Voices for Progress

LGBT Young Professionals Making Change for Equality

For the second year in a row, qnotes is profiling a handful of LGBT and ally young professionals who are making a difference in their community. Our featured profiles this year include entrepreneurs, financial career professionals, local non-profit staffers and more — each are working at their businesses and in volunteer community involvement to make life better for LGBT people. All under 35 years old, some of our young professionals are already leaders in their own right; others represent younger or up-and-coming leaders whose influence and involvement will only grow in years to come. Be sure to check out reflections from all of the featured community leaders in our Our People column.

And, don’t forget, join us Friday, March 14, 7-9 p.m. for our Young Professionals Social. More details and RSVP at Facebook…

Robin Tanner

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❝We need to stay focused on the multifaceted nature of oppression for the entire LGBT community.❞

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30, Lesbian, Female
Education: B.A. Psychology and Religious Studies, University of Rochester; Master’s of Divinity, Harvard University
Hometown: Syracuse, N.Y.
Robin Tanner has been the lead pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church since 2010, moving to Charlotte four years ago. There, she helps to lead Interweave, the congregation’s organization for LGBT members. Robin has taken the issue of marriage equality to heart, helping to lead several couples to Washington, D.C., to marry. Locally, she says the most pressing issue facing the community is the current state of oppressive legislation, particularly the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. “Nationally, we are seeing marriage equality have sweeping victories,” says Robin, “and I think we need to stay focused on the multifaceted nature of oppression for the entire LGBT community.”equality, but equality for our trans* community.”

Natasha W. Tutt

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❝The most important issue in the LGBT community today needing to addressed is social equality.❞

34, Lesbian, Female
Education: B.A. Economics, Spelman College; M.B.A. Operations and Supply Chain Management, N.C. State University
Hometown: Amityville, N.Y.
Currently the vice president of the Charlotte Business Guild and a member of the LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County, Natasha Tutt has nearly a decade of experience in leading teams in the financial services industry. Originally from New York, she says she was brought up in a community-minded family. Her parents helped to create UNAYO, a non-profit dedicated to preparing youth to be viable, productive adults. Beyond her involvement there, she has also done multiple credit workshops for the North Carolina Cooperate Extension.

Mel Hartsell

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❝Homeless and working class people should have voices in our activism work and our priorities; everyone in the community deserves to be heard.❞

25, Queer, Non-binary
Education: B.A. Social Work, Master’s of Social Work, UNC-Charlotte
Hometown: Concord
Mel Hartsell works for Elon Homes and Schools for Children, where she currently oversees training and quality assurance and previously worked as a foster care case manager. Prior to her work at Elon Homes, Mel was a social work intern at Time Out Youth Center. They also co-founded Prism, an organization for LGBTQ young adults at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. Mel has lived in Charlotte full-time since 2009, but also spent time in Boiling Springs, N.C., and Washington, D.C. Classism, Mel says, is a pressing issue for the community. “Having money or the appearance of having money is the ticket in to a lot of local LGBTQ work,” Mel says. “It is a hugely divisive issue. We should be more focused on economic injustices within our community. Homelessness, unemployment, and a lack of resources should be priorities for people in all age groups and all in parts of our community.” Racism, too, is a major concern and Mel believes organizations should work “in solidarity with queer communities of color in Charlotte and make major events safe and inclusive for queer people of color.” Nationally, the LGBT community must also focus on issues of economic injustice, universal healthcare and an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “We need to make sure our work is intersectional and that we are serving the most marginalized among us through our activism,” says Mel.

Cameron Joyce

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❝It is evident that the South as a region could use more attention and resources.❞

23, Queer/Bisexual, Male
Education: B.A. History and Political Science, Master’s of Public Administration, UNC-Charlotte
Cameron Joyce is currently pursuing his Master of Public Administration at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, after which he plans to enter the public sector, working for either the city or county. He also serves as co-chair of the Charlotte Business Guild’s Aspiring Professionals Initiative and is a member of the 2014 Emerging Leaders Program through the Human Rights Campaign. Previously, he served as a coordinator for Prism, an organization for LGBTQ young adults at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, he was a field team organizer for the ONE Campaign in 2012-2013 and was an North Carolina Student Area Coordinator for Amnesty International from 2010-2012. Locally, Cameron believes that Charlotte’s community can be more organized and more connected. Local leaders and organizations, he says, should focus resources on youth issues like safety, shelter and stability, as well as economic advancement and healthcare for marginalized portions of the community. Nationally, the LGBT community should be more intentional in its inclusion efforts and political priorities, he says. “A more diverse national leadership would help align priorities in a more equitable manner,” Cameron adds, noting that the South needs more investment and resources.

