well-being. Here, I’m in a community that is warm and inviting. And I have access to some of the things that make me feel well about the world around me.

Tell us about your family. Your parents came here from Egypt?
Yes. My parents were Egyptian-born and then moved to the United States in 1979, right before they had me and my brother. They moved to the United States in a very typical way. You know, the American dream, we want to give our children a better life. They didn’t even speak Arabic to us because they were very much a part of that assimilationist movement of the 1980s. My parents were going to have American children and live an American life. My parents were Christian, and my grandfather was an Evangelical Pastor, in Egypt! That’s unusual because most of the Christians in Egypt are Coptic Christians.  

So far, what have you encountered here that really surprised you?
I find it so incredibly fascinating there are so many churches around Charlotte that are LGBTQ supportive. Especially growing up in an environment that was Christian and so not supportive. That’s really beautiful. Here’s a place where queer Christians have obviously found their message and overcome some of the things society has told them. Driving around and seeing that is really uplifting, especially for me, because I still have a very religious family. My brother — who lives in Greenville, S.C. — is a supportive Christian. He’s like, “Okay, maybe I don’t get it, but I love my sister,” so I’m always welcome. I’m happy that people can have their religion and still be accepting of queer people.

What’s on your to-do list at Time Out?
So I have a couple of things. I want to learn all about the team and what I can do to make the foundation, or structure at Time Out Youth, a place where people who work there are happy and want to stay. I’ve learned that people who work there really love the work, but I also know lots of people don’t stay for years and years because it’s a small team and there’s not a lot of room to grow. I’m the kind of person who wants to see lifelong careers, and I want to make it a place where people are paid well, they want to stay and they have room to grow and expand, in terms of size and scope of work.

Another one — I want to learn what’s working for the young people that are already attending Time Out Youth and what is missing for those that aren’t coming here, so that we can grow the programs from a young person’s perspective.

Over the past couple of years, there’s been talk in the community about creating a new LGBTQ center, and developing events for seniors at Time Out Youth. Have you heard any discussion of that? 
I haven’t heard anything about senior programming, no, but I have heard mention about the need for a community center. I understand the need for both. If we’re going to have LGBTQ youth that thrive and grow, it’s important that we have a place for everyone and a place for our elders and seniors.

What do you think it is about Time Out Youth? How has it been so successful and continued to thrive for so long?
It’s pretty amazing! It can’t be understated how important it is this center has been around for 30 years and how it has impacted the community. To me that says it’s just primed and ready to expand and grow, whether that be a community center that goes beyond just youth, or we expand on programs offering more for youth. I’m just excited about what we can bring to the LGBTQ community across Charlotte in general.

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David Aaron Moore

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of Qnotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently the senior content editor and a regularly contributing writer for Qnotes. Moore is a native of North...