Time Out Youth Center and Campus Pride work on behalf of the young and LGBT community. Photo Credit: Time Out Youth Center, QTribe

For Time Out Youth Center (TOY), it’s all about making sure that teens are getting the assistance they need while they are still developing into young adulthood. Where it leaves off, Campus Pride (CP) takes over with its focus on working with students in the college-age sector.

Between them both, LGBT youth have all of the resources needed to blossom into someone who is able to deal with issues and also contribute to the world around them.

Time Out Youth Center staff provide the cornerstone of support for Charlotte-area LGBT youth. They are (left to right) Director of Youth Programs O’Neal Atkinston, Director of Youth Services Shakira Clarke, Executive Director Rodney Tucker, Transgender Youth Outreach Worker Parker Smith, Office Administrator Gwen Pearson and Director of School Outreach Todd Rosendahl. Not pictured are Programs Assistant James Rice III, Interns India Muse and Sandra Rettis.

TOY celebrates 25 years of helping LGBT youth

Walking into TOY, it is easy to see why so many LGBT young people turn to the non-profit for refuge and acceptance, 25 years after it began as a small support group of fewer than half a dozen. A lot has changed in the two and a half decades since then.

toy_logo_wtextExecutive Director Rodney Tucker, who took the position in 2012, proudly points out that they are now the oldest and largest LGBT center in the Carolinas. They operate out of a 3,000 square foot space in NoDa, at 2320-A N. Davidson St. It includes group rooms, a kitchen, counseling center, office space and a computer lab donated around this time last year by the David Bohnett Foundation.
The reception area, a feature not present in any of the group’s previous locations, allows for a nice separation of “adult land” as Tucker calls it, and the space for the kids, which consists of most everything other than the counseling room.

While counseling for both youth and adults has been a part of TOY’s work for some time, they are about to begin stepping up that work.

“We are adding therapeutic services this year,” Tucker said. They are looking for a therapist to join the staff, which has already grown this year with the recent full-time hires of youth outreach worker Parker Smith and office manager Gwen Pearson. That makes six full-time staffers.

In addition to counseling and community, TOY provides a washer and drier, since they often work with those who are homeless or couch hopping. The refrigerator is stocked with food, and when staff notices someone consistently relying on it, they make sure to slip them a Food Lion gift card to ensure they don’t go hungry when they go back home.

They also work to help get youth into housing. In 2015, eight LGBT-identified youth were housed through the Host Home Program, which helps those who have been kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Under the leadership of Tucker, and with the continued support from the LGBT and allied community, the non-profit has also been able to increase its advocacy work.

Discussion groups are an important part of the work that supports LGBT youth.
Discussion groups are an important part of the work that supports LGBT youth.

In 2015, they provided Safe Zone training to educators and counselors in Catawba County, in partnership with OUT Right Youth, as well as to staff from Stanly County Community College and Central Piedmont Community College’s library services staff and the counseling department and student life.

Tucker remembered that when they first started working with schools three years ago, it looked much different than it does now.

“All we were doing [then] was GSA [gay-straight alliance] support, getting those clubs formed, helping them with leadership development. And now the majority of what we’re doing is teacher training, consultations and making sure that [inclusive] policies are in place,” Tucker said.

Rosedale ID recently provided them with a van, which should allow them to get out into the community even more, both locally and beyond.

The first trip will be to Aspyre, a leadership camp which takes place March 11-13 at Camp Weaver in Greensboro, N.C.

The organization also presented at Pride Organizers of the Southeast Conference this year on how to engage LGBT youth in organizing, which Tucker said he sees an increased interest in among the kids he sees come through the doors.

He recounted that when Bree Newsome, the activist who removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, came in she was treated like a “rock star.”

“They all were just like, ‘How are you so brave?’” Tucker remembered. He said it led to a conversation about what they can do in their own lives to try to advocate for change, including taking part in the Day of Silence, where students take a vow of silence to encourage schools to do something about anti-LGBT bullying.

