Join us at our 2015 Young LGBT Professionals Mix-n-Mingle Reception on Wednesday, April 1, at Uptown’s Blue Restaurant & Bar. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
Welcome to qnotes’ third annual feature profiling local and regional LGBT young professionals working to make a difference in their community and looking toward a future, better community. Our featured profiles this year include non-profit staffers, a student, activists and more. All under 35 years old, some of our young professionals have already made names for themselves as community leaders. Others are just beginning their journey into leadership — be it in business, the arts or the community. Together, they all represent the best and brightest for our collective future. Our theme this year, “Faces of the Future,” represents what these young leaders can bring to the table today, tomorrow and in the decades ahead, and that’s why we thought it was fitting to weave that sense of history and future into our cover photo and other artwork this issue. From the days of Captain Jack and the Mecklenburg Declaration to the bustling metro we call home today, our history has been replete with examples of courageous young leaders doing their best to shape a better future for all.
Education: B.A. Business Administration and Sports Management, Pfeiffer University
Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.
Living in Charlotte for eight years, Bertshalyn is a musician with her own band, MojoMuzik Live, playing cover songs and original music. She’s also in the final stages of launching her own business, Essential Chord Progression, which will provide downloadable tutorials for anyone to learn to play their favorite songs or for aspiring musicians wanting to learn the essentials needed to play the piano. Outside of work, Bertshalyn leads praise and worship in a local park for the local homeless. She sings at a local nursing home near where she lives and is looking forward to volunteering her musical gifts with Time Out Youth this summer. Prior to her music career, Bertshalyn worked for four years at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and for two years at the State Employees’ Credit Union. “One of the most pressing issues that I see in our LGBT community is the lack of support that we appear to have for one another,” Bertshalyn says. “It is as if we are divided and keep ourselves segregated, even within our own community. I have noticed this among community organizations and have witnessed it at special events throughout the city. Nationally it appears that this may be a common issue. My wish is that we will be able to unite as a community, knowing that we will not always agree or share the same vision, but it would be an ideal situation for us to work together and grow this community. My contribution to help mend, build, and grow is through music. The light of unity is a powerful thing, and music incites so many emotions. My goal is to bring the creativity of sound and music to encourage healing in this community. Alone we can do many things, but together we can do so much more.
Education: B.A. Media Arts, University of South Carolina
Hometown: Easley, S.C.
Finn Barton moved to Charlotte in July 2014, after interning with Campus Pride since December 2013. After his graduation from the University of South Carolina, he took a summer fellowship with Campus Pride and continues to work with them as media and programs assistant. One of his favorite experiences with Campus Pride was working as a videographer for the group’s annual week-long summer leadership academy, being hosted in the Queen City this year. “The most pressing issue in the local community is the lack of trans protections,” Finn says. “I found the lack of trans allies and gross mischaracterization of trans folks rather disheartening with the ordinance discussions a few weeks ago. There’s still a lot of room to grow in the national community as well, with understanding, empathizing and fighting for trans folks. Trans rights are important to me for personal reasons, but I believe in fighting for the rights of all of the minority groups within our own queer community. I’ve also found that helping those within our community get access to higher education is one of the best ways that we can empower our community. I love the work that I get to do with Campus Pride because I get to see firsthand the positive difference we are making in the future of our community.”
Education: B.A. Business Administration, Campbell University; MBA and Graduate Certificate in Non-profit Management,
Hometown: Locust, N.C.
For four years, Mike Blackwelder has called Charlotte his home, were he works as the chief advancement officer of Safe Alliance, a local non-profit that provides support for those in crisis, especially sexual assault/rape and domestic violence survivors. The group even has a support group focused on the needs of LGBT survivors of sexual assault. He’s worked for the group for three years and was promoted to his current position in January. He also serves on the board of directors of Hearts Beat as One Foundation and the Charlotte affiliate of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “I think the most pressing issue both locally and nationally is acceptance, both within and outside of our community,” Mike says. “As we’ve seen with recent marriage laws nationally, and LGBT rights locally, acceptance from others is a critical issue for our community. We are making progress, but we must continue efforts to bring about acceptance and equality for everyone. Within our community, we have to increase acceptance of other orientations and identities without judgment or stereotypes. If we want the outside community to accept us, we have to accept each other first.”
Education: B.A. Communications, Public Relations and Advertising, La Sierra University
Hometown: Los Angeles and Seattle
Rebby Kern has called Charlotte home for a year and a half now, moving after college from Riverside, Calif., to work with Campus Pride as its Media, Communications and Programs Manager. Her first introduction to the Campus Pride was as a student at the group’s annual summer leadership academy. Her work with Campus Pride is her first full-time position after college. Rebby also works as the director of youth interests for Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, a group for LGBT Seventh-day Adventists based in San Francisco, and she co-founded the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition with Eliel Cruz, a student at another Seventh-day Adventist college, activist and columnist. “I don’t believe there is enough action around trans issues,” Rebby says. “These issues are coming further into light but there needs to be more action to support this community and advocate for needs unmet. Through Campus Pride we are able to address these issues within the higher education sector. This conversations needs to always include non-binary individuals who are often left behind or unseen. These issues are important because the L and the G have been in the forefront for so long and marriage has been met (almost completely) on a national level. We are already working beyond marriage to see a more inclusive society. There’s work to be done.”
Crystal Monique Richardson
Education: B.A. French and Political Science, UNC-Charlotte; J.D., Charlotte School of Law
Hometown: Danville, Va.
