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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Leader of LGBTQ Center resigns, cites ‘no tenable way forward’

Caroline Morin in January at the vigil for KC “Casey” Johnson. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — The former executive director of the Cape Fear LGBTQ Center was on a mission to protect the rights of a marginalized sector of the community, but said she felt forced to resign over differences.

“From what I can grasp, particularly the allies on the board had a different approach to the work they wanted to take,” Caroline Morin said. “I couldn’t enunciate that. It became clear it just wasn’t going to work.”

She resigned effective June 2, two years after serving the helm. Morin submitted a letter and the seven-member board, some identifying as queer, voted to accept it. 

Morin told Port City Daily her reason for leaving was because there was no “tenable way forward.”

“My goal was always queer liberation,” Morin said. “Full stop. So anything that didn’t move us in that direction I was not on board with.”

Morin declined to give specific examples, but described it overall as “resistance.”

“I guess the question for me is more of what they’re going to stop doing or do differently, if they thought all the programs and initiatives we were doing weren’t taking us in the right direction,” she said. “I honestly don’t know their answer.”

After Morin’s announcement to leave, Ed Adams, current part-time program coordinator, also submitted his resignation letter. He gave his two-week notice on Thursday; however, he didn’t wish to go on record with PCD at this time regarding his exit.

The LGBTQ Center’s former director, Shelly O’Rourke, has stepped into the interim position. 

“Live experience is the preference,” Morin said of her vision, noting it was “allies” she received the most pushback from.

O’Rourke, who served as director of the organization from January 2017 to June 2021, noted she doesn’t intend to retain the position but had the institutional knowledge to help the center function during this transition.

She moved over to the board when Morin took over two years ago. 

In response to why Morin left, or if she thought differing views were of concern, O’Rourke told PCD she could not comment on personnel issues per board policy.

Another sitting board member will likely be selected to temporarily serve come Monday, O’Rourke confirmed.

“The whole board has stepped in to pick up different pieces of programming that most fits our skills set,” she said.

LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast center offers outreach, such as transgender support groups, and hosts events, such as this month’s Pride Prom, throughout the year. During 2022, it served 2,600 individuals with primary populations being 50-plus-year-olds and youth, grades seventh to 12th.

“We have a very active volunteer board and they’re all stepping in to make sure the operations and programming continue as normal,” O’Rourke said.

They’ve helped with Pride Month events that have happened already in June and have a handful more scheduled through the month, including the city’s Pride Month proclamation June 20.

READ MORE: Without protest, LGBTQ community, allies celebrate mayor’s signing of Pride proclamation

“I feel like we’ve had great community outreach this month,” O’Rourke said, pointing to the 750-attendee turnout at the New Hanover County Arboretum’s Family Pride Festival this past weekend.

Before she left, Morin launched the Queer Youth Leadership Council in February to provide education and build relationships for individuals ages 16 to 21. It was a reboot of a steering committee that started pre-Covid-19.

“I hope the work continues,” Morin said. “It’s critical work we were doing at the center and needed work.”

O’Rourke said she intends to continue it. The community-involvement program, where participants learn leadership skills and do event planning, will be run by an intern 20 hours per week.

According to the center’s 2022 annual report, 45% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

“I hope the board has a plan, the allies have a plan, for how to keep queer people alive,” Morin said.

Morin told Port City Daily in February Senate Bill 49, the Parent Bill of Rights, could have further adverse effects on LGBTQ+ students. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), it would give parents more control over their children’s education and also prohibits educators from “encouraging” discussion on gender identity.

She said banning certain curricula doesn’t mean the conversations about LGBTQ experiences stop, it just burdens them with “shame, danger, and fear.”

“For many students, school is one of the only places where they feel fully safe and fully comfortable with themselves,” Morin said in February. “Living in a discriminatory environment, especially one you’re required to go to every day, has an adverse childhood experience.”

“We feel our community is strong,” O’Rourke said, adding she is thankful the center has not faced any “instances of domestic terror,” since a Pride Storytime was interrupted by Proud Boys last year.

The center will have a new location soon when it moves to Carousel Village — a coalition of nonprofits at the Carousel Center, 1501 Dock St. 

O’Rourke also envisions a possible organizational restructure. The center works with a limited budget — $123,500 annually. She said, once festivities slow down, instead of filling Adams’ role, which was 20 hours per week, it might be scrapped. In its place, the executive director position, now 32-hours per week, could become full-time.

The director job will be posted to the public next week. O’Rourke said the center has already received some interested candidates, though the position hasn’t officially opened.

Though unsure what she’ll do next, Morin is sure it will involve queer advocacy.

“Whatever takes me forward to do that with the same lens,” she said. “A lot of work doesn’t stop just because the center decides to take a different direction.”

Port City Daily reached out to three board members at LGBTQ Center about the transition, but no one responded by press. Chair Virginia Hager said she would speak with the news outlet but didn’t return the emails.

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