The annual prom is signature event of the year at Time Out Youth Center.
The annual prom is signature event of the year at Time Out Youth Center.

The group’s largest event of the year, the LGBT prom, which was the area’s first when TOY held the inaugural event within the first few years of their existence. This year’s prom, which had over 200 attendees, was the largest youth event in their history.

This year also saw TOY making continued efforts to ensure they were a safe and inclusive place for the transgender community, with additions such as a bowl of buttons declaring which pronouns the wearer wishes those addressing them to use.

In addition, they worked with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Department of Public Instruction and other local groups to create “Souls of Our Students: A Transgender Focus,” a documentary about the experience of being a transgender student and the issues they face.

TOY had a big year in 2015 and it appears as if they are already on track to match or even top it. More information about them can be found at timeoutyouth.org.

Campus Pride Executive Director (left) joins staff members and others at a recent Camp Pride event held in Charlotte, N.C., at Johnson C. Smith University. Left and right of center are Charlotte City Councilperson LaWana Mayfield and Bishop Tonyia Rawls of the Freedom Center for Social Justice helped bring an extended sense of community to the event. Photo Credit: Katie Simmons-Barth via Flickr
Campus Pride Executive Director (left) joins staff members and others at a recent Camp Pride event held in Charlotte, N.C., at Johnson C. Smith University. Left and right of center are Charlotte City Councilperson LaWana Mayfield and Bishop Tonyia Rawls of the Freedom Center for Social Justice helped bring an extended sense of community to the event.
Photo Credit: Katie Simmons-Barth via Flickr

Campus Pride celebrates a decade of national advocacy efforts

Campus Pride Founder and Executive Director Shane Windmeyer said he hears it all the time.

campuspride_logo“Why do you have your headquarters in Charlotte?” people ask him.

Windmeyer is aware that having a national LGBT organization founded and located in the South is unique, when most are in the usual suspects of New York, N.Y., Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, Calif. “It’s because we care about the South,” Windmeyer said he tells them. “We care about young people in the South, particularly in rural areas,” he added, noting that there are not a lot of resources in the region for LGBT youth, in comparison to other parts of the country.

Windmeyer grew up in rural Kansas, went to school in Indiana, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. He moved to Charlotte, N.C., with his then boyfriend, now husband, Thomas Feldman in 1997, going on to work for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

He also authored books on LGBT campus life and issues, including 2006’s “The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students,” which listed the 100 best colleges for LGBT students.

“I learned through [working on] my books, and doing research, as well as through working at UNC Charlotte and obviously from being a college student, that there weren’t a lot of resources for queer students,” Windmeyer said.

It was this lack of resources that first inspired him to start a website with some colleagues in 2001. The website, campuspride.net, was meant to be a clearing house for LGBT young people across the country to be able to share resources and learn about how they could make their campuses safer and more inclusive.

Windmeyer began taking on college speaking engagements during his time off from teaching at UNC Charlotte and soon that passion took over, causing him to leave his job at the college in order to pursue Campus Pride full time, right around the same time “The Advocate College Guide” was published.

He applied for and received 501(c)(3) non-profit status and began one of Campus Pride’s first signature programs, Camp Pride.

campuspride_4Camp Pride, an LGBT social justice leadership program for undergraduate students, will have its 10 year anniversary this summer, July 19-24 in Charlotte, N.C.

They also began their Campus Pride Index at that time, which allowed LGBT students to go online and find LGBT-inclusive campuses, as well as The Campus Pride National College Fair program.

The college fairs kick off every year nationally in August, and allows parents and students to learn about LGBT-friendly campuses. They host one as part of the Charlotte Pride festival each year, followed by fairs across the country in eight other cities: Roanoke, Va., Boston, Mass.,  Atlanta, Ga., Los Angeles, Calif., Washington, D.C., Vancouver, New York, N.Y. and Chicago, Ill.

