In 1997, John Stotler was just another new face in a crowd of young professionals streaming into town. Charlotte was in the midst of its climb toward Uptown banking power and prestige.
More than a decade later, John’s still here. So are the banks. Well, sort of. Charlotte has seen a tremendous amount of change, some positive and some negative, over the past 10 years. Socially, politically, demographically and economically — the Queen City we call home today is not the same community that existed in 2000.
Soon after moving to Charlotte, Stotler started volunteering with OutCharlotte, once a vibrant LGBT arts and cultural festival. Stotler later served two years on the festival’s committee, with one year of that as co-chair. He also served on the festival’s main board. Later, he joined other community members in helping to organize Charlotte Pride, which ran until the Center’s own Pride Charlotte replaced it in 2006.
Stotler, who joined the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte Board of Trustees in 2008, succeeded Denise Palm-Beck as chair of the board this July. His involvement with the Center, however, traces as far back as its first steps toward organizing. Stotler was one of several community members who served various roles in focus groups designed to formulate the future Center’s mission, activities and other logistical concerns. Stotler leant his hand in discussions on the Center’s technological needs.
Now, as chair, Stotler says he’s excited about his continued opportunity to serve and hopes to push the Center into a more open, responsive role in the community.
“We want to offer things that are of benefit to the community,” he says. “What does the community need or want? We toss around ideas on things that we think may be of benefit to the community but I’d like to figure out someway to get feedback from the community for what they want.”
That chance for open feedback, Stotler says, is long overdue: “It’s been 10 or 11 years now since those original town halls where we got together and said this is something we want from our Center,” he says.
Stotler’s idea for a forum or other avenue for discussion is a breath of fresh air, especially considering many community members’ perceptions of a closed- and sealed-off Center unresponsive to the community’s needs or invisible and inactive within the local LGBT community and city-at-large.
Stotler’s aware of those perceptions and, in general, he says they aren’t true. But, perception is reality for many — working to overcome those notions will take diligent efforts to communicate from both ends.
“I want the community to know that the Center is here for the community,” he says. “If there are people in the community who want to see the Center do things, then we need to know about that. If that has been communicated to the Center in the past and nothing’s been done about it, I need to know that, too.”
Stotler adds, “We are definitely looking at ways we can highlight and get information out to the community about what we are doing.”
New leadership at the Center comes at a time when the group has been facing unique challenges. First and foremost, Stotler says, is the economy.
“That’s the obvious challenge,” he relates. “Any non-profit organization trying to maintain any level of service to the community, whatever community it serves, is going to have a lot of challenges now. Over the past couple years, Charlotte has been particularly hit hard with the banks and the changes to the banks. People are unsure in the community about their jobs and where that’s going. That’s impacted their giving, their volunteering.”
Stotler says he thinks the economy has crossed over a critical hump and that the outlook is getting better. “People are starting to feel a lot more confident about things,” he says.
Board members, he adds, also see challenges in better utilizing their physical space at the NC Music Factory. “We’ve got a wonderful space and there’s a lot of times it could be used for other organizations’ events or community activities,” he says. “We’re looking at options for partnering with other groups and doing more at the Center.”
Despite the challenges, Stotler says he’s encouraged by his organization’s several accomplishments over the past few years. Among those, he says, is the continuing GayCharlotte Film Festival. This year, the festival teamed up with the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival and mainstream Charlotte Film Festival. Such partnerships open the Center up to new faces and support, Stotler says.
He’s also encouraged by the Center’s Pride Charlotte, which has run smoothly for several years now, and the Center’s hosting of civic events like MeckPAC candidate receptions and the recent town hall forum with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe. Those types of relationships are continuously needed, Stotler says.
“The Center wants to do more to support relationships in our community,” he says. “Maybe we can do a monthly program or something more regular. We have talked about bringing in the mayor and giving him the opportunity to speak to the community and build a relationship there as well.”
Stotler stresses that internal community- and relationship-building is just as important as any relationship created with straight allies or those outside of the community. Outreach from the Center, he says, will be step one: “We are definitely looking at ways we can highlight and get information back out to the community about what we are doing.” : :
About the Center
820 Hamilton St., Suite B11
Charlotte, NC 28206
Board of Trustees
John Stotler, Board Chair
Teresa Davis, Secretary
Frank Kalian, Treasurer
Feedback or questions?
For general feedback or questions
regarding the Center, email
Fred Brazzell, Center administrator, at
— by Matt Comer