In June 2012, same-sex marriage marriage was established in all fifty states in the United States after a landmark ruling by Supreme Court. After the ruling, members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies everywhere celebrated across the globe—even the White House was lit up in rainbow colors in honor of the ruling. Many saw this as the first domino to the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, after this, housing rights and workplace rights would come rolling in. After the ruling, all of our work will be smooth sailing from now on. But now, five years later, the great work has just begun.
We are nine students from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of us are from Georgia, with others from elsewhere. One of us was born in Germany, and another was raised in Venezuela, yet we all find community among ourselves in trying to make the world a better place. All of us are seasoned volunteers, but this trip was going to be something different—we were going behind the scenes to discover the structures that make human rights non-profits substantial.
On Sunday, we took the trip from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina to begin our service with Campus Pride. When we came upon the business complex that housed Campus Pride’s offices, most of us were exhausted from the early start time. By the time Shane came into the room and began to tell us about himself and the mission of Campus Pride, we perked right up. He, clad in a humble zip-up hoodie and black slacks, was a best-selling author and civil rights hero.
That day through the rest of the week, we began our service in the office working on various projects. One group was assigned in updating a list of scholarships for the LGBTQ+ community; another revamping the website and responding to constituent concerns; one to tweet and post on Campus Pride’s social media calling for support and donations; and one to come up with some promotional videos for Campus Pride on Give Out Day 2018, the national day to give to LGBTQ+ non-profits and organizations. Occasionally the office was busy with talk and strategy, yet most of the time you could only hear the air conditioning and the clunking and clicking of the keyboards.
The following day, we went over and visited Time Out Youth. Time Out Youth, a youth center in Charlotte, offers support, advocacy, and opportunities for personal and professional development for LGBTQ+ youth as well as a safe and positive environment for them to thrive. As the only LGBTQ+ youth center between Atlanta and D.C., the non-profit plays a significant role in the Southeast community. Their Associate Director of Youth Programs and Services, James Rice, led us through the space. Exuberant, eccentric, and engaging, James couldn’t have been a better tour guide. In the Time Out Youth space, he showed us through their offices and facilities. For those who are looking for a home away from home, this is the place to be—it was a multi-purpose space complete with TVs, computers, a library, as well as multiple board and video games for young people to participate and unwind in. They have a closet dedicated to transgender individuals looking for clothes that fit their identity, a pantry full of toiletries and basic necessities, and multiple other resources.
At the location, we assisted in organizing their closets full of decorations, supplies, and games as well as doing research for decorating a bulletin board for Trans Day of Visibility. What struck us most about our visit there was the amount of commitment that each employee had in their work at the center. For the employees, this wasn’t just another 9 to 5 job, this was work that was not only entertaining but also made a difference in their young lives.
For the rest of the week, we spent time continuing our projects at Campus Pride’s offices. It was hard work—most of it working spreadsheets, answering voicemails, editing videos, and doing research. It wasn’t all office work though. On Wednesday, we got the opportunity to attend a drag performance at Boulevard 1820, the “Premier Drag Dining Restaurant and Bar.” Some of us had already been to a drag performance, while others were experiencing live drag for the first time. There was sass, snarky quips, “YAS BITCH”s, and enough spins and sashays to keep us on the edge of our seat.
What we gained most of all though was a sense of unified and empowered community. By the end of the week, we witnessed the amount of dedication and hard work needed to work at a non-profit. Through Shane’s leadership, we’d gained understanding over all the facets and modes advocacy can take when pushing for equitable rights in the South. The South may not have as many resources as LGBTQ+ non-profits do in big cities, but what the South lacks in resources, we make up for in our spirit and dedication.
On this trip, we’ve done many fun and just silly things. Luis, a student on the trip, commented, “You can be stupid, you can make jokes, and you can be fun—but there’s always meaning underneath it all.” In one of our promotional videos, we created a mock United Nations: the United Gaytions. As our trip leader Caleb puts it, “all Gaytions under Gaga, indivisible, with glitter and love for all.” Though we may have fun while doing our service, like Luis said, there is something fundamentally meaningful about what we do here. Though there is still much work to be done in the LGBTQ+ community, allies and advocates should never back down to the hard road ahead. When we arrive back in Atlanta, we’ll take these lessons of advocacy and non-profit knowhow back home, but not without a little glitter and love for all.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.