My name is Doug Cooper (he/him). I am an Associate Professor of Psychology at Johnson C. Smith University and PFLAG Charlotte’s new Board Chair and President. I went to my first PFLAG Charlotte support group meeting in 2015 with my partner. We were expecting to learn more about how to be better allies to a gender diverse teenager. In that process, we also found community and belonging. I never imagined that I would join the board in 2018 or become Board Chair and President in 2023. As I step into this next chapter, I find myself incredibly grateful to my supportive partner who encourages my personal growth, a gender diverse adult who has given me the grace to learn what it means to be an ally, and to the PFLAG Charlotte members and stakeholders.
In every support group and workshop, one of our most important values is: “we meet you where you are.” We recognize that every allyship journey is unique and regardless of where you begin, we want to support your journey forward. In the last several years, we have learned that this value is both figurative and literal. Dedicated board members and volunteers started satellite support groups in North Meck and Union County to meet people closer to home. During the global pandemic we met people where they needed us: on screen in their living rooms and offices. Even though many of our events are back in person, PFLAG Charlotte continues to meet people where they are with new workshops, peer support in Spanish, and a soon-to-be-released podcast.
As I step into this role, I am acutely aware of how much we are needed right now and the importance of continuing the work to meet people where they are. I want to continue the discussions on how to provide support for marginalized communities and families in the surrounding Charlotte area. I want to continue to expand individual and corporate partnerships that serve our community. And I want to continue to empower the incredible work our team of professionals do every day to connect PFLAG Charlotte to the people who need us.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of a dedicated and skilled Board of Directors. We are lucky to have so many talented professionals join us in this important work. Our board includes members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies. They are professionals in finance, marketing, education, health care, and law. We all share is a deep commitment to the inclusion and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. I am excited to bring this new team together in August.
But the addition of seven new board members is bittersweet, as we bid farewell to two amazing board members who have been instrumental in PFLAG Charlotte’s growth. Over the past two years Sarah Eyssen (she/her) has served as the President and Board Chair. She has served on the board since 2015 and was one of the people who had the vision to make PFLAG Charlotte allyship workshops accessible to doctor’s offices, schools, or workplaces. Under her leadership PFLAG Charlotte has increased corporate sponsors and been able to hire a team of professionals to oversee the day-to-day operations.
Our Treasurer, Eileen Conlin (she/her), joined the board in 2019. She has guided us towards the financial stability needed to serve the greater Charlotte area with a dedicated team of paid professionals. But what I’ll remember most about Sarah and Eileen was when they met my family where they were. Like they have done on so many occasions for other families, they encouraged and supported our family’s journey and gave me the confidence to turn my journey into a new passion. In my new role, I hope to continue their legacy of leading with love and meeting all who need us where they are.