The Legend of Lorraine Johnson: The LGBT Center of Raleigh’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award Honoree
When the Center recognizes individuals with the Distinguished Service Award, it looks for people whose legends are bigger than the Community they serve. Lorraine Johnson is certainly one of those people.
One of the first places a person notices Lorraine’s picture is on the big screen at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. She has been a sponsor of the Festival for years. And then you have seen her name and company again at Shades of Pride, the LGBTQ Center of Durham, Infinity Diamond Club and their We Are 1 Conference, and on Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus programs. Basically, if an LGBTQ community organization has a way for Lorraine to underwrite their work, she will try to find a way to do so. She believes that business owners like herself should support our Community.
Lorraine served for three years on the first Board of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, leaving the Board only to add her leadership experience to Equality NC during the All Families Matter campaign against Amendment One.
Twenty-five years ago, a young Puerto Rican woman named Yvonne Torres arrived in Wake County and was determined to do good in our community. She came to us by way of Louisiana and Honduras, studying pre-medicine and public health education along the way. Because of her passion for caring, she would probably have been an excellent physician, but her sense of what was right didn’t allow her to take the shortcuts many in that field were taking. She knew that if something is worth doing, you just can’t take shortcuts. You have to work at it with everything you have.
“When my husband and I moved to North Carolina,” Yvonne explains, “my first job was in Johnston County. I helped them start their first HIV testing program. No one else was doing testing there.” After two years of good work there, a position in Wake County came open for someone to work specifically with black women. “Since we lived in Wake County, I took the job.”
Yvonne credits another local HIV/AIDS Case Manager as her hero in those early years. “Sandra Hendrickson was the nurse who was in charge of the early case managers who worked with people who had HIV. Sandy took me everywhere, but she also took me to see many gay white men. They had originally left the state because of lack of acceptance, but they were coming back to North Carolina to die. Sandy’s passionate caring for those men influenced everything that I do now.”
When one of the early facilitators of a gay men’s support group got sick, the facilitator chose Yvonne to keep the group going. She laughs at how they thought that a straight Hispanic woman who had been hired to work with African-American women could help those gay men, but it was an amazing fit. She knew that there could be no judgment of how they had come to the group; just that they needed her and each other.
The LGBT Center of Raleigh discovers more and more straight allies in our community every week. They come to us from all directions - from young professionals and students who want to make an impact to end old discrimination policies, to folks arriving at our doorstep to catch one more Pokémon at our PokéStop, to all kinds of folks who see a need and want to help. Our Ally of the Year is one of those people.
When a deranged gunman assaulted our community at Pulse Orlando in the early morning hours of June 12th, we felt as if our world was being torn away from us. Again.
As the tragedy unfolded, Jeremy Billow contacted our Center’s Executive Director, James Miller, to find out what he could do to help. Following James’ suggestions, Jeremy scrambled to find hundreds of candles, bottles of water, tissues, and other supplies that would be needed for the vigil that had been hastily scheduled for that evening – co-sponsored by and held at the Legends Nightclub Complex.
He was with us all day. Realizing that our Community needed support from everywhere, he even contacted his associates and friends from the Muslim Community to see if they would come. They did. And many of those people and others in the crowd of allies Jeremy found during that terrible day offered to speak publicly to help us get through it. It was a lot of work to put all that together, but Jeremy says, “It didn’t seem like work at all.”
Hundreds of allies embraced us at that Vigil, but picking one of them to be our LGBTQ Ally of the Year wasn’t hard.
One of the highlights of our Community’s year is Out! Raleigh. Since our first event in 2011, the LGBT Center of Raleigh has relied on the expertise of Deep South Entertainment to make it run smoothly. We recognize Amy Cox, Out! Raleigh Event Manager, and Dave Rose, Co-Founder of Deep South, because of their deep commitment to making Raleigh’s biggest LGBT street festival even bigger and better every year.
Deep South Entertainment is a Raleigh-based artist management and concert event production company that began in 1995. Over the years the company has represented such national legends as Bruce Hornsby, Little Feat, Vienna Teng, Parmalee, Stryper, Marcy Playground, and many more. They also operate Deep South The Bar, a live music venue located in downtown Raleigh and many industry-related businesses.
That’s how they became acquainted with the LGBT Center of Raleigh. They were a close neighbor of the infant Center when we were located on Cabarrus Street. When a group of four Center volunteers wanted to do something special in Raleigh, Amy and Dave offered to help produce an event. Deep South Entertainment already had experience with street festivals and knew how to acquire all the city permits needed, had access to many of the best LGBTQA bands, and had the staff to carry out all the logistics.
Rusty Sutton, one of the volunteer organizers at that first meeting, remembers Dave and Amy’s enthusiasm at that first meeting. “From the very beginning, Dave and Amy were excited for us and wanted Out! Raleigh to happen. They caught our vision quickly and helped make it appeal to as many people as possible.” Rusty adds, “I don’t think we could have found anyone as committed to us and Amy and Dave were.”
You Have Already Met our 2016 Center Volunteer of the Year. Artie Cline is usually on duty every Wednesday afternoon.
If it’s a Wednesday right after lunch when you stop by the LGBT Center of Raleigh, the first person you’ll probably meet is Artie Cline. That is, unless someone new came in before you, and he’s giving them a tour. The look on his face will be genuine delight that you’ve dropped by. And he’s been doing that for as long as we can remember.
We proudly recognize Artie Cline as the 2016 Center Volunteer of the Year. He first volunteered to help out at the Center in 2010 – back when we were located on Cabarrus Street and when the Center barely had room for the welcome desk – which predates most of the rest of us. He is our longest continuously-serving Center Volunteer.
“I got involved because I wanted to volunteer after retiring, and the LGBT Center was a great match for me,” he says. “I stopped by the Center, and the first person I met was Linda Snyder. I will always be thankful to Linda for showing me the ropes and sharing her knowledge.”
Mike Heath, one of Artie’s best friends and travel buddy, confirms how good a match the Center is. “Artie is a fierce believer in being true to one’s self,” Mike says. “He is one of the most openly gay men I know. He will begin a conversation with strangers he runs into and, within minutes, he has said something to let them know he is gay.” That’s just who Artie is.
Rejuvenating the Women’s Initiative at the LGBT Center of Raleigh was quite a task, and it took a special woman to do it. Kellie Burris did just that – along with her commitment to many other Center programs – so she is our Program Volunteer of the Year for 2016.
A few years ago when Kellie was struggling with coming out, she didn’t know where to turn. “Loneliness was my biggest challenge,” she says. “I knew there were other women like me, but I didn’t know them … and I didn’t know how to meet them either.”
Hearing about an LGBTQ event in downtown Raleigh, she found herself at Out! Raleigh “the year the community was fighting so hard against Amendment One.” Kellie visited the Center’s tent and met Alli Buehler (who now serves on the Center’s Board), who encouraged Kellie to become a Library Volunteer. Kellie immediately signed up to work on weekends, and our relationship with her started.
A few months later, when Kellie came out, the Center proved to be her saving grace: “When I came out, it seemed really difficult to meet queer women,” Kellie remembers. “Everybody seemed to know everybody already and they already had their comfortable groups. It felt as if they weren’t as ‘open’ to newly out people. I needed a place where people could make friends in a welcoming and non-judgmental space.”