Is this the future of Time Out Youth under its current leadership
Ed. Note: In keeping with Time Out Youth’s policy of confidentiality for youth members, Q-Notes has chosen to withhold the names of youth quoted as sources in this story. Individual youth are identified as “Youth A,” “Youth B,” etc. Some of the youth specifically requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation by Time Out Youth CEO Janine K. Eustache or the Board of Directors.
Also, readers should know that Q-Notes Editor Matt Comer has been an active member of Time Out Youth since mid-October 2007. To avoid potential personal conflicts, he ceded full editorial control of this article to Associate Editor David Stout.
CHARLOTTE — Time Out Youth (TOY), a local support, advocacy and education organization for LGBT youth founded in 1991, is coming under fire from some youth members, former interns and volunteers who feel that the agency is moving in the wrong direction under the management of current CEO Janine K. Eustache.
Eustache took the helm at TOY last fall. She brought with her an impressive employment history that included 18 years of work with non-profit organizations. She was formerly the southeast regional director of Save the Children, a global child relief organization; an executive at LaFace Records in Atlanta, Ga.; and the executive director of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. In 2003, she was appointed by Gov. Michael Easley to the N.C. Human Relations Commission.
Despite her dazzling resumé, Eustache’s critics charge that she isn’t experienced and comfortable working with the LGBT community and, in particular, serving the unique needs of LGBT and questioning youth. These alleged shortcomings have directly led to internal problems at TOY, they assert.
Community members and leaders, including current and past TOY donors and supporters, are beginning to take notice of the growing controversy and are asking questions of their own.
Q-Notes became aware that things might be amiss some weeks ago when TOY claimed that two of its interns left willingly, but it was later revealed that the pair’s student advisor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC) where they were enrolled removed them from the organization.
Youth A confirmed that Eustache and Board of Directors Chair Judy Seldin-Cohen attended a Monday night youth group meeting and informed participants that the interns had “decided to leave.”
However, the ex-interns, Mary Shannon Thomas and Laurie Pitts, told Q-Notes that the university’s position was clearly stated in a letter to TOY. The letter said that the interns had been pulled because TOY was not providing them with adequate training and that the learning agreement set by UNCC staff and TOY staff was not being followed.
Youth A said he felt lied to when he later learned the details behind the departures.
Following the June 4 meeting of the TOY board, Q-Notes Publisher Jim Yarbrough asked Seldin-Cohen if all board members had been informed of Pitts’ and Thomas’ removal by UNCC. She confirmed that they had. According to the former interns, however, neither was asked by the board to give an exit interview nor were they contacted by any individual board member to follow-up on the university’s concerns.
Pitts and Thomas told Q-Notes that, during their tenure at TOY, they felt mistreated by Eustache and that she employed intimidation.
For instance, Pitts claims that Eustache once challenged a youth member’s self-identified sexual orientation, arguing that the youth was not authentically the way he identified, but that it was the result of “mental issues.” Pitts said Eustache told her not to repeat these statements and that if anyone found out, she’d “know where it came from.”
Thomas added that Eustache prohibited her from disclosing Eustache’s name or even sharing the TOY phone number during a live interview Thomas gave to WPEG Power 98’s morning show. Thomas asserted that Eustache told her the conversation was to remain private and that if it didn’t, she’d “know where it came from.”
Concerns have been raised that CEO Janine K. Eustache does not want to be publicly associated with Time Out Youth. Seen here are two actual staff business cards dated to Spring 2008. TOY’s mission statement is not printed on Eustache’s.
In the closet
According to another TOY ex-intern, Thomas’ allegation that Eustache tried to keep her involvement with the agency “in the closet” isn’t an isolated incident, but rather part of a larger pattern.
LaCresha Rankin is a former intern and a current volunteer with the agency. She told Q-Notes that Eustache instructed her to refrain from using the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in the TOY offices when Eustache’s eight-year-old daughter was around.
Seldin-Cohen doubted the veracity of Rankin’s claim.
“Why would she bring her [daughter] to the office if that were the case? Isn’t there something there that just makes you wonder?” she commented to Q-Notes.
Whether Eustache’s alleged behavior makes sense or doesn’t, another source has made the same shocking claim to Q-Notes.
Pitts said that one day while she was in the office with Eustache and her daughter, Eustache cut her off with a “shushing” sound when she began to speak the word “transgender.”
In a list of written questions submitted to the TOY Board of Directors, Q-Notes asked if these incidents were true and if Eustache indeed believed these were “bad” words.
The board did not address any of our queries specifically in its reply. Instead, the response noted that all of the allegations were being taken “seriously” and that the board’s initial investigation revealed no evidence to support them.
“[W]e have found nothing that we believe substantiates these allegations. … We are confident that the circumstances prompting Q-Notes’ inquiry resulted from misunderstandings by people who have not explored our CEO’s beliefs and abilities to the same extent as has the Board.”
Eustache’s critics agree that her “beliefs and abilities” are at the core of the discussion. The issue, they contend, is that when it comes to the LGBT community both are problematic.
For example, Rankin alleges that during a meeting with bisexual-identified Youth B, Eustache asked him if there was ever a time when bisexuals could truly be faithful, because she didn’t know the answer.
This incident was referenced in Q-Notes’ list of questions. As stated, the board did not address the matter, but afterward we became aware that the details of the situation were disputed by other eyewitnesses. Nonetheless, Rankin insists that Eustache “really did ask [the question], as if she really didn’t know the answer.”
