Leading Ladies: Female board members help shape future of LGBTQ organizations

Women Share Thoughts on Past, Present and Future

When it comes to taking on the challenge of leading LGBTQ organizational boards, it’s often the women who take the onus in getting things done. The following Charlotte-area individuals share what it is like to accept that responsibility and reflect on their roles in helping to steer their entities in meeting their goals. Those who are featured are only a small sampling of the vast volume of volunteers who represent their respective organizations. Each brings their own perspective and skillset to the groups they serve.

Judith Jeffries

Vice Chair
RAIN

Judith A Jeffries worked for 20+ years at Carolinas HealthCare System. In 2017 Jeffries was appointed to the RAIN board serves as vice chair. She also serves on the board for the Center for Prevention Services. Jeffries earned an undergraduate degree in speech pathology and a graduate degree in instructional design from Marshall University. She also completed her Master’s work in audiology at Kent State University.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

Initially (I say this because it was the beginning of my real life), I finally came out after having a closeted mind set that was making me ill. Once I chose to live publicly, only then did I understand that the LGBTQ+ part of my life is just that, a part of my life. That allowed me to interact inclusively, to question and understand that “tolerance” is a dirty and very limiting word. I could bring my whole self to work and to RAIN. I was able to make inroads by co-founding the first LGBTQ+ system resource group at Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS), EqualityOne. Once we pushed our way to the surface, CHS finally started the journey of making changes in the lives of patients and families of the LGBTQ+ community. I am always ready to volunteer, to supplement, to network, to mentor or anything else any of these communities might need.

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

I am always willing to help people understand unconscious or implicit bias — sometimes whether they want to understand or not. I am not adverse to leave some strong words hand in the air to be caught by folks who might need to think differently. That does not mean I am an authority. I am not. I am learning, too. An area that is very challenging to myself and others is the difference between a welcoming organization or agency and an affirming organization or agency. Welcoming is a start, but is incomplete. It is the first step in a process, but often does not include education about the LGBTQ+ community, what preferred pronouns are about nor does it include a requirement to have inclusive signage at the bathroom entries. An affirming organization or agency, on the other hand, requires that staff be trained on inclusivity and equity and provides a visible display of that culture of inclusivity — all members, leadership included, bring their LGBTQ+ inclusive selves to work.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

This is important. I was approached by the newly formed Transparents group with a pediatric initiative. They needed to find a way to provide educational material to the families of pediatric patients who wanted to understand or questioned the needs of a transgender patient. I finally understood how marginalized these parents, caregivers and patients were. Dr. Laura Levin, pediatrician extraordinaire, and Ashley Nurkin, past president of Transparents, had a grant to develop and distribute educational materials. Their hope was to place them in the CHS Pediatric offices. They were met with resistance as if this did not really affect some pediatric patients and their families. I was a dog with a juicy bone. I encouraged the Diversity leadership group to listen to what they had to say. Still, we were voted down to distribute the pamphlets. Then I went to the Mecklenburg Medical Society. They recognized the necessity of getting these pamphlets into the waiting rooms. Score! At the same time, I recognized that I could bring this same energy to RAIN. I believe in their mission and vision, and I am always willing to share these stories.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

My hopes and aspirations for RAIN are all about working ourselves out of a job. I would like to go into any meeting or group and ask the question, “who here believes HIV/AIDS is no longer an epidemic?” and no one raises their hand. I want to see other non-profit board members be hands on and know the staff like RAIN does. I want to see the majority of our community be affirming of LGBTQ+ people. I will continue to volunteer to help shape our community into a more affirming community. Mentoring is an important part of the future for me. I am a mentor for Innovate Charlotte. I hope to see more LGBTQ+ entrepreneurial participation. Innovation rocks!

Paula Toynton

Board of Directors Member
Carolina CARE Partnership

Paula Toynton has worked in and with AIDS Service organizations since 1991. She holds a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Rutgers University.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

Since 1992, my professional work has been in community-based efforts to respond to the HIV epidemic. My overarching contributions have been in the development of effective community-based public health programs and education initiatives to facilitate individuals and communities to move toward greater health.

Chief among my contributions is the introduction of adult learning theory into national HIV prevention treatment education for people living with HIV, peer advocates, and community-based health and social service providers.
My other contribution has been my approach to the conversation. To first help people understand the intersectional stigmas and bias that historically and currently impede right action — allowing them to act on their better angels.

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

My focus on individual and community health is singular. Today, black LGBTQ folks are my concern. The challenges they face are intersectional, significantly driven by homophobia, racism and poverty.

