Reflections: My Experience at the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Conference, by Devin Green

Recently, I had the honor of being at the annual Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Conference. This conference is the largest gathering of LGBTQ officials in the country and is attended by hundreds of elected and appointed officials worldwide (many of whom are the first of their identities to be in their positions), activists, journalists, and policy experts. It’s also attended by people like me – a 20-year-old Black queer student who simply needed to be in a room full of successful and joyful queer leaders. I recently finished my first semester of law school and, although this conference was right before finals, I knew that not going when I had the chance was a bad idea.

So I went. And it was magic. I met queer people who I had looked up to for so long – Malcolm Kenyatta, Erin Reed, Leslie Herod, etc. – who brought powerful messages about what it means to be an activist and a leader. I had meaningful conversations in breakout sessions and plenaries about disability advocacy, reproductive justice, mental health, and how they interact with LGBTQ advocacy. On the first day of the conference, U.S. Representative Sharice Davids was asked where she finds hope despite the hate and violence queer people continue to face. She responded that seeing queer young people fighting every day makes her feel like we see a future for ourselves. Just four days prior, I was wrestling with a sermon about hope. I said to someone after that sermon, “I feel like I have too much to lose to be hopeful.” But then I thought about how I’ve been fighting for equity and justice for years. I thought about the way young people around the world have been fighting. Rep. Davids is right.

We’ve been fighting because we do see a future for ourselves.

We see a future where we are not only surviving but thriving.

We see a future paved by the elected and appointed officials at this conference. Even when that future seems far away, we are committed to demanding that future. How can you not be hopeful when you see that?

I’ve toyed with the idea of running for office for years, constantly changing my mind about whether that was what I was being called to do. One of the biggest things I appreciate about this conference and the Victory Institute is that there is a wholehearted belief that anyone can run for office. Vermont’s first transgender legislator told me directly, “We need you in that office. We need you to run.”

At the conference, I was talking with a former candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives about the struggles I had been facing this semester. She had a lot of great advice, but her parting words have stuck with me, “Thank you for being brave.” If anything, I thought she was the brave one. She had run for office, and I was just a law student that frequently had days I couldn’t even get out of bed. But, in the words of Mark Manson, “bravery is feeling the fear, the doubt, the insecurity, and deciding that something else is more important.” That’s why we do what we do. Whether it’s a law student talking to a law school administrator about how they need to better support and affirm queer students or the first openly trans man elected to U.S. state legislature talking about why he fights for his constituents, we advocate because equity and justice are more important than fear and insecurity. We do this work because advocacy saves lives. It saved mine.

 

PFLAG Charlotte Expands To Meet Growing Needs: Meet Our New Executive Director and New Board Chair

Charlotte – PFLAG Charlotte has become an integral part of the Charlotte community since its founding in 1987.  But the non-profit dedicated to supporting families, allies and LGBTQ+ people has especially seen demand for its services skyrocket in the past year, as families spent more time together during the pandemic.

To respond to increased community needs, PFLAG Charlotte is happy to announce new roles for two leaders who are very familiar to the PFLAG community.

Karen Graci will serve as PFLAG Charlotte’s first executive director. She will lead the organization’s efforts to strengthen families, empower LGBTQ+ allies, and elevate LGBTQ+ communities through peer support, education, and community outreach.

Previously, Graci served as board chair and president for PFLAG Charlotte. Earlier in her career, she worked with Deloitte in Washington, D.C., Wilton, Conn., and Charlotte, where her roles included manager of national recruiting.

“It’s an honor to be part of an organization where diversity is celebrated and all are valued,” Graci says. “We’re excited to expand our peer support programs and broaden our education and outreach efforts, while working collaboratively with other organizations to meet the increasing need in our community.”

Sarah Eyssen has been named PFLAG Charlotte board chair and chapter president. A volunteer with PFLAG Charlotte since 2015, Eyssen has more than a decade of experience in non-profit and board leadership. She holds a law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law. As a PFLAG Charlotte board member for the past several years, Eyssen has been an integral part of creating the board’s vision for 2021 and beyond.

Says Eyssen, “On my desk, a sampler stitched by my mother reminds me, “of my love be sure”. PFLAG began over 40 years ago because of another mother’s assurance of love for her child. It is in this same spirit that I serve. I am honored to be working toward a reality in which all LGBTQ+ individuals are affirmed in love.”

PFLAG Charlotte’s programs focus on peer support, education, outreach and advocacy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, PFLAG Charlotte has offered its programming online to meet the needs of families and organizations throughout the area.

Demand for support and education from PFLAG Charlotte has increased significantly since summer 2020, with a five-fold increase in requests for peer support, and more organizations taking advantage of the chapter’s ability to deliver remote programming. In the past year alone, more than 1,000 area professionals participated in a PFLAG Charlotte educational workshop.

About PFLAG Charlotte

PFLAG Charlotte is one of the more than 400 chapters of PFLAG National, the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents, families, and allies.

For LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones, PFLAG is known as a place to find community and support, to learn about the issues affecting LGBTQ+ people and how to be a better ally, and to work to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people.