Celebrating Local LGBTQ Leaders: Jerry Yelton of Charlotte Pride

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — June 1, 2020 — 5 min read
Jerry Yelton (he/him/they/them) moved to Charlotte in 2017 and wanted to get involved in the LGBTQ community right away. He first started working with qnotes, an LGBTQ arts, entertainment, and news publication that focuses on the Carolinas. He then joined Charlotte Pride as their full-time programs and development director.

Yelton said, “My role involves having meetings with our community partners and putting together events and programs that will uplift and make our community visible.” However, Yelton, like other Charlotte Pride staff, works with almost all parts of the organization. “I do a little bit of everything.”

A New Leader in Charlotte’s LGBTQ Community

In 2018, Yelton received a Fierce 5 Award for his work at Charlotte Pride.

Yelton explained, “This award acknowledged the work that Charlotte Pride was doing to invest in full-time staff who worked to create programming, to make sure the Pride festival was succeeding, and to consider intersectional* issues. We wanted to make sure every part of our community felt included.”

*Intersectionality is the overlapping nature of social categories like race, sex, gender identity, class, ability, and sexual orientation. For example, there are many people who are both women and black. Therefore, black feminism focuses on the racial and gender issues that specifically black women face. There are many intersections of categories, and the best organizations try to make sure all intersections feel seen.

Yelton discussed the ways in which Charlotte Pride has included more identities, sexual orientations, race, and abilities.

“A lot of times LGBTQ spaces focus on one or two stories, typically white gay men. As a non-binary person, it was important for me to see those identities of myself and to make sure that our black and brown siblings were more visible.”
(pictured: Jerry Yelton second from right with Charlotte Pride members)

Mental Health and the LGBTQ Community

“Mental health is a personal passion of mine as someone with depression and anxiety—especially during times like COVID-19.”

Charlotte Pride Connects You to Valuable Resources

Yelton explained that to support those who are a part of the less mainstream LGBTQ groups, Charlotte Pride creates smaller activities within their general LGBTQ events. This way those who need specific resources feel seen and can be a part of the greater LGBTQ community.

“An example is the Trans Day of Remembrance. We have hosted this along with Time Out Youth, Transcend Charlotte, PFLAG Charlotte, and other community organizations to honor trans (transgender) people who have been killed or lost their lives in the past calendar year. We always make sure to have some licensed therapists on site to help those at the event unpack what they might be feeling. Then they can leave the space feeling able to connect to new resources.”

LGBTQ and Mental Health—You Are Not Alone

By being more inclusive and offering these resources, Charlotte Pride and LGBTQ organizations are helping those with mental illness connect with others who may be experiencing the same thing.

“With mental health, it’s so important to realize that you’re not completely by yourself.”

Inclusivity, Disabilities, and the LGBTQ Community

Along with helping those with mental illness and substance use disorder, we also help families and individuals that have intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).

When asked about the LGBTQ community’s work toward creating more accessibility for those with disabilities, Yelton replied, “There’s always more to be done. That’s the core of our work. We’ve been continually trying to develop our accessibility by creating captioning and creating accessible spaces at our events for those diagnosed with disabilities. We are just finding more ways to be aware of those with varying abilities and how they can still interact with the work we do.”

Listening and Responding to Calls for More Accessibility in LGBTQ Spaces

“I think a lot of the changes have come through social media-driven attention.”

Yelton explained that someone in a marginalized group might say that they’re not feeling included. “Chances are, the person who’s being asked has simply never thought of it before because they don’t reflect that identity.”

Changes in the North Carolina LGBTQ Community

“I think LGBTQ organizations are doing a lot more to make sure everyone, not just one group, feels a part of the LGBTQ community.” Yelton has seen that spaces throughout North Carolina have become more accepting and affirming of the LGBTQ community through policy and the electing of LGBTQ government officials. The presence of more LGBTQ organizations alone has made a huge difference.

“Over the past 10 years, I’ve watched a lot of progress that has been built on the backs of many trans, black, brown, and queer (LGBTQ) folks over many decades prior.”

How to Be an LGBTQ Ally

Speak Up When You Hear Something Wrong

“When you hear something homophobic, transphobic, racist, ableist—speak up. Don’t let it slide, no matter the situation. That means with family, friends, social media, or in your workplace,” Yelton said.

The best way to respond? Say, “I don’t like that and here’s why…”

Yelton continued, “Every time you say this, you’re planting a seed of doubt in that person’s mind.”

Be Aware of Your Own Word Choice

You can be more LGBTQ inclusive in your language by making small changes every day—like respecting someone’s pronouns (him/her/they).

“You may not think these changes are that important. But when a queer or trans person hears you use inclusive language on purpose, it makes a huge difference to them. They are looking for that, to see you as a safe space and a resource,” Yelton said.

Being an LGBTQ Ally in the Workplace

An easy way to be an ally at work? Yelton had a suggestion.

“One of my favorites is putting your pronouns in your email signature. It’s a simple change. That way when trans or gender nonconforming people use pronouns you may not expect, they feel more comfortable and accepted doing so. It’s more powerful than people think.”

mental health screening

An online screening can help you figure out what you are feeling and how to find support.

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