LGBT Equality Alliance leaders discuss transition

LGBT Equality Alliance leaders discuss transition

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A Chester County-based LGBT nonprofit last month named its new president.

Founder and inaugural president Rachel Stevenson resigned from her post at the helm of the LGBT Equality Alliance, and former board secretary Julie Mesaros will take her place, with Stevenson serving in an advisory role. Mesaros and Stevenson spoke with PGN about the leadership transition.

Introducing Julie Mesaros 

Mesaros’ involvement with the LGBT Equality Alliance began after the 2016 massacre at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died. 

“That was one of those things that triggered a lot of anger especially because I had been tired of hearing many heterosexual people say, ‘You have your marriage equality and everything is OK now,’” Mesaros said. “Actually, we are still very behind in terms of equality in other areas. With that violence, it just reminded me that we still have a lot of problems. When that happened, I was really shocked and that made me realize that I need to get out there. I need to be visible for others who are like me and I needed to be more connected to my community — the LGBT community.” 

Mesaros contacted Stevenson to learn how to get involved with the organization. She then began volunteering at events and social functions — which is how she met her fiancé — and ultimately joined the board as secretary. 

In addition to these experiences, Mesaros previously worked as a grant writer, international volunteer coordinator and interpreter for a nongovernmental organization in Thailand dedicated to fighting child sex and labor trafficking. She also currently teaches ESL at West Chester University. 

Mesaros noted how her résumé has prepared her for this new leadership role. 

“My [teaching] style is very collaborative,” Mesaros said. “I’m the leader of the classroom but my students and I have an approach that we’re like a team; I’m there to teach them and get the best out of them. [From] my work in Thailand, I understand how it feels to be a complete outsider, someone who is seen as a foreigner, as an alien, but I also got stronger because of that. I found different ways to connect with people and to communicate with different styles. I had to adapt to the culture and learn the language.”

Mesaros said she is looking forward to “being a part of the growth and development of” the LGBT Equality Alliance. 

“I feel we have a lot of potential and I really enjoy working with people, different personalities, cultural backgrounds, ages, ideas [and] worldviews,” Mesaros said. “I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot as I go along.”

From LGBTea Dance to LGBT Equality Alliance

After Phoenixville LGBT bar Frank Jeffreys closed down, Stevenson began working with the Phoenixville Area Business Association to coordinate LGBT community mixers. It started as three small events before becoming an LGBTea Dance on Jan. 11, 2015.

Stevenson recalled that first LGBTea Dance.

“I felt a rush of energy to see so many community members in one place again,” Stevenson said. “My wife and I met at Frank Jeffreys back in 2007 and it was such a safe place for us to socialize. We didn’t have to think about whether we were holding hands or giving each other a kiss or dancing together. We didn’t even think about it. To be back in a space where I felt that same type of energy, if not stronger, felt awesome. It was such a great experience. To be able to give that to the community was also a wonderful feeling.”

Within months, the LGBTea Dances evolved to stage fundraisers for gay-straight alliances at local schools. Stevenson and three others hosted a gala that raised $12,000. They donated $5,000 to the Phoenixville GSA and the remainder went into starting the nonprofit. LGBTea Dances was born on March 26, 2015. It was renamed the LGBT Equality Alliance on July 15, 2016, to better position itself as a nonprofit. 

Stevenson noted the Pride festivals, LGBT health fairs and donation drives as the organization’s biggest accomplishments. However, she also recalled the rewarding work of connecting with community members at networking events.

“Several of the people that I met at these networking events started coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, my kid just came out as transgender. What do I do? Where do I go?’” Stevenson said.

“Just being able to provide them with resources, support and knowing that we had an impact — to me, that’s always going to be the biggest win,” she added. 

Stevenson said she will be living in Florida for nine months out of the year to pursue other endeavors. This includes running media and marketing platform OUTCOAST and helping a corporate company roll out an LGBT working group.

In regard to her successor, Stevenson said Mesaros has “drive and a real passion.” 

“A leader of a nonprofit needs to be someone who is engaging, has fun, but also can get serious and be organized,” Stevenson said. “I see all of that in her.”

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