Charlotte’s population of gay, lesbian and transgender youths has won an influential and well-financed advocate in the cause to build North Carolina’s first homeless shelter for LGBT kids.
Sarah Belk Gambrell, a member of the Belk stores dynasty, announced she’s giving $1.5 million to the ambitious project from her Gambrell Family Foundation.
The money amounts to nearly half the $3.4 million that Time Out Youth, a gay youth advocacy group, seeks to raise for the purchase and renovation of an existing office building to be a hub for LGBT youth support. The site, near the intersection of Monroe and Eastway/Wendover roads, will also host the soon-to-be-built shelter.
Leaders in the nonprofit community say 98-year-old Gambrell’s gift represents more than just an infusion of desperately needed cash. It’s also about the prestige the Belk family name brings to the cause of LGBT rights.
Michael Marsicano, president of Foundation for the Carolinas, says the family is among the state’s most influential philanthropists, with a legacy of focusing community attention on issues.
“Sarah Belk Gambrell has always been a woman ahead of her time and of her time. She has led the way for women in business and in philanthropy. Now she steps forward to help young people who often have no safe and nurturing place to turn,” Marsicano said.
“Her voice has such credibility, donors will follow where they might not otherwise have gone. We need bold leadership in our community and this is another outstanding example of the Belk family taking on that role.”
Rodney Tucker, executive director of Time Out Youth, says the money will be “life changing for the center and the LGBTQ community of Charlotte.”
“It is a statement to the city, state and country that we are more than House Bill 2 – that our city cares about the LGBTQ community and will ensure that our city is a welcoming place for all,” he said.
Sally Gambrell, the daughter of Sarah Belk Gambrell, manages the Gambrell Foundation. She says the money is intended to be both a public show of support for LGBTQ youth and a stand against North Carolina’s anti-gay law House Bill 2. That law, known as HB2, prevents municipalities from extending civil rights protections to LGBT people, including the right to be openly gay at work without fear of being fired.
It was passed to negate a 2016 Charlotte law that extended civil rights protections to LGBT people, including the right for transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity.
Sally Gambrell says LGBT rights is a cause that recently became personal after one of her teenage sons came out as gay. She says Time Out Youth’s programs were there to help him.
“Right now, I’m in shock at everything going on in this state,” said Sally Gambrell, noting her son “is the way God made him.”
“I think HB2 is a knee-jerk reaction based on fear of what we don’t understand...And let’s be honest, homosexuality has been around forever. But it’s not my position to judge others (opposed to LGBT rights). I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. I just want to invest in young people so they can reach their potential and contribute to society. I’m inviting people to join me.”
News of the donation comes just days after the federal government reversed an Obama administration guideline for public schools that allowed transgender students use the restroom of their gender identity. The decision is considered a major setback for transgender rights.
Time Out Youth says North Carolina’s rancorous dispute over restroom rights led to an upswing in LGBT youth seeking help last year. Visits to Time Out Youth’s leased office space on North Davidson Street doubled in 2016. The agency is best known for offering a safe place for gatherings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youths between 11 and 20.
A shelter is a piece of the programming that has long been missing, Tucker says. Time Out Youth has operated a fledgling housing program in recent years that places LGBTQ youths with volunteer hosts. However, only 10 youths a year can be housed, due to lack of space.
Experts say there are 20,000 LGBTQ youths living homeless in the country, many of them forced from their homes by parents who refused to accept a gay child. Tucker says his shelter plan calls for counseling and job support programs for the youths who stay there.
“LGBTQ youth who grow up in homophobic or transphobic homes face tremendous cruelty and abuse,” said Tucker. “We hear from youth who have suffered physical, emotional and verbal abuse; it is common to hear their lives are ‘against God’ and (they are) kicked out of their home alone, without anything. This shelter will give our youth a place to call home.”
Time Out Youth is the oldest and largest LGBTQ youth organization in the Carolinas, existing on an annual budget of about $560,000. A portion of the $3.4 million being raised is intended to create a steady source of financial support. An investment fund has been created at Foundation for the Carolinas.
To date, the Time Out Youth campaign has raised $1.78 million. The nonprofit was forced to go looking for a new headquarters after learning it was about to lose its leased office on North Davidson Street. A developer who bought the property has given Time Out Youth until spring to move out, so apartments and retail space can be built on the lot.
Work has already begun on renovating the LGBT center site at 3800 Monroe Road, which could open in April. The 7,400-square-foot building includes a plot of land where the new 10-bed shelter is planned. Construction will start in 2019 and be complete in 2020. The property is already zoned for both current use and future shelter plans, officials said.
Sally Gambrell helped Time Out Youth find the site, Tucker says. “I told Sally of our predicament and she immediately offered to help. She asked her real estate consultant, Chris Thomas of Childress Klein, to offer advice.”
Gambrell says her mother, Sarah Belk Gambrell, fully backs the plan to give money to the project, in part because she didn’t like the idea of anyone mistreating one of her grandsons because he’s gay.
“Not all families are as understanding, meaning other children who come out as gay may not be as lucky to still have a home,” Sally Gambrell said. “I think this (shelter) could save lives.”
Who is backing campaign?
Donors so far in addition to the Gambrells include Tim Alwran, Victor and Charletta Armstrong, John Arrowood, Sandy Berlin, Timothy Bice and Walter Kearns, Rhett Brown and Carl Brinson, Layton Campbell and Les Ackerman, Jeremy Carter and Kevan Ohl, Jessica Chapman and Julie Fullen, Michael Condel and Ivey Graham, Gay & Lesbian Switchboard of Charlotte, Carl Hughes and Danny Schott, Josh Lemke, Joseph Lewis, Malone and Rafe Lockaby, Leslie and Michael Marsicano, Barry Pettinato and Lawrence Ferri, Kirsten Sikkelee and Paul Walker, Scott Stover, Team Ree & Tee, Chris and Cory Triolo, Andy Dews and Tom Warshauer, Bryan Welborn and Michael Farmer DMD PA, Wells Fargo Foundation, L. Michael Wofford, and Warren Womble and Rob Williams.