Crystal Richardson has lived in Charlotte for 25 years, currently working and volunteering in a variety of roles for the LGBT community and other communities. At work, she’s the director of advocacy and outreach for Equality North Carolina, a position she’s held since January 2015. She was first hired by Equality North Carolina in April 2014. Crystal is also an attorney and she volunteers as a guardian ad litem. In the community, she’s the secretary for the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, political chair for HRC North Carolina and a member of ACLU-Charlotte. Crystal believes the local community needs to begin “working together on the intersectionality of our issues,” and, nationally, “focusing on the greater LGBT community,” like issues affecting people of color, faith issues, economic status and other intersections.
Education: B.S. Business Administration, University of South Carolina
Hometown: Originally from Delaware, but spent more than half her life in South Carolina
After attending high school in Hilton Head and later graduating college in 2010, Christina Stritzinger moved to Charlotte, where she works at Bank of America as vice president and process design consultant in the bank’s business banking division. There she works on process improvement for the bank’s wholesale credit lending technology team. Moving to Charlotte, Christina first got involved with Habitat Young Professionals, where she’s a past chairman and a board advisor. She also volunteers as a golf coach for First Tee of Charlotte and serves as the director of advancement for Hearts Beat as One Foundation. She’s also on the leadership team for Bank of America’s Carolinas chapter of the LGBT Pride Employee Network. Christina thinks local issues of importance center on the understanding of legal protections for LGBT employees. Christina isn’t fond of labels. “I don’t usually identify with a specific term,” she says, “and prefer to just say ‘not straight’ since I dislike labels. If I had to pick one, I’d say bisexual.” Her views on the issues affecting the LGBT community focus in on local and workplace protections. “It’s very possible that you could be legally married to someone of the same sex, but get fired the next day for your sexual orientation after sharing your wedding photos on social media,” she says. Nationally, she believes legal protections for LGBT people become more complicated when crossing state lines, as each state has different protections available.
Education: B.A. Architecture, Clemson University; Master of Education, University of South Carolina; Diversity Leadership Institute Fellow, Furman University
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
Ryan Wilson moved to South Carolina in 2001 to attend college, later moving to Columbia where he’s lived since 2006. In the time he’s been in the Palmetto State, Ryan has devoted a great deal of his volunteer and professional work to the LGBT community. Currently, he’s the senior regional field organizer for the Southern United States at the Human Rights Campaign. Previously, he’s worked or served as: co-president of Clemson’s GSA, six years in various roles with SC Pride and the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, a board member for South Carolina’s Fair Housing Center and other roles including a stint as executive director of SC Equality. He joined HRC’s field organizing department in August 2014, working with other staff to monitor legislation and win campaigns in 11 southern states. Ryan believes non-discrimination protections at the municipal and state level are extremely important. Federally, a non-discrimination law is also needed to protect LGBT people in credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations. “With the series of court rulings around the nation including the 4th Circuit, we are getting close to the point where soon we will have marriage equality in all 50 states but we are seeing, particularly in Southern and rural states, a real backlash to our community’s success on these issues,” Ryan says. “Bills trying to limit how or where we can get married or take away funding from staff who would conduct those marriages, or bills creating a license to discriminate in the name of religion are popping up around the region and in the Carolinas.”
Francisco Luis White
28, Same Gender Loving
Education: Studied communications and social science, Newbury College
Hometown: Springfield, Mass.
Francisco Luis White has called Charlotte home since 2013, where he currently works as the EPY Peer Navigator for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN). Francisco left his college studies during his junior year at Newberry College, the result of receiving the Green Party’s endorsement to run, at age 26, as the youngest at-large candidate for Boston City Council in 2013. Named to the National Black Justice Coalition’s 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Leaders to Watch 2015, Francisco has devoted his professional and volunteer time to bring attention to youth civic involvement, LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues, serving as the young civic leaders coordinator at MassVOTE in Boston and as a language arts education associate at Youthbuild in Cambridge. Issues of race and poverty rank as highly important issues for Francisco. “First, the most uncomfortable discussions of race and poverty need to take place,” Francisco says. “Our community has race and class issues that have proven deadly to queer people of color over the decades. HIV/AIDS, homelessness, employment and housing discrimination are all issues impacting African-American and Latino LGBTQ people most severely, which is probably why we’ve poured so much time and resources into marriage equality. National and local LGBTQ organizations seem to have forgotten that our movement began at the margins, with brown queer rebels in the streets of NYC and San Francisco, and that actual equality must include queer people of color who move in the world at or below the poverty line.”
Education: B.A. Marketing, UNC-Charlotte (December 2015)
Hometown: Advance, N.C.
Lee moved to Charlotte three years ago to attend school at UNC-Charlotte, where he works as a resident advisor in the campus’ Housing and Residence Life. On campus, he served as president of Pride/Spectrum, the campus’ LGBT student group. He took the position just three months after coming out. He’s now in his second year on the board of directors of the Charlotte Business Guild, where he serves as secretary. He sees his role there as helping to build bridges. “In the local LGBT community, I believe we need to have a solid organization that can be the voice of the community,” Lee says. “There is no functioning structure to lead many LGBT groups in the Charlotte area. This is important because we need a group that can speak for the whole Queer community when needed and help drive Charlotte and surrounding areas to be a more accepting in schools, workplaces, and society. In the national spotlight, I believe our focus needs to be on making sure that states do not pass discriminatory laws, such as ‘religious freedom’ bills, which could prevent members of the LGBT community from receiving services or goods from a public business. This type of law is a step backward for our country If we are to continue to progress we must be an affirming nation for all.” : :