Out for Change: Young LGBT professionals making a difference

A new generation of leaders are taking the reins. Whether they work from an Uptown tower or other corporate digs, a small-town city council or the offices of a community non-profit, the more than dozen young people profiled in this issue are among some of the brightest and most visionary young leaders under 35. There are many more, of course — far more than we could ever possibly profile. Each are deserving of praise for the work they do.

Read more about our profiled young leaders below and keep coming back here to qnotes‘ website each day over the next two weeks; we’ll publish more in-depth, individual profiles on each of the young leaders, with their thoughts on a variety of topics and issues.

 

O’Neale Atkinson

Age: 28
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

Many in the community have come to know O’Neale through the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, where he worked as operations manager for a year and a half, or from his 6-month stint as qnotes editor in the spring of 2012. Recently, though, he’s transitioned into a new role at another community group, becoming director of youth programs at Time Out Youth. A native of Chester, S.C., O’Neale attended the University of South Carolina where he earned his master’s of social work. Since college, he says, social work has been his goal and, in particular, working with the LGBT community. Prior to his work in Charlotte, O’Neale also worked with organizations that served 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 pursue a career in this community,” he says. He says employment discrimination is a top concern of his. “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,” he says. Locally, O’Neale hopes to see greater collaboration and visibility. “The LGBT community here in Charlotte is so vibrant and full of groups and organizations to be a part of,” he says. “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 organizations partnering to support one another and to do good in the greater Charlotte community.”

 

Amanda Breeden

Age: 30
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

A transplant to Charlotte, Amanda has called the Queen City home since January 2009. She was raised in a rural farm community in Franklin, Neb. — population, 1,004. After working for a variety of non-profit agencies focusing on human rights and social justice issues, Amanda is now employed as a research officer for the College of Health and Human Sciences at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and two master’s degrees in women’s and gender studies and youth and human service administration. In the community, Amanda has been active with the Charlotte Business Guild, where she came on as a board member in 2012. She’s currently the vice president. Prior to her work with the Guild, Amanda served as a board member and fundraising committee chair for Carolinas Care Partnership. Amanda says she’s most passionate “about creating a professional presence for the LGBTQ business community and nurturing a climate that is both supportive internally (LGBTQ businesses supporting LGBTQ businesses) and inclusive of the ally community.” She’s been hard at work promoting the Guild’s LGBT Economic Study (available at charlottebusinessguild.org), which she says will provide important LGBT economic statistics and benchmarking information that is otherwise missing. Amanda knows the world is changing and sees data that proves it, but adds, “I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to promote social change on an individual level. … And the importance of allies cannot be overlooked, if we are to achieve our end goal.”

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Rebecca Chapin

Age: 30
Occupation: Engineer

A native of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Rebecca now lives in Raleigh, where she works as a hardware testing engineer. She previously worked in technical support and graphic design. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Hartford. In the community, she volunteers as a board member and program director at the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Rebecca describes herself as an advocate for those with no voice “I engage the trans* community and use what I learn to effect change within the greater Raleigh/Durham area,” she says, noting her passion for the trans* community. Thinking back on her coming out experience, Rebecca says she wants others to have more visibile and accessible support systems. “I want the Raleigh/Durham area to be the most trans progressive area in the state,” she says. “At the very least, create a safe welcoming space where individuals can explore the concepts of gender identity without persecution or misinformation.” The current legal landscape has affected Rebecca and her work life. “Sadly in this economy and political climate, I make efforts to keep my professional and advocacy work separate,” she says. “There are currently no protections in this state for gender identity and thus makes it high risk to attempt to combine the two worlds” without employment non-discrimination protections, she says.

 

Amos Cooper, Jr.

