As January’s Women’s Marches showed, there are countless strong and influential women ready to effect change in the world. Locally, Charlotte, too, has some outstanding female leaders. In honor of Women’s History Month, qnotes wants to honor some of the local women who are paving the way for change, acceptance, and pride. These leading ladies have various backgrounds, but much in common; all are determined, hardworking women whose LGBTQ identities have not held them back from success.
One of Charlotte’s best-known restaurateur, Penny Craver owns Dish on Thomas Ave. and is the former owner of Tremont Music Hall. Craver says she owes her success to “the work ethic my family instilled in me.” An out and proud lesbian, Craver cultivates an open and accepting environment in her venues. The restaurant, she says, “is a safe place for all people to work, but there is an atmosphere where LGBT persons can feel welcome and accepted…Dish has proven that the important thing is that good people are good people whether they are gay, straight, tattooed, pierced, or purple haired. Anything else is just not that important.”
Currently a government attorney for the Department of Homeland Security, Teresa Davis also has countless creative pursuits. She hopes to publish a mystery novel, and has a number of writing pet projects including a self-help book, a musical comedy movie and a lesbian comedy that she hopes to submit to the Sundance Film Festival. If this overachiever seems to have diverse interests, that is surely the case; Davis was a professional pianist before obtaining her law degree. In addition to a thriving creative impulse, Davis’ intellect allows her to excel in her work as an attorney. She says, “the people I serve inspire my work. Whether it’s assisting clients at my day job, or enhancing the quality of Charlotte’s LGBTQ community through our volunteer programs and services, I work harder when the people I serve seem satisfied.”
Rev. Dawn Flynn
An inspirational pastor at New Life Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Gastonia, N.C., Rev. Dawn Flynn believes that her identity as a transgender woman was the key to God’s plan for her. It wasn’t easy to come to this point; Flynn overcame rejection from the Methodist churches she’d served for a decade upon announcing her transition. “I was going to commit suicide,” Flynn confessed, “until I was told in a dream to seek help from a professional therapist. I did and came to understand that my call to ministry was tied to my trans journey. My call is to reach out to the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community, and let them know that God loves them.” This is just what Flynn does now with New Life MCC — spread love and affirmation to a community that is often shunned by faith leadership.
As an entrepreneur and co-owner of Create-ster, a marketing agency based in Charlotte, Ann Gonzales is inspired daily by her clients, who are often new to the business world. “It’s always refreshing to see how passionate they are,” she said. Gonzales was moved to start her business when she became involved with the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, then called the Charlotte Business Guild. “It’s been such a great experience to be part of Charlotte’s LGBTQ footprint,” said Gonzales. She also hopes to network with others in the LGBTQ community with similar backgrounds. Gonzales has “started a new Facebook Group called the ‘Charlotte LGBT Asian American Alliance’ in hopes that more LGBTQ Asians in our community will want to connect and network.” It’s fair to say that this active and determined leader will continue to pave the way for other women in the LGBTQ community.
Currently working in application support, Gelissa Stitt, 43, describes herself as “a proud Black lesbian woman, who serves her community, treasures her family and is determined to make a positive difference in Charlotte and the world.” She pursues this difference by volunteering with St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church and St. Augustine University and is a board member of Charlotte Black Gay Pride. Stitt’s grandmother, Ella Talley, and her wife, LaWana Mayfield, opened Stitt’s eyes to the need for representation, both in the black community and in the LGBTQ community. From youth, Stitt “wanted to give back by volunteering and working in organizations that have the same values and mission that I have and that is to try make sure that my community is represented in a positive light within the LGBT community and beyond.”
Also an attorney, Connie Vetter, 52, has dedicated her career to fighting for LGBTQ rights and has “clients from every sexual orientation and walk of life.” Early on, Vetter knew that activism was her mission. “I had been going to marches and rallies, writing letters and making calls,” Vetter said. “When I thought about going to law school I realized I could combine my activism with a law degree that would allow me to work for change from inside the system as well as outside it.” Vetter was influenced by Brown v. Board of Education attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. Their battles encourage her to “try to keep learning about all who are treated as ‘less’ and working to change that.”
Another ambitious and successful entrepreneur, Dianna Ward owns the parent company Charlotte NC Tours, LLC, which extends through three states and comprises six businesses. In 2015 she was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Charlotte by The Mecklenburg Times. Ward says she’s inspired by her parents, who “were both trailblazers. My mom integrated Memphis State and was one of the Memphis State 8 and my Dad was a Mathematician and economist in the ‘60s.” Highly educated, Ward holds a Bachelor’s in Math and a joint Master’s in Statistics and Operation Research. But her true passion is “to help create a much more bike-friendly Charlotte. I would like to help people integrate cycling into their daily routines…I want to be a change agent in whatever I take on.” : :