[Spotlight] The North Star LGBTQ Community Center
By: Sebastian Pellejero
This month, the North Star LGBTQ Community Center celebrates its fifth year at 930 Burke St., Winston-Salem. In that time, the North Star has provided refuge and resources to those in need, as well as a springboard of knowledge to the community. With this anniversary comes new changes meant to add more bullets to North Star’s burgeoning list of accomplishments.
This past February, Nyles Claire Suer was appointed the director of the center. A volunteer since last June, the 27-year-old is the North Star’s sole employee, serving a vital role in overseeing North Star’s varied slate of programs it operates on a limited budget.
Much of the support for the North Star comes from the greater community—individual donations, sponsorships, grants, as well fundraisers. Suer said the community had shown enormous support since the North Star’s inception, as have the center’s volunteers, a group of near 30 who regularly help keep the center open.
“But you don’t have to be a member to come in,” Suer said. “[North Star] is open to the public during our open hours. Folks can come in and to any of our programs, most of which are free.”
Some of these programs include Safe Zone Trainings, a three-hour group workshop that delves into issues of gender and sexuality, and an LGBT Veteran’s group, which Edward Henik, a 49-year old veteran who moved to Winston from Long Island in 2016, is a part of. Henik credits the North Star for hosting an accepting space.
“I think [North Star] is a great idea,” Henik said. “It’s a place for people of any orientation and gender, to be themselves. You don’t have to worry about anyone giving you a hard time. It’s a safe space—you can be who you are and do what you want.”
The LGBTQ youth community is a central focus of the North Star. Each year the center puts together Alt Prom, an alternative prom for the area’s high school LGBTQ+ students. Soon it will offer a youth support group facilitated by a licensed therapist.
In whatever it way it can, the North Star aspires to be a resource for local youth. But for Brice Kroll, a 19-year old sophomore at Forsyth Tech, choosing to walk through its doors was no simple decision.
Though now he volunteers his free time to the center, it took the insistence of a friend to get Kroll to finally visit. Now he credits the North Star with providing him with the guidance needed as a blossoming young adult.
“We came in and started talk to other people, and it felt like a place where I actually would want to be,” Kroll said. “One of the reasons why I keep on coming back is that the people that come here slowly change you and help you have a better life. It allowed me to accept myself, but also allowed me to accept other people.”
Looking toward the future, the North Star hopes to expand in every which way, a goal that has Suer both busy and optimistic. There is excitement in her voice as she details the center’s long-term aspirations. A new meeting space tops the list, one with enough room to host parties and youth games comfortably, along with the hope of being able to hire another staff member.
“We want this to be a community center for all,” Suer said. “To represent all kinds of diversity, everybody across the LGBTQ spectrum, ability, language, culture, all those things. That keeps us pretty busy.”