For those who cannot make it to one of the fairs, there is an online version, which took place this year on March 17.

Campus Pride is run by a combination of non-student and student leadership. Windmeyer noted that the student involvement is important in keeping them relevant. They have an advisory board consisting of around 16 students from around the country, Windmeyer said, who keep them better informed as to their changing concerns.

“The students are very important to what types of programs we do, how we implement our programs, how our programs change, because young people [today], they are different from young people five, 10 years ago, in what their needs are, what their interests are, and that’s important to us,” he noted.

In December of last year, Campus Pride published their “Shame List,” listing several dozen colleges and universities that had requested, and in some cases received, Title IX exemptions, allowing them to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity as a result of their religious beliefs.

“The ‘Shame List’ is basically meant to say, ‘How dare you use religion as a way to justify discrimination at your college campus?’” Windmeyer said.

Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic university in Belmont, N.C., responded to their inclusion on the list, justifying their actions by saying the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX to include “gender identity” threatened their religious mission.

Campus Pride has received a grant to do work focused on the Title IX exemption, allowing them to hire a new part-time staff person to work in that area.

“Our work over the next year will be, basically, ensuring that everyone knows that these campuses are openly discriminating, are banning out transgender students and harming LGBT students on their campuses with these policies,” Windmeyer said.

College Fairs are a key component of the work that is done by Campus Pride.
College Fairs are a key component of the work that is done by Campus Pride.

Windmeyer points out that many individuals, even those who live and work at the colleges in question, do not know about the issue.

“Many times the students, faculty and staff at these campuses have no clue that their administrators, or their [administrators’] lawyer, had applied for a Title IX exemption, so it comes as a surprise,” he said. “Some of these campuses do have faculty, staff that are closeted, sometimes there are out students at these campuses, and so it brings into question their safety and their ability to get a good education.”

In addition to continuing this work, Windmeyer says his desire for the future is to see more vocal, prominent transgender leadership within local LGBT organizations going forward.

“We have to give [young transgender people] hope, and that comes from having trans visibility in our organizations in Charlotte, in the leadership of Charlotte organizations, and having trans people speak in front of television cameras when there is a trans leader who is visible and out. They need to start seeing themselves — as trans people of color, as trans people of faith, whatever intersection — young people need to see themselves in their leadership in order to feel they have hope and inspiration,” he said. “That’s what I really challenge Charlotte to do a better job of. We have to do better, it doesn’t just get better.”

Students and adults alike attend Camp Pride to gain leadership skills, to make connections and to gain confidence.
Students and adults alike attend Camp Pride to gain leadership skills,
to make connections and to gain confidence.

Windmeyer spoke at the city council LGBT non-discrimination hearing, warning that some of the anti-LGBT, and especially anti-transgender, rhetoric could cause us to lose members of our community. He was pleased to see it pass, though noted that he wished it could have been done without the public forum, which allowed for the airing of those prejudiced points of view. He said he felt the need to speak in order to do his part to counteract that message. He concluded his statement that day by telling young people watching, “If you’re listening tonight, know that you’re loved. Your God loves you.”

“It is important for us that, if we’re going to live in Charlotte, we have to invest in Charlotte as a community and make it better,” Windmeyer said, reflecting both on that night and the work his group has done in the past. “It’s one thing to just have an organization in Charlotte, but we feel we have a duty, or a responsibility, as a national organization to make sure we give back locally and help change the culture of Charlotte to be more LGBT inclusive.”

Campus Pride partners with over 1,400 colleges and universities across the country. This year that included local colleges Queens University, UNC Charlotte, Davidson College, Johnson C. Smith and Central Piedmont Community College, among others.

You can learn more about Campus Pride at campuspride.org. Find the Campus Pride Index at campusprideindex.org and the Shame List at campuspride.org/shamelist.

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet...