In a political moment as dire as ours, it can be difficult to think about anything except the looming elections and their impact on the future of our country. At Equality North Carolina (ENC), we are certainly in the thick of it this year, having endorsed over 123 candidates going into the recent primary election.
However, ENC also has a number of non-electoral programs that we’re extremely proud of, including our Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship led by ENC Education Policy Coordinator Rebby Kern. The RYE Fellowship is a year-long mentorship and training program for LGBTQ young people hailing from rural areas of North Carolina. Through the generous support of Bank of America, ENC supports RYE Fellows in executing a social justice project serving rural communities while developing leadership skills over the course of a year.
ENC believes in the radical importance of investing in LGBTQ young people who seek to transform the culture of our state — and our world. Young people are leaders of our movement and integral to our shared goals of building a world where all folks marginalized by power and privilege can not only survive, but thrive.
Please meet our current class of fellows below and head to our website to learn more about the RYE Fellowship and ways you can support these emerging leaders.
Gray Rodgers, 24 (they/he)
Chapel Hill, NC
“The WISE Project: Welcoming Intergenerational Social Enrichment in the LGBTQ Community”
The WISE Project will address ageism in the local LGBTQ community by creating more accessible intergenerational spaces and fostering intergenerational relationships. The program will connect LGBTQ folks from all generations to share their stories, wisdom and lived experiences through community receptions, an organized peer support program, and story-telling events across the triangle. The WISE Project launched with a community reception hosted by SAGE on Feb. 29 in Chapel Hill (details to be announced and included soon). Aims of the WISE Project include reduced social isolation, increased LGBTQ peer support, increased knowledge of LGBTQ history and increased mental health outcomes among participants. For more details or interest in participating in the WISE Project contact Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asher Warg, 20 (he/him)
“We Have Always Been Here: Archiving the LGBTQ+ High Country Experience”
This project aims to create a working archive of LGBTQ+ experience in the High Country. Working in tandem with the Appalachian State University Special Collections, we plan to find evidence of queer life in the area and on the campus and compile the rich LGBTQ+ history of the area. We then plan to begin reaching out to LGBTQ+ individuals who wish to share oral histories or other important physical artifacts related to LGBTQ+ experience. This project works to complicate the notion that LGBTQ+ life is restricted to urban areas.
The creation of this archive will provide an important collection to be used as a resource for activists, LGBTQ+ individuals and researchers who are interested in LGBTQ+ life. We plan to offer this collection to students/faculty/staff at Appalachian State University, as well as to all people within the area who may be interested. Once the archive begins to hold substantial information, I plan to reach out to local organizations and students who study Sociology, Psychology, Education and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies (etc.) to bring attention to this new resource. The Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies program has already reached out to share excitement for the development of this archive to compliment their program. If permitted, I would love to share access to this with local schools and K-12 students who may wish to see the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals who came before them.
Hailey “Ruby” Hernandez, 18 (she/they)
“Queer Gone South Zine”
Ruby’s project is a collaborative zine: Queer Gone South. It includes a digital and published platform centering on queer individuals of all ages in the Clayton community, the South and other Rural Areas. This zine strives to unearth our queer history, present and future in the South. Queer Gone South makes every effort to amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community and honors the intersections of race, ethnicity and so on. It strives to carve out a space for black, brown and indigenous queer youth by recognizing the multifaceted-ness within the community. Queer Gone South pays homage to the ones that came before this moment, to those who have arrived now and the ones that will come after this moment. The project does so by tailoring a zine that belongs to all of us. Ruby’s hope is that every individual within the queer community to find a piece of themselves on these pages, in the art, in the writing and in the narrative. Participants of Queer Gone South will feel seen and heard, as part of something important and worth sharing. The outcome consists of gathered resources, of the sharing of information, our individual experiences, our queer history in the South, empowerment through digital/visual art, poetry, other forms of writing, comics and whatever else makes you feel seen. Ultimately, Ruby hopes to create a source and platform that belongs to and made by queer individuals in the South — something to give LGBTQ+ youth (especially) the things necessary to empower, lead and heal.
Andrew Snavely, 28 (they/he/she)
“Southern Hospitality Guide & Queer Youth Support Group”
This project will focus on the creation of a “Southern Hospitality Guide” for the AMY (Avery, Mitchell, Yancey) Tri-County region. The guide will be a resource available in print and online to queer youth and adults for identifying LGBTQ-friendly local businesses and services in the area. It will also include tips for inclusive businesses, a glossary of terms and a list of additional resources available through GLSEN, the Trevor Project and PFLAG. In addition to this guide, the project will include a bi-monthly support group for queer youth.
The queer youth group will provide a safe environment for LGBTQ+ youth to be themselves, build peer-to-peer support networks and get connected to any resources they are seeking in an area that still lacks GSAs in most schools. Creating the “Southern Hospitality Guide” provides an opportunity for increased awareness and visibility in the community around LGBTQ+ needs and issues. Most importantly, this guide helps break down the narrative of isolation and rejection in the rural community, signaling how LGBTQ+ folks belong and are welcomed into the AMY Tri-County region.
Liam Waller, 20 (he/him)
“Bridging gaps to affirming health care for gender-variant patients”
Liam’s project will focus on collaborating with local health care providers and helping professionals in Boone, N.C. in order to improve access to affirming healthcare for transgender, non-binary and gender variant folks. This project will include workshops, resources and information geared toward helping professionals on best practices. Alongside this, Liam aims to generate a resource guide for transgender, non-binary and gender variant folks that includes information about the providers and helping professionals that have received training on providing affirming care.