Ironically, as a transplant resident to the South, I have come to see the persistent power disparities of race and economy in the South (most notably the lack of access to healthcare, lack of Medicaid expansion and lack of funding for social supports to engage in care) — more so than homophobia — as most damaging to the health of black LGBTQ people.

- - - advertisement - - -

Note, that I am not just speaking of the larger social culture, but within our own health and social justice efforts. Too often I have sat at tables of only well-meaning white folks like myself talking about the health of black LGBTQ and other communities. This cannot be our status quo — no matter how good our intentions.

My many years of work has taught me that individual and community health is best served by individual and community self-agency. Today, I think the best thing I can do is to advance black LGBTQ leadership in our community, and then, step back and take direction from that leadership on how I can lend my support.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

I lived in San Francisco from 1983 to 1988. There I witnessed the emergence of the HIV epidemic and the evolution of the community response to public fear, condemnation and the vacuum of political leadership. From there I landed in New Jersey that had an epidemic that was quite different and quite invisible. In New Jersey, 75 percent of the epidemic was related to injection drug use. It was also an epidemic of poor people of color.

In both cases, I saw historical parallelisms to my family legacy of Nazi Germany. (My mother grew up Nazi youth… that is another story.) To me, American’s sleeping through the night while this epidemic ravaged gay communities and communities of color was akin to German’s who slept as the trains carrying Jews rolled through town on their way to the KZ [concentration camps].

Before you object that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, I recognize the Holocaust was a sin of commission and the AIDS epidemic is not. But it made no difference to me. I was raised to believe that I was responsible for what I did with what I saw. And that is how I chose this path.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

The community has come far and I believe will continue to do so. I will continue to try to help people when and where I can. And I will always give my all to the work.

I am an optimist. I believe in the goodness of people once their fears have been allayed. I believe that every person we touch in our lives is a chance for a better tomorrow.

Erin Goldstein, MSW

Chair
Time Out Youth Center

Erin Goldstein has her Master’s degree in Social Work and works in community mental health with children and families. She is co-owner of Yas Queen Industries, LLC, a locally owned LGBTQA T-shirt company.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

When I stepped onto the board of Time Out Youth (TOY) in 2012, the female representation on the board was very small. One of the biggest goals that we started that year was to have more female and minority presentation on our board to represent the community that we serve. We have been very successful over the last six years in doing this. Not to mention, Time Out Youth has not had a female board chair in many years, and I am happy that I was able to step into this role. Over the years, I have been involved in other communities and programs in Charlotte (Jewish, mental health and community building initiatives), and have made a commitment to bring light to the issues that our LGBTQA community face living in N.C. My role as a leader in the Charlotte community is to educate and advocate for those that do not have a voice. I have also worked extensively with different teen communities in Charlotte on leadership development involving inclusion and equity. I am currently working on a project with O’Neale Adkinson on leadership development for the youth involved with TOY. We are creating a leadership development program for young people to teach them essential skills to being adult trailblazers in the next few years.

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

I think one of the hardest things that I have experienced as a female leader in the LGBTQ community is the lack of female participation in these organizations. I believe that things have gotten better over the last five years, however, we still have ways to go. One of the solutions to that challenges is to continue to work to educate the female members of our LGBTQ community to get involved. There are so many levels for a person to be involved in our organizations that it is not an all or nothing issue. Also, I have found that if a person does not feel that they can support an organization financially, then they feel they are automatically not going to be able to get involved. In my book, volunteering time is just as great as giving money. Our organizations need people that can do both of these things and clearing up those misconceptions is something very important to me.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

Honestly, I was sick of just being a social member of the LGBTQ community. I was out at a bar one night and my now dear friend, Steven Wilson, found me and said “we would like for you to apply to be on the TOY Board of Directors.” I said “OK!” It was just time for me to stop complaining and do something to help our community. I couldn’t be happier with that decision as it has shaped who I am as a parent, community member and person. I remember thinking back a long time ago, in another life of mine, prior to my marriage and child, that I was not doing anything to help. I am a helper, and when I was finally in the right space to be able to make change, I took it as a personal charge to do so.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

I am so hopeful about our LGBTQA community. We have so much potential in our community right now. We have budding and mature organizations that need new blood and new ideas. It is my personal goal at Time Out Youth, and future organizations that I will be involved in, to breathe new life/ideas, challenge old ways of thinking and be an agent of change. I am also committed to fundraising to ensure that the visions of the staff of these organizations can come to fruition. As a board member, I have made a commitment to Time Out Youth that the board will be able to ensure financial and organizational stability so that our organization is around for our future leaders, my child and long after I am gone.

