Out for Change Q&A: Sarah Demarest and Kelly Durden

Young LGBT Professionals Making a Difference

Today, qnotes is profiling Sarah Demarest and Kelly Durden, two of the individuals featured in our April 12, 2013, print edition cover story, “Out for Change: Young LGBT Professionals Making a Difference.” Learn more about Sarah and Kelly, who are working together to establish the LGBT Law Center in Charlotte, below and come back each day this week for more profiles of those featured this issue. You can also see other in-depth profiles in our Out for Change series.

sarah_demarest_smSarah Demarest

Age: 31
Hometown: Portland, Maine

Currently: Program coordinator at the LGBT Law Center since January 2013. Previously a law fellow with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Other current and past community volunteer work, including National LGBT Bar Association Student Division, Freedom Center for Social Justice, Equality North Carolina and Equality Maine.

Education: Guilford College, B.S. in justice and policy studies. Currently attending Charlotte School of Law, J.D. candidate, May 2013.

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Would you describe yourself chiefly as an activist, advocate, student, entrepreneur, professional or something else? Why?
I’d describe myself as a “professional advocate,” because I’ve been doing advocacy work for many years. Practicing law is just another form of advocacy.

Which LGBT/progressive causes are you most passionate about?
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. I’m also really passionate about immigration issues, racial justice, and food justice. Food justice is very much connected to immigration and racial justice.

What inspired you to become involved in the LGBT/progressive community?
Compassion and responsibility. I experienced a lot of pain when I came out, and that pain softened me and allowed me to see all people with greater compassion. I also feel a great sense of responsibility to be out there doing the work that I want done. I’m not to wait for someone else to do the work.

How does your passion for LGBT/progressive issues play a role in your work or education? Are there any intersections between your professional/educational career and LGBT/progressive causes or organizations?
Lila Watson once said: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together.” Watson’s statement is an inspiration to me because it reminds me that the work I do is a two-way street, it is not just about helping a person obtain a desirable legal result; advocating for individuals within my community is connected to my own struggle for liberation as a woman and lesbian. We are in this together. One form of oppression is linked to other forms of oppression. I’m not just changing a name or helping with a divorce, I’m fighting against homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism, classism, ableism and other oppressive systems.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the LGBT/progressive community in Charlotte? In North Carolina? In the nation/world?
I’m most concerned with the fact that we appear to have turned into a one-issue movement. The most important issue facing the LGBT community is that we’re not seeing past obtaining same-sex marriage rights. It’s extremely problematic, especially when we don’t have federal or state employment protections, familial protections, and immigration protections. It’s problematic when we have high rates of homelessness and suicide, particularly within the trans* community. We need to look at how life and how the law impact LGBT people. Also, within our community we still struggle with oppressing each other. We need to deal with the racism, transphobia, and xenophobia, that exist inside of the community. We can’t afford to forget that we are all in this together.

How has your experience as a member of the LGBT community shaped your experiences in work or in school?
Being a part of the LGBT community has been challenging at times, because not everyone in the South is accepting of LGBT people. However, I’ve been fortunate because I’ve been in leadership roles. As President of the LGBT Legal Society Charlotte School of Law, for example, I was able to help shape the diversity programs on campus and was able to speak up on behalf of my community when there were challenging situations that needed to be addressed.

Do you feel Charlotte is a progressive, friendly and welcoming place (e.g., business, educational, social, religious or political climates)? How could these climates be best improved?
Charlotte is a fairly progressive, friendly, and welcoming place for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. However, I’m not certain that my transgender sisters and brothers feel as welcomed here as I do. The business, educational, social, religious, and political climates can be improved through education. We had a wonderful LGBT 101 training at the law school the other day that focused largely on the transgender experience. Close to 100 people showed up—and most of them were not members of the LGBT community.  I believe that many people in Charlotte want to be more welcoming but don’t know how—the LGBT Law Center will be a space where people can be connected with resources and training to help their organization become more friendly and welcoming for LGBT people.

 

kelly_durden_smKelly Durden

Age: 32
Hometown: Jacksonville, N.C.

Currently: Lead attorney at the LGBT Law Center since January 2013. Previous five years practice in public interest law a law fellow and two years in private practice. Volunteer work as pro bono attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Education: University of North Carolina-Wilmington, B.A. English and Spanish; University of North Carolina School of Law.

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Would you describe yourself chiefly as an activist, advocate, student, entrepreneur, professional or something else? Why?
I would call myself a professional advocate with an entrepreneurial spirit in the field of LGBT activism. Each time I represent or explain the law to someone of the LGBT community, I try to advocate not just for them, but for the greater good of the community.

Which LGBT/progressive causes are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about equal rights and equal access to justice.

What inspired you to become involved in the LGBT/progressive community?
Some of my own personal challenges in facing discrimination based on sexual orientation caused me to want to learn more about the struggles faced by others in the LGBT community. 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.

How does your passion for LGBT/progressive issues play a role in your work or education? Are there any intersections between your professional/educational career and LGBT/progressive causes or organizations?
My work and passion for LGBT/progressive issues are completely intertwined. My goal is for my work to help empower those in the LGBT community, mobilize them to assert their rights and educate the community about the various issues those in the LGBT community face.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the LGBT/progressive community in Charlotte? In North Carolina? In the nation/world?
I believe the national campaign for marriage equality has inadvertently diverted attention from various other pressing issues faced by the LGBT community.  Although it rallied the efforts of local supporters, the passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina dealt a crushing blow to the entire movement. Now, I hope more attention can be directed towards ending workplace and healthcare discrimination against LGBT people, particularly those who identify as trans*.

How has your experience as a member of the LGBT community shaped your experiences in work or in school?
In past work and school situations, I have been the only African American lesbian. As a result, I was proud to bring a unique perspective to every situation and could in order to provide a voice to the minority groups to which I belong. 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.

Do you feel Charlotte is a progressive, friendly and welcoming place (e.g., business, educational, social, religious or political climates)? How could these climates be best improved?
I was born in North Carolina and have lived in various areas of the state but I find Charlotte to be the most progressive and welcoming. It’s also one of the most progressive cities in the south. Here, larger corporations are extremely LGBT-friendly and smaller organizations are making strides to become more so in effort to attract members of the LGBT community. The religious and political diversity here was an unexpected benefit of the area. Charlotte’s progressive atmosphere is constantly improving and will only get better as people become more educated about LGBT issues and as larger, more progressive companies expand to bring jobs to the region.

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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.