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Dec 4, 2019

Equality NC Foundation 2019-2020 Rural Youth Empowerment Fellowship

Empowering Young LGBTQ Leaders in Rural North Carolina

The Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship is a year-long mentorship and training program for LGBTQ young people in rural areas of North Carolina. The program supports RYE Fellows to successfully execute a social justice project serving rural communities while developing leadership skills.


Over the course of a year, a cohort of five RYE Fellows attend day-long leadership institutes in three different locations throughout the state, attend major Equality NC community events, participate in monthly video conferences, work one-on-one with community mentors, and receive fellowship stipends to help offset costs associated with their project.

Gray Rodgers, 24 (they/he) -- Chapel Hill, NC

Gray is an MPH student at Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill in the department of Health Behavior. Their research interests include LGBTQ adolescent mental health, LGBTQ peer support and LGBTQ aging. Growing up in a rural area of North Carolina, Gray appreciates the need for accessible, queer spaces. Their project focuses on connecting younger and older queer folks in the community and addressing the needs of the aging LGBTQ population. Gray thanks their family (biological and chosen) for supporting this project and encouraging them to live their truth loud and proud!

Project Title: "The WISE Project: Welcoming Intergenerational Social Enrichment in the LGBTQ Community"

The WISE Project will address ageism in the local LGBTQ community by creating more accessible intergenerational spaces and fostering intergenerational relationships.  The program will connect LGBTQ folks from all generations to share their stories, wisdom, and lived experiences through community receptions, an organized peer support program, and story-telling events across the triangle.  The WISE Project will launch with a community reception hosted by SAGE on February 29th in Chapel Hill (details to be announced and included soon). Aims of the WISE Project include reduced social isolation, increased LGBTQ peer support, increased knowledge of LGBTQ history, and increased mental health outcomes among participants.  For more details or interest in participating in the WISE Project contact Gray at grodgers@email.unc.edu.


Asher Warg, 20 (he/him) -- Boone, NC

Having grown up in a rural area of North Carolina, Asher is no stranger to navigating the varied beliefs of the state. Upon doing work in his hometown with an HIV/AIDS service organization, Asher was inspired to get involved with activism that would aid his community in personal ways. He began work at Appalachian State University to see what policies and protections could be put into place to better serve the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students. Asher is dedicated to and focused on creating meaningful space for transgender and gender non-conforming folks on his college campus and growing the number of accessible resources available to professors, administration and medical professionals.

Project Title: "We Have Always Been Here: Archiving the LGBTQ+ High Country Experience "

This project aims to create a working archive of LGBTQ+ experience in the High Country. Working in tandem with the Appalachian State University Special Collections, we plan to find evidence of queer life in the areas and on the campus and compile the rich LGBTQ+ history of the area. We then plan to begin reaching out to LGBTQ+ individuals who wish to share oral histories or other important physical artifacts related to LGBTQ+ experience. This project works to complicate the notion that LGBTQ+ life is restricted to urban areas. 


The creation of this archive will provide an important collection to be used as a resource for activists, LGBTQ+ individuals, and researchers who are interested in LGBTQ+ life. We plan to offer this collection to students/faculty/staff at Appalachian State University as well as to all people within the area who may be interested. Once the archive begins to hold substantial information, I plan to reach out to local organizations and students who study Sociology, Psychology, Education, and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies (etc) to bring attention to this new resource. The Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies program has already reached out to share excitement for the development of this archive to compliment their program. If permitted, I would love to share access to this with local schools and K-12 students who may wish to see the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals who came before them.


Hailey "Ruby" Hernandez, 18 (she/they) -- Clayton, NC

Ruby is passionate about the intersection of art and activism. Through the RYE Fellowship, Ruby’s project will create a collaborative zine that forges a safe space for LGBTQ folks (with a focus on youth of color) to express themselves in the forms of poetry, visual arts, photography, creative writing and many other embodiments of art. Ruby seeks to establish a connection with those in the Clayton community and, in general, wants this invitation to extend to the LGBTQ community in the South. Ruby is here for those that exist in spaces that weren’t meant for them. We belong here and we’ll thrive here. This zine is a love letter to the Clayton community and to the South in its entirety.

Project Title: "Queer Gone South Zine"

Ruby’s project is a collaborative zine: "Queer Gone South." It includes a digital and published platform centering queer individuals of all ages in the Clayton community, the South and other Rural Areas. This zine strives to unearth our queer history, present and future in the South. Queer Gone South makes every effort to amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community and honors the intersections of race/ethnicity/and so on. It strives to carve out a space for black/brown/and indigenous queer youth by recognizing the multifaceted-ness within the community. "Queer Gone South" pays homage to the ones that came before this moment, to those who have arrived now and the ones that will come after this moment. The project does so by tailoring a zine that belongs to all of us. Ruby’s hope is that every individual within the Queer community to find a piece of themselves on these pages, in the art, in the writing and in the narrative. Participants of "Queer Gone South" will feel seen and heard, as part of something important and worth sharing. The outcome consists of gathered resources, of the sharing of information, our individual experiences, our queer history in the South, empowerment through digital/visual art, poetry, other forms of writing, comics and whatever else makes you feel seen. Ultimately, Ruby hopes to create a source and platform that belongs to and made by Queer individuals in the South. Something to give LGBTQ+ youth (especially) the things necessary to empower, lead and heal.


Andrew Snavely, 28 (they/he/she) -- Burnsville, NC

A Western NC native, Andrew is passionate about dismantling metronormativity and supporting rural LGBTQ+ people. Andrew's work centers the needs of rural queer youth. They will produce a "Southern Hospitality Guide" identifying LGBT-friendly businesses and services in the AMY (Avery, Mitchell, Yancey) region, along with a queer youth support group. Because most rural communities need similar resources, but each has its own unique social fabric, Andrew will be generating work that can be easily shared and collaborated.

Project Title: "Southern Hospitality Guide & Queer Youth Support Group"


This project will focus on the creation of a "Southern Hospitality Guide" for the AMY (Avery, Mitchell,Yancey) Tri-County region. The guide will be a resource available in print and online to queer youth and adults for identifying LGBTQ-friendly local businesses and services in the area. It will also include tips for inclusive businesses, a glossary of terms, and a list of additional resources available through GLSEN, the Trevor Project and PFLAG. In addition to this guide, the project will include a bi-monthly support group for queer youth.


The queer youth group will provide a safe environment for LGBTQ+ youth to be themselves, build peer-to-peer support networks, and get connected to any resources they are seeking in an area that still lacks GSAs in most schools. Creating the "Southern Hospitality Guide" provides an opportunity for increased awareness and visibility in the community around LGBTQ+ needs and issues. Most importantly, this guide helps break down the narrative of isolation and rejection in the rural community, signaling how LGBTQ+ folks belong and are welcomed into the AMY Tri-County region.


Liam Waller, 20 (he/him) -- Boone, NC

Liam is a United States Air Force veteran who is deeply passionate about issues of inequity. He separated from military service to pursue a career in Social Work. He is now a Social Work Student at Appalachian State University who is focused on advancing LGBTQ+ liberation with an intersectional lens in North Carolina.

Project Title: "Bridging gaps to affirming health care for gender-variant patients" 


Liam’s project will focus on collaborating with local health care providers and helping professionals in Boone, North Carolina in order to improve access to affirming health care for trans, non-binary, and gender variant folks. This project will include workshops, resources, and information geared toward helping professionals on best practices. Alongside this, Liam aims to generate a resource guide for trans, non-binary, and gender variant folks that includes information about the providers and helping professionals that have received training on providing affirming care.


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