Ciara Lilly

Vice President, Internal Affairs
Director, LGBTBE Certification and Supplier Diversity
Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Ciara Lilly is the president of the business consulting firm Higher Ground Consulting Group

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

I would say that the best thing I’ve done to affect change in the LGBTQ community is setting an example of what’s possible when you live authentically and boldly.

If we’re honest, I think most people in the LGBTQ community, especially in less progressive areas, are afraid of the consequences associated with living authentically. There’s a fear that, in doing so, our success, and, perhaps, even our wellbeing, may be compromised. That fear is real and should not be minimized.

I chose to live authentically and with a level of transparency to equip young girls with the courage to follow suit. I wanted them to look at my life and think, “It is possible for me to be happy, successful and fulfilled without compromising my true identity.”

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

I believe one of the largest challenges we face as LGBTQ women is ensuring that our voices are represented and heard around political and corporate tables. It’s one thing to have a seat at the table, it’s another thing to have a voice at the table. Without using our voice, we cannot influence change. If we cannot influence change, we cannot break the glass ceiling that hinders other LGBTQ women and diverse populations from accessing opportunities.

Aside from using my voice to influence change, I’ve also made it a priority to mentor other LGBTQ young women as they navigate through life’s journey.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

I chose to join the board of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, because I saw the very important work they were doing, and I wanted to contribute my time, talent and resources in whatever way would add value. And I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Serving in my current capacity as vice president, Internal Affairs and director, LGBTBE Certification and Supplier Diversity, I’m able to work directly with our small business members and corporate partners. One of our greatest successes has been helping to certify several local LGBT-owned businesses as LGBT Business Enterprises. This certification positions them for access to contracting opportunities with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s (NGLCC) network of corporate partners. In other words, we’re taking one collective step to help them grow their businesses.

This is the kind of work that makes you excited to serve; and you know what the best part is? It’s only going to get better with time!

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

- - - advertisement - - -

I would like to see more unity amongst and mutual support within the LGBTQ community. When it comes to the critical work that each of us is doing, eliminating zero-sum thinking is key to our success. To that end, accessibility is really what makes or breaks support systems, whether that’s emotional support between friends or support in developing small businesses. If people can’t find your resources or feel like those resources aren’t available to them, they can’t benefit from them. This is what I aim to do and will continue to do in all aspects of my work. It’s also important to note that this doesn’t mean you have to be everything for everybody, but if I know of a resource that would help someone else out or a leadership position that would be a great fit for another member of the community, I’m always happy to share it with others. I’d encourage others to do the same because we all benefit from a diverse and well-supported leadership community.

Amanda Vestal

Board of Directors, Head Coach
Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Club

Amanda Vestal graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with her Bachelors degree in Computer Science. She is currently a project manager for a technology company.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

I have been the head coach of the Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Club for the last 12 years. I have served on the board for the Royals for the past 10 years. During my time as an active member of the Royals we have not only increased our participation in the LGBTQ community, but as a team we take pride in being an active members in the Charlotte community as a whole. As a board member we have sent players to high schools to talk to GSA groups, and as a coach, I have guided players to be leaders, not only on our team, but in the LGBTQ community. As an organization we have volunteered for numerous causes and organizations like Time Out Youth, Charlotte Youth Rugby and Toys for Tots.

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

As an LGBTQ woman in the community, I think LGBTQ women separate ourselves into small groups and very rarely break away from our friend groups. I participate in a variety of groups/organizations and invite friends from all of my social groups to attend together, get to know each other and increase awareness. I believe my participation with The Charlotte Royals has given me the confidence to put myself out there and be an active member of the LGBTQ community.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

have always been a person that likes to be involved in something greater than myself. I grew up in a family that is involved in politics in Iowa and learned to give back at a very young age. When I couldn’t play rugby or sports anymore because of injury, there was a place for me to coach this new team, right when I moved to Charlotte. Since being with the team for the last 12 years, I have been through almost 10 years of leadership changes. That has been a challenge, but because we have committed team members and auxiliary members, we continue to be relevant. Being a female in a male organization is not always, easy but the leadership team is open and receptive to new ideas.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

I think watching this team grow into an organization over the last 12 years has shown me exactly what our community can do. We have young leaders that want to step up to the plate. We have community members that have been around for a long time and are committed to seeing our LGBTQA organizations sustain and be around for future generations. It takes all kinds of people, with different backgrounds and skill sets to ensure that our organizations are sustainable and functioning. I am always willing to help and do my part. Even when/if my time with the Royals comes to an end, I will be willing to help any organization that lights my fire and wants my help. My wife and I have made a commitment to be change agents of our Charlotte LGBTQA community and continue to show our son that volunteerism is one of our most important values.