Age: 34
Occupation: Banking

A native of Raleigh, Amos has worked for Square 1 Bank for six years. He’s currently the assistant vice president and relationship manager at the bank. Prior to his current employer, he worked for Bank of America. He attended C.E. Jordan High School and North Carolina Central University. In the community, he volunteers with the LGBT Center of Raleigh on its outside events committee for Out! Raleigh. “Being able to partner with the LGBT Center has allowed me to bring to light some much needed refreshing changes to the community as well as providing the Center with additional support in their programs and endeavors,” Amos says of his volunteer work with the group. Amos also plans and organizes various events and fundraisers in the Raleigh area. He says he wants to “bring more awareness and togetherness to the community.” He even sees his passion for equality extending to work. “Thankfully I work for a very liberal company that does offer domestic partner benefits,” he says. “We are a growing startup and I hope one day that we have a diversity committee that I can be a part of.”

 

Sarah Demarest, Kelly Durden

Ages: 31, 32
Occupations: Lawyers

Kelly and Sarah have teamed up to create a new resource in Charlotte, offering legal services and advice to LGBT locals. Together, the two have established the LGBT Law Center, in coordination with the Freedom Center for Social Justice. Kelly, 32, is a native of Jacksonville, N.C., and attended the University of North Carolina-Wilmington where she received a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law. Sarah, 31, is a native of Portland, Maine, and attended Guilford College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in justice and policy studies. She is scheduled to graduate from Charlotte School of Law this May. Kelly has five years of practice in public interest law and two years in private practice. While in school, Sarah has worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as a law fellow. She’s also worked at Legal Services in Charlotte and spent eight years in the financial industry before attending Charlotte School of Law. Kelly says she is most passionate about “equal rights and equal access to justice.” “Discovering the inequities and inadequacies of the law in recognizing basic rights, particularly for those in the trans* community, really inspired me to do everything in my power to both educate and empower those in the LGBT community, thereby advancing the movement as a whole,” Kelly says. Like her law partner, Sarah, too, feels a passion for the transgender community.”I’m passionate about stopping discrimination against trans* individuals and removing legal barriers that interfere with the ability of all LGBT people to work and live as productive and equal members of society,” Sarah says, noting other passions such as immigration issues, racial justice and food justice. “In past work and school situations, I have been the only African-American lesbian,” Kelly says. “I hope I have been able to break some of the stereotypes associated with the LGBT community just by being myself and sharing my experiences with classmates and co-workers.”

 

Anthony Dondero

Age: 24
Occupation: Student

Anthony is a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has been active in a variety of campus organizations, including PRIDE, Trans*Port, UNCC Vox, To Write Love On Her Arm and the Collegiate Recovery Community. But, it has been Anthony’s work with the UNCC Trans* Committee that caught our eye. Anthony has been instrumental in helping to create better access for and understanding of transgender students on the Charlotte campus. Anthony says he was first inspired to be involved after noticing a significant lack of transgender visibility on his campus. “There weren’t any trans* students at the time who were willing to out themselves in order to create that change because there were no visible trans* people on campus at the time.”

 

Cate Eble

Age: 32
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

Cate has been a business analyst for the American Red Cross for three years. In that time, she’s also made a mark in the local LGBT community. She served as chair of community outreach and helped to organize volunteers and marketing for the Unity Party, an LGBT welcome event prior to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. She also served as a member of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte Board of Trustees. Currently, she’s a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s North Carolina Gala Steering Committee, where she is co-chair of the gala’s Student Leadership Summmit. She believes there should be more representation for the entire community. “No one should be left out of equality,” she says. “Lesbians and gays are very strongly represented in our community, but we must remember the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community when fighting for change.” Cate’s most passionate about workplace non-discrimination, especially for transgender community members.

 

Ann Gonzales

Age: 29
Occupation: Entrepreneur

Ann has called Charlotte here home since 2006, after moving from her native Concord. She worked as a freelance graphic and web designer before beginning her own business, Create-ster, with her business partner Alyssa Kibiloski. Together, the business partners have supported a wide range of LGBT groups, including the GayCharlotte Film Festival, RedFrog, the Charlotte Business Guild, Unity Fellowship Church and The Freedom Center for Social Justice, among others. She and Alyssa describe themselves as entrepreneurs and “advocates for start-ups, small businesses and budding non-profits.” Ann adds, “Through Create-ster, whether graphic designing or web designing, I have felt absolutely honored to have taken part in helping LGBTQ Charlotte organizations and non-profits. While we are already advocates for start-ups and small businesses, enabling them to have a fighting chance to keep up with larger, established businesses, It’s been great to be advocates for LGBTQ causes that are so important to us.”

