A group of teachers and community members say it is time for the city of Greenville to establish a shelter and community center for LGBTQ people.
The call for change comes as an ECU student center serving the LGBTQ community announced that it had partnered with a local advocacy organization to provide an annual scholarship.
Dr Sambuddha Banerjee, Teaching Assistant at East Carolina University and Professor of Chemistry, is associated with the Out in STEM chapter of ECU. Banerjee said Greenville’s continued growth means founding an LGBT center and a trans youth shelter to serve the community.
“It’s already one of the biggest cities in North Carolina,” Banerjee said. “He’s also growing and getting organized. More and more people will continue to settle here and as a result more and more LGBT people will settle here.
“If we don’t have a center, a space for our LGBT people to come together, we won’t have a space to educate the community about the local culture and our community. “
“I think we need two things – an LGBT center and a youth shelter for trans people, which is a need for people all over the world,” Banerjee said. “They have very unique challenges and homelessness is rampant.”
A report from the Human Rights Campaign indicates that some studies show that up to 40 percent of young people living on the streets or facing housing insecurity identify as LGBTQ.
Beyonca Mewborn, journalist and board member of Out in STEM Professionals, has lived her entire life in Pitt County. Mewborn said she didn’t want LGBTQ youth to feel helpless in the area like she did.
“I didn’t really see a lot of support,” Mewborn said. “Being African American and living here in the South, it’s not like there is huge support for LGBTQ + people of color, or people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.
“What I can say is that as a community you tend to find your tribe,” Mewborn said, “people who know and understand who you are. No matter where you are, you tend Finding Your People In the early 2000s, I found a small enclave of African-American LGBTQ people here in Greenville on Tobacco Row.
This community has likely helped prevent more than a few young people from becoming homeless, Mewborn said. The city should do the same for all young people facing a tumultuous experience, she said.
“Growing up in the Bible Belt, I spoke to many students who grew up in religious homes and there was a lot of negative reaction to their coming out,” Mewborn said. “Not having this support makes a difference, (just like) having access to shelter, food, basic necessities for a good quality of life like health care or education. If you are on the street, you don’t think about going to school. You think about survival.
“I think of some of the girls I met who were kicked out of their homes and onto the streets,” she said. “They had to resort to whatever means necessary to survive, whether it was crime, solicitation, sex work – the danger that exists. You would think the government would have some sort of oversight to protect all young people. “
Banerjee and Mewborn noted that New Bern and Onslow County have LGBT centers. Banerjee said using an existing space as a community center and homeless shelter could provide intersectional education and reassurance that it’s okay to be yourself. At a young age, this could thwart identity issues that Banerjee, who grew up in Calcutta, India, considers important to the region.
“If you have someone coming in (for shelter) at 16, 17, 18, they can see that the LGBT center is there and they are safe in public,” Banerjee said. “I go to Grindr and see some blank profiles, people who are afraid of being seen.
“You live in the United States where same-sex marriage is legal. I’m not saying fear is bad, I want to know what fear is, coming from someone who was outside, a country where homosexuality was decriminalized in 2018. All my time in India, I lived like a criminal under our penal code.
“When I see this fear, it tells me that there hasn’t been a cultural shift and that society hasn’t invested in this conversation,” Banerjee said. “We have the law, but no one feels safe. “
The push comes as ECU’s Jesse R. Peel Center continues to grow. On Thursday, ECU announced that the LGBTQ center has established a PFLAG of Eastern North Carolina scholarship. Needs-based assistance of $ 1000 will be awarded annually to one student in ECU.
The scholarship is a partnership with PFLAG, an organization of nearly 400 chapters that operates across the country, with members sharing their support for equity for LGBTQ people.
“It is a privilege to partner with our fellow locals at PFLAG to help facilitate this scholarship,” said Mark Rasdorf, director of the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center. “These funds targeting students in eastern North Carolina can help ease the financial burden.”
Mewborn said the Peel Center is a good example of how a community center might work in the city. More than that, she said, it could save lives.
“College… is a bubble,” Mewborn said. “It’s safe here in Greenville and in ECU on campus where the culture supports LGBTQ relationships. When you step out of that community, it’s very different.
The scholarship plans to replenish itself each year through donations.
Funding is also an issue for a trans youth shelter, Mewborn and Banerjee said. Such an entity does not meet the criteria for ARPA funds, but could benefit from support from the State Department’s Global Equality Fund or similar federal and state agencies.
A representative for the City of Greenville said he had heard no discussion about a trans youth shelter or community center, but that the only thing that would likely limit the possibility is zoning.