Charles Stephens is a WGSS alumnus who earned his BA in 2005 and went on to found The Counternarrative Project, a non-profit organization that works to "shift narratives about Black gay, bisexual, queer, and other men who have sex with men to change policy and improve lives." In this interview, we talk more with Charles about his experience in the department and his current endeavors and interests.
What was your most memorable experience in the WGSS dept at GSU?
The most memorable experiences from my time at Georgia State University include: (1) The course African-American LGBTQ Activism, taught by Layli Maparyan (then Layli Phillips). (2) Co-founding Black Out (which was a Black LGBTQ student organization on the campus of GSU). And (3), having the best professors in the world: Julie Kubala, Layli Maparyan, and Duane Corpis (who was based in History).
What have you been working on since leaving GSU?
I founded a nonprofit organization called The Counter Narrative Project (CNP).
I led the committee responsible for renaming the Ponce de Leon Library, the Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce De Leon, after the first Black openly LGBTQ+ person to sit on the Fulton County Commission.
I co-edited an anthology called “Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call."
I organized the historic “Whose Beloved Community: Black Civil and LGBTQ Rights” conference at Emory University in 2014.
I sit on the Board of Directors for Actor’s Express.
Most recently I was a co-author of a paper, “When my Brother Fell, I Picked Up His Weapons: Collective Remembrance as Community Mobilization among Black Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Men” which was published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved https://muse.jhu.edu/article/903345
How has a BA in WGSS helped you in your current work or projects?
In my current work, the WGSS degree helped me in two ways: (1) Communicating my ideas to diverse audiences, which means everything from presenting to potential funders to writing newsletter articles. If you can write a research paper, you can write a grant. (2) Working collaboratively. Traditional management training does not always give you the tools to share power in an equitable way, within an organization. I’ve often returned to the people I first started reading at GSU like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Michel Foucault for leadership inspiration.
Any advice for prospective students considering a degree in WGSS?
My advice to prospective WGSS majors would be to build, strengthen, and sustain a community of people (teachers and students) who support you. I’ve found my GSU community an indispensable part of my personal and professional growth.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of school? What are you reading/watching/listening to lately?
I’m currently rereading Toni Morrison’s novels.