Jane G. Clark

Board of Directors Member
Carolinas CARE Partnership

Jane G. Clark is a principal consultant of ClarKinetics Consulting & Associates in North Carolina. She received her Master’s degree in Public Administration and her Bachelor’s degree in Letters from the University of Oklahoma.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

I am a state and nationally recognized speaker on minority health issues, particularly behavioral health. I serve on the board of Carolinas CARE Partnership, a local non-profit with a mission to “foster and ensure a regional approach to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and to meet with compassion and dignity the needs of those affected by the disease.” And, I research and write grants for prevention programs (substance use prevention; HIV/AIDS prevention; violence prevention; etc.)

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

As an LGBTQ ally the largest challenge I see is the ongoing existence of stigma. Not just stigma surrounding the HIV/AIDS but also stigma around sexuality, and not just in the broader community but sometimes also within the LGBTQ community itself.

As a public and behavioral health professional, I also see the challenge of adequate federal or state funding to preventive programs, especially around stigmatized areas such as sexuality and behavioral health. Our country puts a lot of money towards research and cure but if we had even half of those amounts towards prevention we’d see significant increases in public health.

I try to be part of the solution to those challenges by being unafraid to identify them when needed, and call others out gently on false assumptions when needed.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

I don’t believe something is a failure if there was a lesson gained from the experience. For me, I’ve been motivated to maintain the courage of my convictions because I see that even one person can make a difference toward creating more kindness and acceptance in the world. I believe we can all “lead by example.” It’s not enough to just say I want to contribute to a better world, I also believe I must take action to create that better world. We are each on this planet with our own unique skills and talents, and the world needs all of those from all of us!

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

I will continue serving my LGBTQ friends and community through volunteerism and advocacy, grant writing, and speaking freely and openly about so-called “uncomfortable” topics. Stigma can’t survive the power of openness and love for the people around you.

Nan Bangs

Vice President
Charlotte Pride

Nan Bangs is a senior director for environment, health and safety for Collins Aerospace headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from the University of Maine and an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is a retired commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, a role in which she supported 9/11, Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and the BP oil spill cleanup activities.

What have you done to affect change in the LGBTQ community and/or what are some examples of that?

I think there are two things that standout in my mind that I feel have had an impact on the LGBTQ community. First, I retired from the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in 2014. A typical retirement ceremony includes your spouse and family. During that retirement ceremony the captain of my sector asked if there was anyone that I wanted to include in my ceremony, so I had my wife and son be part of that, and they were recognized in the same manner as any other spouse and family.

The second event was when I participated in an LGBTQ executive panel with my employers, there were three of us, and this panel was broadcasted globally and live. We all shared our experiences and struggles as we navigated through our careers from the mid 1980s through the present. At the end of the panel, the most impactful comment to me was when a father (an ally) stood up and stated that he “now realizes that his daughter will not be limited in her career because she is a lesbian” and thanked us for forging the path to make it possible for the next generation to be their true self.

As an LGBTQ or allied woman in the community, what do you see as some of the largest challenges that beset us and what are you doing to help bring about a solution to those challenges?

I was raised in the North, but live in the South. There is still much work to be done. We have come a long way. In the 30 plus years that I have been part of the community, the acceptance of LGBTQ people has progressed significantly. I still believe, however, that there is strength in numbers, and we have to come together as a community to make more changes. I know that at Charlotte Pride we have a focus this year to bring in more women’s programming to help create that sense of community. As a board member, it is my hope to help influence and facilitate this process.

What brought you to volunteer for the community and what kinds of successes have you experienced? Any failures that helped shape or redirect your trajectory?

I have had a very positive experience with volunteering with Charlotte Pride. We have grown in our programming and are really trying to make a difference. We have a scholarship program, we coordinate the film festival and our biggest event is the Pride festival and parade. There are always opportunities to improve. It was only last year that we were able to hire two full-time individuals, who work very hard every day. I am not sure though that people realize that the vast majority of the people on the board and on Charlotte Pride committees are volunteers.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the community? What will you be willing to do to help bring those goals into fruition?

I would really like more women’s events and programs for our community. That is my focus for the upcoming year and the future — to create opportunities for women to gather, network and socialize. To kick it off, we are hoping to create a women’s pool party the Friday night before the festival weekend. Anyone who is interested with volunteering to make this happen please reach out to me at Charlotte Pride.

- - - advertisement - - -

Posted by Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director. She can be reached at specialassignments@goqnotes.com and 704-531-9988, x205.