Inside The Center June 2024 – LGBTQ+ Institute Spotlight

For this month’s Behind the Scenes, Tim’m West discusses the LGBTQ+ Institute, where he serves as executive director. 

What makes this program such a valuable resource for our community?  

The Institute cultivates the next generation of advocates for LGBTQ+ equity. As part of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, we connect LGBTQ+ history to current advocacy through education, social events, and civic engagement, especially in the US South.   

Our monthly YOU(th) Belong series supports Atlanta-area LGBTQ+ youth and allies. At the same time, our National Youth Advocacy Fellowship connects emerging advocates with mentors in a variety of fields.  

At events like our LGBTQ+ Symposium, we engage dynamic and diverse community leaders and organizations committed to human dignity. Our 2024 Symposium, held during Pride Month, drew more than 200 practitioners to share ideas on building a regional network for future advocates. Participants left energized as our work to uphold rights continues year-round amid a hostile climate, with more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the US in 2023, many from the South.   

How did the program start?  

The Institute began in 2015, a year after The Center opened, with a mission to connect academics and advocates in healthcare, education, employment, and criminal justice. We launched the Southern Survey, one of the most comprehensive studies of LGBTQ+ life in the American South.    

The Institute was founded on the belief that the narrative of civil and human rights history must include the vital contributions of LGBTQ+ people who shaped these movements. We’ve upheld this commitment for nearly a decade, from our first exhibit on Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ history to recent content featuring leaders like Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray.

What are some of the Institute’s goals this year? 

With an eye towards supporting, educating, and training our young people in leadership and advocacy, we will solidify our youth programs while preserving the Institute’s research and convening roles. For example, our National Youth Advocacy Fellowship engages high school, college, and post-graduate students in collaborative research that has implications for public policy.   

Our inaugural Fellowship graduates have tackled projects like a graphic novel about transgender and non-binary students in schools, a photojournalism exhibit on disproportionate homelessness among LGBTQ+ people of color, and a podcast on Queer Labor organizing in Metro Atlanta.  

How do you see the program’s role at the Center? 

The Institute is proud to be the place that directly engages Atlanta’s diverse LGBTQ+ community, expanding The Center’s audience. We also emphasize broad allyship through our work—an essential element to support sustainable change and impact, since one-third of young people who participate do not identify as LGBTQ+ but as allies.  

While centered on LGBTQ+ rights, our programming further connects with movements for racial justice, women’s rights, disability rights, and climate justice. The Institute strengthens support networks and mutual advocacy by fostering alliances among marginalized groups.  

How can people support your mission?  

With the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and its impact on youth mental health, there’s never been a more critical time to support the Institute’s work. You can attend our events, follow us on social media, share our content, and donate to fund our initiatives. We’re also launching a campaign to grow our Bayard Rustin Membership Society and involve members in YOU(th) Belong.   

As the Institute approaches its 10th anniversary, we are grateful for our supporters who have helped us evolve to address threats to LGBTQ+ equity and inspire new leaders to protect rights and dignity for all.