Troy Parker, Assistant Director of Corporate Relations at United Way of Greater Atlanta, shares with us his passion for United Way’s work in LGBTQ+ spaces, and why it means so much to him.

Tell us about your role at United Way of Greater Atlanta.

I work as a Development Officer supporting the engagement strategies of the Senior Director of Corporate Relations to ensure a smooth fundraising and auditing process for the over 600 high volume-low touch accounts. I also support the entire Corporate Relations team by securing, verifying, and auditing the fundraising results of third-party processed fundraising campaigns. So basically, I work with our corporate partners and educate them on the work of United Way and help facilitate their philanthropic workplace campaigns.

What is the OUT Georgia Impact Fund and what inspired you to champion it?

United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the OUT Georgia Business Alliance to create the OUT Georgia Impact Fund. This fund’s goal is for LGBTQ+ individuals, youth, families, and communities across the Greater Atlanta region. I am so grateful that my journey as an LGBTQ+ person was full of support every step of the way, but the fact of the matter is that is still not the norm in the world we live today. It is estimated that 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth aged 13-24 have seriously considered suicide; 80% of young LGBTQ+ people have expressed that they feel severe social isolation; and 42% of LGBTQ+ people have expressed that they are living in an unwelcoming or hostile environment. These are just a few of the statistics out there. It’s because of this that I have been so passionate about the work of this fund.

The OUT Georgia Impact Fund will be guided by a community-led advisory committee to make grants to eligible 501(c)3 non-profit organizations supporting LGBTQ+ youth to be stable, secure, and college and career ready. This fund will go to programs that support LGBTQ+ adults and families address urgent needs and secure resources….and this is only the beginning.

In my 35 years of existence, I have never worked for an organization where I have felt so comfortable to be my most authentic self. I am loved and valued for what I bring to the table, how I bring it to the table, and I don’t have to adjust how it is packaged to make someone else more comfortable. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me about my husband when they walk by my desk and see his pictures. What makes me even more proud is the fact they are putting their money where their mouth is with this partnership and fund. This is not something that only happens during pride month, the fundraising for this fund is ongoing because LGBTQ+ individuals and family need support year-round. United Way of Greater Atlanta has made great strides forward for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion with our United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund and they continue to further this work with the OUT Georgia Impact Fund in a space where this work has not been done before.

What does representation mean to you?

Representation is of the utmost importance. I recently had the pleasure of watching the new Netflix show, “Heartstopper,” based on the graphic novel by the same name. It tells the innocent young love story of two high school aged boys, and some of the challenges faced in coming out, bullying, etc. I was overwhelmed with emotion at how wonderful of a story it was, and it flooded me with memories from my own experiences. It made me wonder if something like this could have saved me and others a lot of heartbreak if it was available back then. You can’t change the past but I’m grateful for it now. It reminded me of the importance of representation for all. As a society, we are blasted with constant noise telling us what success, fun, joy, etc. looks like. If that “success, fun, and joy” doesn’t include proper representation, then it engrains in those not represented that they either can’t achieve or aren’t deserving of those things.

What other talents do you make use of outside of work?

I have been a performer since grade school, and it has stuck with me. I am currently the House Manager for Atlanta Lyric Theatre and I still perform whenever a project comes along that I am passionate about. My husband is a performer too, and we can put on a very entertaining cabaret if I do say so myself 😊.

LGBTQ+ youth are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless.

Aaron Rice read this in a report from Covenant House released by Chapin Hall of the University of Chicago and it sent a shock to the system. According to True Colors United, LGBTQ+ youth represent 40 percent of all youth experiencing homelessness. As a gay man working for United Way of Greater Atlanta, Rice knew he wanted to draw attention to this unfortunate fact. What could he do to change it?

He resolved to use his position in the organization to help find solutions and provide stable and secure housing for those LGBTQ+ youth in the community.

“This is something that’s affecting my community personally and it’s something we can help address as an organization,” says Rice, Director of Business Engagement at United Way.

United Way funds local nonprofit organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth and families, but Rice knew we could do more. When we unite for more, more youth can be reached. More lives can be changed.

In January 2021, United Way partnered with the OUT Georgia Business Alliance and launched the OUT Georgia Impact Fund to “drive meaningful, measurable lasting impact for LGBTQ+ communities across the Greater Atlanta region.”

This fund will serve individuals, children and families identifying as LGBTQ+ and would support youth to be stable, secure and college and career ready while also addressing urgent needs and securing the resources they need to thrive.

“I think LGBTQ youth are often underserved,” City of Atlanta’s Director of LGBTQ Affairs Malik Brown says. “We know they are subject to bullying and hate and abuse in their homes and sometimes even conversion therapy—that is really dangerous. There’s a significant portion of youth on the street who identify as LGBTQ youth.

“When I think about support for underserved communities, I think about access to health care, housing and meaningful employment that pays well and gives people purpose.”

In Brown’s position with the City of Atlanta, he works on “anything related to the LGBTQ community for the city,” and he advises Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on policies and initiatives as they relate to the LGBTQ+ community and across city departments.

OUT Georgia and United Way also plan to use this Impact Fund to bring awareness to the inequities faced by the LGBTQ+ community and increase investments in Black-led LGBTQ+ organizations, as well. Brown says specifically in the LGBTQ+ community, Black and Brown transgender women are some of the most “vulnerable and underserved.”

“I think the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community are certainly Black and Brown trans women,” says Brown. “They are murdered at epidemic rates, and trans people overall are vulnerable and underserved. There’s still a significant portion of the population that doesn’t understand what it means to be trans.”

Brown works alongside Rice and other members of OUT Georgia Impact Fund advisory committee to further raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues and leverage relationships in the business community to embrace collaboration and inclusivity.

Chris Lugo is the Executive Director of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance, which he says is Atlanta’s only LGBTQ+ and Allied Chamber of Commerce. Lugo’s work often intersected with both Rice and Brown, and their conversations shifted to ways United Way, the city and OUT Georgia could combine their expertise to do more for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We were learning more about United Way’s work to serve LGBTQ+ youth and the work they’ve already done with nonprofits,” Lugo says. “We wanted to see how we could leverage [United Way’s] corporate support and our access to the small and mid-sized business community to do some good now and then make a lasting impact and demonstrate the lasting power of the LGBTQ+ community in Georgia.”

OUT Georgia wants to be in “lockstep” with the needs of the community, to listen to organizations and take the time to understand the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, Lugo says.

“We’re working our corporate, small and mid-sized business communities to network and raise money and establish annual priorities with the goal to make grant contributions determined by the advisory board,” Lugo says. “I could see us funding a variety of projects: a youth scholarship fund, investments to Black-led organizations, trans housing projects, providing skills-based resources to LGBTQ+ adults looking to re-enter the workforce.

“The great thing about this Impact Fund is that because those parameters are broad, we’re able to be very flexible.”

And Brown applauds the work of the advisory board for bringing many “diverse voices” to the table. He says the goal in his role with the Mayor’s office and OUT Georgia is to look at issues facing the LGBTQ+ community from a racial equity lens and encourage discussion and opportunities to inform and educate Greater Atlanta.

United Way is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Rice says, and now with this Fund, it provides an open door to be vocal and talk more about that allyship—to talk more about what we’ve been doing and to let people know there are resources out there.

“For me, I grew up in rural East Tennessee, which is not the most open or diverse area,” Rice says. “I thought back to the difficulties for me to come out and to accept who I am—if I had been kicked out of the house, which is what we see a lot of, there wouldn’t have been something for me.”

To help provide more resources for LGBTQ+ youth and families, donate today to the OUT Georgia Impact Fund.