North Star provides community for LGBTQ+ residents

COVID-19 posed a setback for the volunteer-based, non-profit organization in the Triad


Courtesy of North Star

The North Star LGBTQ Community Center provides a space to connect.

Abby Furman, Staff Writer

What does it look like to create space for LGBTQ individuals in a mid-sized town in the American South? North Star LGBTQ Community Center, located on Burke Street in Winston-Salem, seeks to answer this question. After two years of significantly reduced programming due to COVID-19, North Star is back in action.

“It’s never been more important than now to hold this programming,” Mary Jamis, ex-board member at North Star, said. “COVID-19 has been extremely isolating, especially for queer people. In many respects, North Star is one of a limited selection of resources that LGBTQ folks in Winston-Salem can tap into.”

North Star is a grassroots non-profit organization that seeks to enrich and empower the lives of LGBTQ individuals in the Piedmont Triad area by offering various social, support and educational opportunities for adults and youth.

COVID-19 has been a huge obstacle for North Star’s programming. Some programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous “Rainbow Room,” continued to meet on Zoom. “Rainbow Room” is an opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community who are dealing with addiction to connect and unpack this experience in a space free of homophobia or transphobia.

Aside from “Rainbow Room,” nearly all in-person programming paused for the duration of COVID-19 restrictions. Virtual events were held only occasionally. The Center restarted in-person community drop-in hours last month for the first time since 2020.

Engaging the youth demographic in the Triad is a priority for North Star. They aim to make queer youth feel heard and safe. When North Star was founded in the early 2010s, its founders were acutely aware of heightened statistics of homelessness and suicide for LGBTQ youth and aimed to create support for this population, according to Jamis.

North Star’s work with LGBTQ youth continues to take many different forms, including its Youth Leadership Council for middle and high schoolers, a youth book club restarting this month and events at local schools like a student-led forum on inclusivity at West Forsyth High School last fall.

Students sometimes travel over an hour to North Star in search of community from towns like Mount Airy. “It’s so important to create space for youth to build that community, especially when they are facing problems, whether that is in school, legislation, or otherwise,” Ashley Davis, North Star’s intern and coordinator of the Youth Leadership Council, said.

The organization is run by volunteers like Davis, though as funding allows, they sometimes employ a part-time center manager, according to Deb Marke, vice-chair of North Star’s Board of Directors and assistant director of advocacy and social justice education at Wake Forest. North Star is funded by grants and donations, which pay for rent and programming.

North Star’s work does not happen in a vacuum. In recent weeks, stories on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law have circulated nationwide. This bill bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTQ advocates have said that it will harm the mental and physical health of LGBTQ students across the state. North Carolina is no stranger to anti-LGBTQ legislation: in 2017, the state legislature passed HB2 or the “bathroom bill”, which targeted transgender people by placing strict regulations on bathroom use.

“This space was created because, in all the ways that Winston-Salem is progressive, we are still in North Carolina,” Marke said. “Forms of homophobia and transphobia may not always show up in the most overt ways, they show up in policies.”

What’s next for North Star over the coming months, and even years? According to Marke, it’s unclear whether North Star is needed downtown anymore in terms of accessibility. North Star may not remain on a public bus line, which is an important mode of transportation for many visiting the center. North Star’s Board of Directors plans to continue considering this issue as the situation develops. Regardless of North Star’s potential move, Marke expressed enthusiasm for programming and outreach to come.