Kayla Lisenby

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❝As queer folks in the South, we need to keep our resources at home and stop outsourcing them if we aren’t seeing a return.❞

25, Queer, Trans* Femme
Education: B.A. Anthropology, University of Alabama; Master’s of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs, University of South Carolina
Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Living in Columbia for two-and-a-half years, Kayla Lisenby currently works as the coordinator for LGBT programs at the University of South Carolina. There, Kayla coordinates the school’s Safe Zone Ally network, which currently has over 700 trained faculty, staff and student allies. They also advise the school’s LGBT student organization and they are involved in the new LGBTQ Faculty/Staff Coalition which formed in the fall of 2013. Locally, Kayla believes supporting queer southern organizing is the most pressing issue facing the community. They ask, “National organizations are sending an abysmal amount of resources and funding to the South, so why do we continue to support them?” In particular, Kayla believes the community needs to find a way to address the unique needs of rural areas. “On a national level, folks need to look at ways to be more equitable in the division of resources,” Kayla says. “While marriage campaigns are  making their way to the South, that isn’t enough. We need tangible resources in order to create networks of support that for our queer communities.”

Jennifer Martin

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❝I believe that LGBTQA Youth should be the number one priority in the local and national community.❞

33, Female
Education: B.A. Political Science, Miami University
Jennifer Martin is currently an insurance advisor with Liberty Mutual, working with personal insurance line, home, auto, life and annuities. She’s worked with Liberty Mutual and their products for five years, though only recently came on as a direct employee in January. Previously, she worked for Fifth Third Bank for 10 years, and in that time played roles on the Diversity Council, LGBT Business Resource Group and Pride Committees. She currently serves on the board of the Charlotte Business Guild and works with Time Out Youth and the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. Married to her husband of 10 years, Jennifer says she does not believe in labels on sexual orientation. “Love is love,” she says. Originally from Virginia, she was raised across the Southeast and Midwest but now firmly calls Charlotte home, where she believes both the national and local LGBT communities should make youth support and services their number one priority. They are our future bankers, writers, doctors, business owners and workers and need to be given all the resources they need to succeed,” Jennifer says. “I lost my Uncle Garry to AIDS related illness at the age of 39, and watched him and his partner of 15 years struggle emotionally and financially. As a young teen he lived a very hazardous life on the street after not being accepted at home. Although there are so many worthy organizations and issues in the community, educating and providing programs for the youth as early as we can will filter up through society fostering the accepting culture we want for future generations.”

Tamalea Pierce

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❝As we push for our rights as a community, let’s remember our entire community is in this together.❞

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27, Lesbian, Female
Education: B.A. Psychology, Queens University
Hometown: Asheboro
Living in Charlotte for nine years now, Tamalea is the owner of L4 Lounge, opening a year and a half ago. Previously, she worked as a restaurant manager, where she says she developed the skills to become an entrepreneur. L4’s motto, she says, is “Love. For. Everyone.” The motto is lived out in her personal life, where she has volunteered with numerous local organizations, fundraisers and causes and organized experimental research projects for the LGBT community. Acceptance is among the most pressing issues for the community, says Tamalea. “If we expect to be accepted outside of our community, we must acknowledge negative judgment projected onto each other within it,” she says. “Mind boggling thoughts arise when our community sometimes discriminates against individuals outside of their own sexual orientation/gender identity.” Discrimination within the community is particularly felt among those who identify as bisexual, transgender and queer, she says, and leads to a “lack of understanding for individuals of the BTQ community.”

