Young leaders speak out

Feb. 12 panel discussion will highlight youth voices

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: February 1, 2013 in Featured Stories, News

From left, UNC-Charlotte student Anthony Dondero, Campus Pride Communications and Programs Manager Jess McDonald and Winthrop University student Victoria Davis at the 2013 Creating Change conference held in late January in Atlanta. File Photo.

[Ed. Note – This writer will be a guest moderator at the panel and forum discussed in this article. This writer also worked briefly with Campus Pride as communications manager in the spring of 2012.]

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Young adults in the LGBT community say they are ready, willing and able to take leadership roles, create change and move the community forward. Yet, some say options are sometimes limited when it comes to meaningful involvement opportunities at established community organizations.

“I would love to help out, but there’s not really a role for me at the age of 22,” said Jess McDonald, communications manager for Campus Pride, the Charlotte-based national non-profit that works with LGBT young people and college student leaders.

McDonald’s experience since moving to Charlotte last year has given her personal insight. McDonald often feels stuck in a middle ground between being too old and experienced for some youth-oriented programs while simultaneously being perceived as too young and inexperienced for other organizations.

McDonald hopes her organization’s upcoming Feb. 12 forum and panel discussion with several young adult leaders will help to bridge the gap between community organizations and a community of young people yearning for action.

Meaningful Involvement of
Young Adults in Charlotte

Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m., free
LGBT Community Center of Charlotte
2508 N. Davidson St.
More information:
campuspride.org

“I know how important it is from a personal experience to get opportunities [to lead],” says Jess McDonald, Campus Pride’s communications and programs manager. “I was fortunate at Elon to find funding to go to conferences or summer camps like Camp Pride. They really shaped me as a person and as an activist.”

McDonald says she grew up in a small town in North Carolina. Opportunities to meet other LGBT people and to be involved in LGBT organizing were few.

“You really have to go out of your way to meet other queers and have conversation about becoming an LGBT leader,” she says.

It’s valuable for community development that young people find spaces where they can be involved at all levels of local organizing.

“Our vision for the LGBT community is trying to find leadership opportunities for young adults, not just with Campus Pride, but with local organizations and to teach local organizations how to attract LGBT and ally young adults in all levels, from leadership to volunteering,” says Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer.

McDonald hopes the upcoming panel discussion will open doors for young adults and for those who are older and already in organizational leadership positions.

“I think…people really stay in the bubbles where they are comfortable,” McDonald says. “If you’re in a group with people ages 35 and up, that’s your bubble. You’re not very familiar with young adults.”

The same is true for young people and recent college graduates she said. For young people, there has to be a willingness to reach out and, from older adults, an awareness and willingness to listen and create space.

“I hear about organizations like the Charlotte Business Guild,” McDonald says. “As a 22-year-old who graduated with degrees in history and sociology, I have no idea what the Business Guild could offer me, but I’m interested in knowing.”

Students Anthony Dondero, a senior at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Victoria Davis, a junior at Winthrop University, will be among the young people participating in the panel. Both agree that opportunities for involvement are available if young people search them out.

“The positions are definitely there and they need to be filled,” said Dondero, who has been a leading student proponent of transgender-inclusive policy changes on UNC-Charlotte’s campus. “We just don’t have enough young people coming out and finding them.”

Part of the problem, the two said, is time management.

“College students’ lives are crazy,” Davis, a leader on campus and with Winthrop University’s GLoBAL LGBT and ally student group, said. “You’ve got 10 different things going on and to add another thing where you have to really commit yourself and be serious about it puts a lot of stress on you. I know there have been times I’ve been overwhelmed.”

Given the unique challenges students face, Windmeyer has said organizations and leaders can create spaces for young adults. It just takes being aware of their needs, especially for young adults without access to higher education.

“Many of the young adults who aren’t able to go to college or don’t have access…they are the ones stuck in between going to bars, working full-time or part-time trying to pay bills,” Windmeyer said. “Campus Pride has realized we need to make sure the community is a place where young adults can serve [in leadership roles] and not just college students.”

McDonald and Windmeyer have been reaching out to as many community leaders and organizations as they possibly can. Both hope the panel discussion will have a lasting effect.

“I’m really happy we can give this opportunity [to speak] other students,” said McDonald. “We (young adults) are not kids anymore. We have good ideas and we’re interested in helping out and we definitely have something to offer… [This] exchange of ideas will benefit everyone in the room.” : :

more: Read our Community Voices guest commentary this issue from Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer: “Do young adults matter to your Charlotte LGBTQ organization?”

Stay tuned to goqnotes.com next week for more as we further profile students Anthony Dondero and Victoria Davis, as well as profiles of other young leaders.