 

Richard Grimstad

Age: 34
Occupation: Accountant

A Salem, Ohio, native, Richard bounced back and forth for a few years between his home state and Charlotte. But, he finally landed here for good in 2002. For six years, he’s worked as a tax manager at GreerWalker LLP. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in accounting from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. In the community, Richard currently serves as co-director of Charlotte Pride. Last year, he co-chaired sponsorship development for the festival. Elsewhere, he serves as the treasurer and a board member for Carolinas Care Partnership. He’s also a board member for the Rotary Club of Charlotte, where he also serves as treasurer. Richard says he’s passionate about community visibility. “I feel that putting a face on our LGBTQ community will go a long way towards full equality and is one of the easiest things we can do to create awareness,” he says. “If you can be seen, you can be heard. If you can be heard, you can inspire and create change, compassion and understanding.”

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Micah Johnson

Age: 26
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

Micah works as the director of school outreach and gay-straight alliance support. A native of Thompson, Iowa, Micah attended Luther College in Buffalo Center, Iowa, where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He earned a master’s of social work at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Micah also volunteers as a mentor at Northwest School of the Arts. He calls himself a “professional student advocate,” saying, “For as much as I advocate for students professionally, I learn from those students, and professionals, and activists and continue to grow from knowing these beautiful people.” Micah says he’s been fortunate to find work that complements his own personal passions. “My passion drives my work with local students, parents, and educators,” he says. “I don’t think you can do this work without passion.”

 

Josh Lemke

Age: 30
Occupation: Banking

Josh, a native of Hartford, S.D., is a recent Charlotte transplant, moving to the Queen City in 2006, where he is employed as a vice president at Bank of America. For the past year-and-a-half, Josh has served as a board member and treasurer with Time Out Youth. He’s also a Class 2 participant with the Community Building Initiative’s Leaders Under 40. “I would describe myself primarily as a professional who is aspiring to be an advocate,” Josh says. He’s most passionate about young people’s health and well being. Youth, he says, are robbed of opportunities when they have to “deal with the challenges that come with being LGBT.” Josh also volunteers with Bank of America’s LGBT Pride Employee Network. He says, “we can’t only rely on others,” adding, “As individuals, we need to get involved and we all need to be a part of change. I encourage everyone to find something they are passionate about, whether it is in the LGBT Community or not, and figure out how you can contribute.”

 

James Miller

Age: 29
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

James is a native of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and attended Currituck County High School and the Unviersity of North Carolina-Wilmington. He’s also a graduate of Brandeis University. He holds bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and marketing and graduate degrees in social welfare policy and non-profit management. James currently works as the executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, where he’s been employed for one-and-a-half years. He also gives back, often working longer than 40 hours. “Anything I work over 40 hours is donated,” he says. “Whether it is opening the Center for our amazing Transgender Initative or leading an intense Youth Empowerment Camp for LGBT leaders, my job is to empower others to reach their full potential.” James says North Carolina faces “many uphill battles,” including transgender and HIV-inclusive employment and housing non-discrimination, LGBT and second-parent adoption rights and AIDS drug assistance funding.