Sarah Alwran

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❝Many of our youth are struggling with access to basic medical and mental health care services and they are the ones who need it most. ❞

28, Lesbian, Female
Education: B.A. Sociology, UNC-Charlotte; Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy, Pfeiffer University (in progress)
Hometown: Charlotte
Sarah Alwran has worked as director of youth services at Time Out Youth since February 2013. There, Sarah has spearheaded the creation of the organization’s Host Home Program and is currently in the process of organizing the group’s Domestic Violence and Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Program. Previously, Sarah had been a volunteer there and also worked for the YMCA as an ACSM Certified Personal Training. As a student, she sits on the executive committee of Delta Kappa Honors Society and the Graduate Student Association. In the community, she has volunteered for AIDS Walk Charlotte, Dining with Friends, Girls on the Run and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. She believes the local and national communities need to focus more on LGBTQ homeless youth and young adults, especially those who are transgender and queer youth. Issues of medical and mental health care are on the rise, Sarah says, and funding is being cut all over the state. Nationally, Sarah wants to see greater focus on broader equality issues, saying, “On a national level, the most pressing issues are putting an end to workplace discrimination (ENDA) and increasing overall awareness so that more LGB and ally individuals step up to the plate to fight for, not only marriage, but equality for our trans* community.”

[Ed. Note — The original version of this article and its print edition version inadvertently excluded a portion of Alwran’s closing quote encouraging the community to advocate for “equality for our trans* community.” qnotes regrets the error.]

Ryan Philemon

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❝We need to stand up as a people, to engage in all cultures and all walks of life to break down the walls of segregation, starting within our own community. ❞

23, Gay, Male
Hometown: Charlotte
Ryan Philemon is the co-founder of Charlotte Fashion Guild and producer of the guild’s Style Week. The guild is the first business network for fashion, beauty and creative professionals in Charlotte. He says he grew up in the entertainment industry and has a love for fashion and the arts. His goal is to raise the standard of fashion in Charlotte and to push individual to be more creative, while working to see that city officials recognize the growing, local fashion industry as an economic stimulus. Additionally, Ryan is involved in the Charlotte Business Guild. He says social acceptance is the most pressing need for the community, and says individuals need to eliminate social boundaries that constrict our community, including the embrace of straight allies. “It is our duty to portray to LGBT youth that we are no different from one another and that we all are fighting for equal rights,” Ryan says. “It is important to not categorize ourselves as just ‘LGBT.’ When we give ourselves a label, it portrays that that defines us.”

Nate Turner

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❝I believe that Charlotte and the surrounding area needs more diversity and camaraderie within the LGBT community.❞

25, Gay, Male
Education: Associates of Science in Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales; B.A. Business, Columbia Southern University (in progress)
Hometown: Salisbury, Md.
Nate Turner has lived in Charlotte since 2006, where he now works full-time as an entrepreneur. In January 2013, he opened his own company, Your Custom Catering & Events, LLC. He has catered a variety of events and dinners, with guests including Mayor Patrick Cannon, former Judge Shirley Fulton, former County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield and Mecklenburg Commissioner Kim Ratliff. Previously, he freelanced as a private chef and in-home cooking instructor. In the community, he played for the Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Team from 2010-2012 and was a director on the Charlotte Business Guild board. This year, he serves as a community liaison for Charlotte Black Gay Pride and is an active Democratic Party volunteer, where he assisted with Charlotte’s hosting of the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Additionally, he has provided in-kind services and catering for groups like the Charlotte Men’s Shelter, Teen City Stage, Goodwill Industries, the U.S. Army, Wadswoth Estate, LifeSpan and several non-profit organizations. The most pressing issue facing Charlotte, Nate says, is diversity and inclusion in the LGBT community. “Many groups specifically separate themselves instead of improving the community,” he says. Additionally, he and his partner are make it a point to raise awareness on marriage discrimination. Nate says, “Currently my partner and I are planning our wedding and since it is not legal to get married in North Carolina we have had to adjust our plans to be able to live our life.”

IN THEIR OWN WORDS…

See Our People to read selected thoughts from this year’s featured young professionals and their answers to our issues-based question on this year’s young professionals questionnaire: “What do you believe is the most pressing issue needing to be addressed by the local LGBT community? By the national LGBT community?

Profile text and photos by Matt Comer. Other photos courtesy Lisenby, Martin, Philemon and Tanner. Special thanks to the Levine Museum of the New South.

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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.