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The LGBTQ Center's new Executive Director talks community, intersectionality, and where the organization is going next

WHQR's Mattie Holloway
Mattie Holloway
The LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast on Princess Street in Wilmington.

Caroline Morin-Gage is the new executive director of the LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast. The nonprofit, formerly known as the Frank Harr Foundation, works to create a fun and safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

Listen to an extended conversation with Caroline Morin-Gage

“We offer over a dozen programs, ranging from folks at 12, all the way up into their 80s and 90s. So we run support groups, social groups, we do advocacy work, we're really trying to move to the next level for being a home for queer people in the region," Caroline said.

Caroline has been in Wilmington for the past six years. And although this is her first leadership position at the LGBTQ Center, her experiences make her more than qualified for the role of executive director. Caroline attended law school, worked to create affordable housing in Boston, and has worked as a community organizer for the ACLU among other things. So how did she get here?

“So like, I think a lot of gay people. When I moved here, I immediately started looking for like, where can I plug in? Where can I find community things to do? … So I eventually found the elders' group actually, and I went and hung out with all these amazing, older LGBTQ folks. And that's kind of how I got plugged in," she said.

When she moved to the Cape Fear region, Caroline looked for a way to connect with other LGBTQ people. As executive director, she wants to create a welcoming environment for others who may be new to Wilmington or new to being out.

“One thing I've wanted to do… is like some sort of Welcome to Wilmington, maybe like a quarterly thing just so that folks who are new to the area know that there's like a regularly scheduled way to plug in, come meet folks… So that's kind of something where I'd love to target those folks who are new to town and also who are newly out or who are maybe like newly comfortable being out," she said.

Caroline also wants the LGBTQ Center to acknowledge and appreciate the diverse backgrounds of the people who attend their events. Caroline says that LGBTQ experiences are inherently connected to race, gender, and socio-economic status.

“I think that one of the strongest things about what I’ll shorthand as, like the rainbow coalition, anybody LGBTQIA+ is that that literally is touching every other population, every other breakdown of people racial, socio-economic, gender, like, there's someone in every group, who's also going to happen to be queer or trans. And so, in my mind, that means we should be the strongest, most united community because we have the power of all of these other alliances, all these other opportunities to bridge gaps and work together… For me, I think intersectionality is really about acknowledging that, you know, all of us need to be thinking about who's affected the most. Because on the other hand, when we do the work that changes the policies for the people who are affected the most, all of us benefit," she said.

Caroline notes that although the LGBTQ Center is a place for joy and acceptance, it also serves as a vital safe space.

“LGBTQ folks, especially, trans youth, have a much higher rate of suicide, both attempt and success, than their straight counterparts. So when we talk about things like community and, and you know, the party portion of pride, like, that's because it's still a challenge to become an LGBTQ adult," she said.

"Like, it's still not a guaranteed outcome. So it's incredibly powerful to me that we can provide a place for folks to connect, because it's not just about like going to a party or whatever, right? Like communities are important for survival. And I think having that space, especially for younger folks, it literally saves lives. And for everybody who's maybe not suicidal, it just makes the quality of your life so much better, to not be wracked with shame and anxiety and guilt and constantly be wondering why you feel a different way than everybody else seems to feel," she said.

Although the organization focuses on the LGBTQ community, the organization is meant to help everyone. The LGBTQ Center offers safe zone training for allies and businesses who are trying to make work environments more accepting.

“There's no exclusions. This is a place for everybody...like this is for people who are allies, this is for people who are questioning, like, the best way to resolve anything you're questioning is to come down and talk to other people who are questioning the same things, or who have decided for themselves and can help you navigate that journey. And for allies, like the door's always open, come, volunteer, make a donation, that's the best way you can support us, honestly. But also, come learn something, come participate in a game night, like make a friend, you know, we don't bite. So it's really for everyone.”

Caroline is hoping to share the acceptance she’s found at the LGBTQ Center with the Cape Fear Region. For information on the organization and its events, visit lgbtqcapefear.org.

Mattie Holloway is a North Carolina native from Emerald Isle. She is a rising junior at Emerson College majoring in writing, literature, and publishing. Mattie has interned for Public Radio East; she is part of Emerson’s honors program; and writes for her school’s lifestyle magazine, Atlas. When she’s not working, Mattie enjoys going to the beach, trying to find the perfect cup of coffee, and receiving book recommendations.