 

Mario W. Newton

Age: 33
Occupation: Analyst

A native of Columbia, S.C., Mario moved to Charlotte 13 years ago, where he’s worked for Duke Energy for 11 years. He’s a graduate of Montreat College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He’s currently pursuing his master’s degree. Mario’s involvement in the LGBT community is relatively new, but he’s jumped in feet-first. He served on the city host committee for the 2013 Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala and is a founding board member of Step Up Charlotte, a new non-profit which works to produce events and bring together diverse communities while raising money for non-profits in the Mecklenburg County. “Being someone involved in the LGBT community I look for reasons to promote, advocate, teach, and keep myself and the community positive,” Mario says, noting his passion for a variety of issues. He dreams of a day when “we won’t need special groups, parades or colors to make everyone feel equal” and says that everyone should be treated equally “not because it’s the law, but because it’s humane.” At work, Mario uses his relationships to promote LGBT philanthropy and support for local LGBT groups and events. “Charlotte is definitely progressive, friendly and welcoming,” he says. “Since my 13 years of living in Charlotte, I have been fortunate enough to have met colleagues, associates and friends that have welcomed me and my cause with open arms.”

 

Lee Storrow

Age: 23
Occupation: Politician

The youngest openly gay elected official in North Carolina, Lee is currently serving his first term as a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Lee also works for a non-profit and on health policy. He’s a native of Asheville and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He also currently serves as a board member and secretary for Youth Empowered Solutions! and is a member of the board of directors for the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.He’s most passionate about ending the gay blood ban. Before being disqualified himself, Lee was a regular blood and platelet donor. In 2010, he testified in front of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Blood Safety and Availability Advisory Committee. Speaking out is essential to making change, he says: “Our personal lives are political, and it’s important that gay North Carolinians get involved in the progressive community.”
Photo Credit: Becky Radford.

 

Daniel Valdez

Age: 27
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

A native of Acapulco, Mexico, Daniel has lived in Charlotte since 1999. He’s a graduate of Central Cabarrus High School and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where he received bachelor’s degrees in history and Latin American studies. He’s currently the advocacy program manager at Crisis Assistance Ministry, but worked in the past at Carolinas Care Partnership and the Latin American Coalition. Daniel volunteers with a variety of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations, including the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund, the GayCharlotte Film Festival, the NC Region II MSM Taskforce, the Mexican Cultural Society of Charlotte, the Bruce Irons Camp Fund and Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield’s 2011 election campaign. Daniel shuns the labels of “activist” and “advocate.” Instead, he says, “I would describe myself as an active citizen of my community,” adding, “As an immigrant, professional, Latino, male I hoped to bring even more diversity to groups that sought to advance equal rights and build bridges in the LGBTQ community,” Daniel says.

 

Lacey Williams, Laura Maschal

Ages: 31, 34
Occuptions: Non-profit staffer, Health care

If there’s a social justice movement to be helped, Lacey and Laura are there, especially when it comes to LGBT equality and immigrant rights issues. Lacey, 31, is a native of Orange City, Fla., and has lived in Charlotte since 2000. Here, she works as the youth programs director of the Latin American Coalition. In the past, she worked as the youth program coordinator for the Charlotte Coalition for Social Justice. Lacey attended school at Queens University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history and religion. Laura, 34, is a Charlotte native. Currently, she works as a senior project manager at a healthcare/patient support services company. She attended the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature. The couple — they were married last year — are both members of the Charlotte Roller Girls, where Lacey serves as a coach and Laura as a skater and board member. Together, Lacey and Laura have devoted their volunteer time to variety of progressive causes, protests and demonstrations. “I think of myself as an activist,” Lacey says. “I’m not a behind-closed-doors advocate. Give me a bullhorn and a magic marker any day. The community has enough advocates; it needs more rabble rousers.” Laura says she speaks out as a way to combat privilege. “As a bisexual woman, I definitely have heterosexual privilege; unless I’m with my partner Lacey, I don’t think that I’m perceived as LGBTQ by most people I meet,” Laura says. “That’s probably why I’m so happy to mention my love, to casually mention that I was with my wife the same way that straight folks do.” Both say they look forward to a more progressive Charlotte. “We need to invest in our young people in an intentional way, not a transactional way,” says Lacey. “We need to see our young people as an ends rather than a means. I’ve always been inspired by how quickly young people can unlearn biases and internalized oppression, and how quickly they can lift their voices to become activists and leaders confronting the issues that they face. They need good adult allies who can give them support, rather than acting as barriers.”

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.