Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is the founder and executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE). She founded CSE in 2011 and has worked on LGBTQ rights campaigns since 2011.
The North Carolina native is a Brown University graduate and also received a Master’s of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. She is a published author and also serves as a minister in the United Church of Christ.
qnotes had the pleasure to speak with Jasmine to learn more about her work with CSE as well as what she does outside of her LGBTQ rights efforts.
As the founder of CSE, what are some of your roles and responsibilities?
I love my job because no two days are the same, and that’s been true for almost 10 years since we launched CSE. It’s a mix of being an organizer, working on communications, strategy, supporting our staff team, working with community members and fundraising.
What inspired you to develop CSE?
I’m a queer person from the South and I knew what was possible here — how ready people were to take action, how brave people were and how real and urgent people’s needs were.
What sort of backlash, if any, have you received from members of the public who oppose CSE?
Over the years we have experienced the same kind of backlash as other groups — periodic hate mail and threats.
What are some of the positive outcomes of CSE that have taken place thus far?
We are honored to have helped lead efforts to win marriage equality in the South. We have served more than 4,200 people with our free direct service clinics. We have given out more than $240,000 in grassroots grants to support LGBTQ people organizing in their hometowns. We have been able to help pass pro-LGBTQ policies in school systems, cities and counties, and at the state level. But above all of this, we have had the great honor of working with thousands of people across the South — hearing their stories, supporting them as they take a stand, helping to amplify their stories.
What are some of the challenges you faced in getting CSE off the ground?
We were a true start-up when we launched— we had about $500 in the bank and worked out of my living room. We were using new strategies and had a new analysis about working in the South — some people were really responsive and excited and some people thought we had it wrong.
With parts of the South being especially intolerant of the LGBTQ community, and as the founder of a movement toward LGBTQ equality, are you ever fearful of retaliation or concerned for you and your family’s safety?
I am very aware of the tremendous sacrifices that so many leaders have made in the past, including actual violence and threats to their families. And I’m aware that right now, it is transgender women of color and LGBTQ youth who face the greatest risks of violence and harassment in our community — so we focus a lot on how to support these members of our community around safety issues.
Aside from your tireless efforts with CSE, what else do you do in a professional capacity?
I serve as a county commissioner in Buncombe County, N.C. I also serve as a chaplain for the Echoing Green Foundation.
What is your favorite thing about living in the Carolinas?
There are too many to name, but top 10 would be: the heat, Tarheels basketball, Carolina Courage soccer, Carolina Panthers football, barbecue, coleslaw, all the food, the beaches, the mountains, backroads, the music — so much good music, and being a swing state.
What is your least favorite thing about living in the Carolinas?
I really can’t think of anything. I love it here, it’s home.
Have you ever considered living somewhere other than the Carolinas?
I’ve lived a lot of places — Providence, R.I.; St. Louis, Mo.; Falls Church, Va.; Bristol, England; Jackson, Miss.; Boston, Mass.; and San Francisco, Calif. But I always came back home to North Carolina.
As a mom of three, did you always aspire to have a big family?
I always wanted to be a mom, and it’s an awesome blessing and adventure to have three kiddos with Meghann.
What is your favorite color?
What are some of you and Meghann’s favorite places to dine?
In Asheville — Papas and Beer, Farm Burger, Biscuit Head, Luella’s, Penny Cup Coffee and Button and Co. Bagels.
What are some of your and your family’s favorite vacation spots?
Any beach, anywhere — but especially on the North and South Carolina coasts.
How do you juggle your personal and professional life?
The way you juggle anything — throw something in the air, keep an eye on it, catch it, sometimes drop it, pick it up, repeat it all : )
When faced with adversity and opposition, what do you do to maintain tenacity and motivation?
Faith is my anchor and the first place I go in times of adversity. I’m also continually inspired by the people we work with all across the South and the many giants of civil rights work, like John Lewis, who have come before us — their courage, hope, and tenacity inspire and motivate me.
What is your favorite hobby or pastime?
Running and hanging out with my family.
Aside from politics, what are some of your other interests and passions?
Celebrity gossip. Sports of all kinds. Storage solutions. Writing. Reading. Working out. Watching movies and cooking shows, and binging on TV shows.
Do you have a role model or icon to whom you look up to or aspire to be like?
I have many. Right now, I’m thinking about Rep. John Lewis every day — he has been a hero of mine from the very first time I learned about him.
What is your biggest fear and why?
I am very, very afraid of snakes. My five-year-old has discovered this, so he talks about snakes at every available opportunity and actively daydreams about getting a King Cobra as a pet.