The program will include a panel discussion with Chief Mike Yaniero of the Jacksonville Police Department; American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina's legal director Chris Brook; Equality NC's Director of Faith Outreach Brent Childers; and Candis Cox, an LGBTQ activist, television personality and board member of Equality NC. Several members of the LGBT community will share their personal experiences.

Editor's note: This article was edited to correct pronoun usage and to update the members of the panel scheduled to be there.

 

Katherine Howell hopes a community discussion on the effects of discrimination and harassment against the local LGBTQIA community will be the beginning of a larger effort to bring awareness and resources to Onslow County.

Howell, who organized a local candlelight vigil in June to draw the community together after a mass shooting at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, has been at work the last several weeks planning another event as an advocate for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A town hall meeting focusing on LGBTQIA discrimination and harassment in Onslow County will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Jacksonville High School auditorium.

The program will include a panel discussion with Chief Mike Yaniero of the Jacksonville Police Department; American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina’s legal director Chris Brook; Equality NC’s Director of Faith Outreach Brent Childers; and Candis Cox, an LGBTQ activist, television personality and board member of Equality NC. Several members of the LGBT community will share their personal experiences.

Howell said she began planning the program after learning an Onslow County student had been bullied as a direct result of the state’s HB2 bill, more commonly known as the bathroom bill. A national divisiveness since the election only seems to make the need for a community discussion more important.

“I wanted to create an event to initiate much-needed discussion and dialogue,” Howell said.

Still, Howell said she hopes the dialogue is just a start of a wider effort to help.

Howell said there are no advocacy organizations for the LGBTQIA community in Onslow County and she’d ultimately like to see an advocacy center located in the county. Currently, the closest one is in Wilmington and others are located in North Carolina’s larger cities.

A center, Howell said, would provide resources and information and be a place where members of the LGBTQIA could meet and hold programs and events.

Tori Sproat, who identifies as bisexual, will be among those to speak at the town hall meeting and agrees that a center would be a benefit to the community, with the potential to offer resources, counseling and a place where members of the LGBT community can go and talk with others who share similar experiences.

“Statistics show that when we have places where there are interventions like this we are empowering the community,” Sproat said.

Because Onslow County is a transient community, they hope to see local government leaders and agencies help to put a center into place.

Sproat said the town hall meeting is not a religious debate or place for divisive discussions. Rather, they hope to bring new resources to the LGBT community.

“We’re talking about creating safe resources for the community,” Sproat said.

Onslow County resident Kylar Myers will also participate in the program and asks that people come with “open ears, open hearts, and open minds.”

Myers, 19, said he didn’t hesitate when asked if he would share his experiences as a member of the LGBT community.

Myers said he’s heard the comments behind his back and experienced the negativity from people who don’t understand the LGBT community.

“It’s easier to tear people down than it is to build them up,” he said.

He hopes his words at Sunday’s town hall will help build others up.

“It’s my opportunity to speak out and reach out to people and be that hope,” Myers said.

The program is free and open to the public.