To back up her claim, Rankin said she spoke with Youth B, who confirmed her recollection. Youth B allegedly told Rankin he was afraid to speak with Q-Notes or have his name associated with this story due to fears of retaliation by Eustache during his summer involvement with TOY.
According to sources, Eustache’s unfamiliarity with LGBT issues have combined with her religious ardor to create difficulties within the organization on at least two occasions. One of the allegations is especially troubling if it is true.
Rankin claims that a complaint from a conservative Christian parent of a youth member prompted Eustache to instruct TOY staffer Akeliah Stewart to make sure that “both sides” of the religious debate over sexual orientation were offered if the topic was covered in future youth group meetings.
The order allegedly included instructions to bring in a second presenter to give the opposing viewpoint whenever a guest speaker was scheduled to address why it is not a sin to be LGBT.
Q-Notes attempted to contact Stewart for confirmation, but our message had not been returned at press time. The board declined to address this issue with Q-Notes.
The other example of Eustache’s personal faith impacting TOY’s mission was related by Pitts. She said Eustache attempted to include a religious prayer line on a list of LGBT youth resources. Pitts said she objected to the prayer line’s inclusion because it hadn’t been vetted. When she shared her concerns, Eustache allegedly told her that the prayer line was okay because it was “non-denominational.”
Thomas added that she also had problems with the prayer line. “If we had picked a specifically gay-friendly prayer line or done some research into, perhaps, something the Metropolitan Community Church does, I wouldn’t have been concerned,” she told Q-Notes. “But to just throw that out there and not know what their response might be to our LGBT kids … to me that is an issue.”
Pitts said she “forgot” to put the prayer line on the resource list before submitting it to the organization’s technical manager, who was charged with posting it on TOY’s website.
Lupie Duran, the owner of Lupie’s Café in Charlotte and a TOY donor and longtime supporter, is worried about the direction of the agency.
She said her biggest concern is the scuttlebutt she’s getting that Eustache has tried to keep herself publicly distanced from TOY.
“I’ve heard it floating around that Janine doesn’t even want her friends to know she works there,” Duran told Q-Notes. “Considering that I’ve seen Time Out Youth from the start and the way it was, I just don’t see that older direction anymore.”
Duran recalls when TOY founder Tonda Taylor was actively involved in the organization and the larger LGBT community. She said she got involved with the group when Taylor sought her help. This led to the continuing tradition of many of the youth eating at her restaurant after their weekly meetings.
“I don’t know Janine personally, but neither have I seen her interacting with youth at my restaurant like Tonda and other past Time Out Youth leaders used to,” Duran observed. “Tonda had her complete heart and soul in Time Out Youth and I don’t see that now.”
She added, “I [donated] in the past because I trusted Tonda and she was good at getting people involved.”
Ricky Burns II is the producer of the live Charlotte talk show “QueerView.” He believes TOY is “a good organization and still has the ability to help Charlotte’s gay youth.” However, he expressed concerns to Q-Notes over what he called TOY’s “new Christian leadership.”
He was also troubled by the agency’s lack of follow-up regarding a financial contribution from the show. The money was earmarked to fund emergency housing for LGBTQ youth.
“We have not heard from or gotten follow-up with what happened with the money … even though we did ask for an update from one of the leaders of the organization,” he said.
Sabrina Love, the host of “QueerView,” added, “Obviously they got the money because the check went through the bank, but we never got any confirmation from them after we sent it.”
On the other hand, Gary Mathis, the president of Southern Country, a major TOY donor group, told Q-Notes that his dealings with the agency have remained positive throughout Eustache’s tenure. In fact, he said he was unaware that there were even any rumblings of a controversy.
He did express concern when he realized that the agency might be experiencing internal strife.
“Time Out Youth has been the recipient of our funds for the last few years, so definitely that concerns me,” he said. “I feel a little caught off guard … we want to make sure the right people are leading [Time Out Youth].”
Southern Country sponsors the annual Queen City Stomp at The Charlotte Eagle. For the last few years, the group has donated a portion of its proceeds to TOY. On June 4, Southern Country presented TOY with a $10,000 check from the 2008 event.
Youth C, a longtime TOY member and participant in the agency’s speakers’ bureau program, echoed the common assertion that Eustache isn’t actively working to harm the organization. She just “doesn’t really understand the LGBTQ community,” he observed.
“The language she sometimes uses seems derogatory,” he continued. “Instead of saying, ‘I want you to talk about your LGBT experiences,’ she’ll say, ‘I want you to go here and talk about your gayness.’”
He also dismissed out of hand a claim that has been lobbed by a few — that Eustache is homophobic. “She wouldn’t work in a place where she has such close contact [with LGBT people] if she was,” Youth C said. “I just think she is very unaware … on [LGBT] matters.”
The TOY Board of Directors has indicated that they will continue to investigate the issues raised in this article. Q-Notes will continue to track the story and will report on new developments.
EDITORIAL: Time Out Youth, Adding insult to injury
Since its founding in 1991, Time Out Youth (TOY) has been one of the Charlotte LGBT community’s most important organizations and one of its finest resources. Thousands of LGBT and questioning youth have been guided through the challenging process of coming out and growing up during the agency’s 13 years of operation.
Because the mission of TOY is so vital, people pay attention when there are rumblings of trouble within the agency. When those rumblings turn into air raid sirens, as they have the last few months, a full investigation is warranted. This is what we have attempted to do with this issue’s cover story.