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Pride Center of Vermont's new executive director discusses goals, 'uplifting' marginalized groups

A group of people march. Several are holding rainbow flags and blowing bubbles.
Pride Center of Vermont
Marchers participate in the 2023 Pride Vermont parade in Burlington.

One of Vermont’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations is welcoming a new leader.

Phoebe Zorn was recently named Pride Center of Vermont’s new executive director.

First founded as RU12 Community Center in the late 90s, Pride Center of Vermont (PCVT) says its mission has been “advancing community and the health and safety of LGBTQ Vermonters.”

Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki recently sat down with Phoebe Zorn to discuss her plan to steward PCVT's goals. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: Phoebe, how and when did you start at Pride Center of Vermont? And can you tell us about the journey that's led you to become the new executive director?

A woman poses for the camera.
Pride Center of Vermont
Phoebe Zorn

Phoebe Zorn: I started at Pride Center, almost three years to the day from my first day as executive director, which was really fun timing for me. I was originally hired as operations coordinator, which was a new position in the organization at the time that was basically created to take away some of the administrative and organizational workload from program staff and program directors so that they could focus on actually running their programs and working with the community. Pride Center was my first job in the nonprofit world. And before that, I had worked in performing arts as a performing arts center coordinator and event space manager and a whole bunch of other really varied work before that.

Jenn Jarecki: What kind of a role do you think the organization plays across Vermont, and what excites you about leading it?

Phoebe Zorn: Pride Center is a really comprehensive organization, we have a lot of different programs that do different things within the community. And I think that's one of my favorite things about the way Pride Center functions is that it's really an umbrella organization. So, folks can come in for one thing, for example, HIV testing, or safer sex supplies, and in the same building, the same staff get passed off to affinity programs based on identity, or events and programs based on common interests, or community building, anti-violence services within our SafeSpace Program, or just social events to go out and meet other folks in the community, and that's all under the same umbrella of Pride Center. So, it's really easy for folks to get involved and get connected to various services and things that they need all within one umbrella.

Jenn Jarecki: Phoebe, you grew up in Vermont, right?

Phoebe Zorn: I did. Yeah, I grew up between Montpelier and Montgomery in the Northeast Kingdom.

Jenn Jarecki: So what was your own Vermont journey like? And how is it working now in Chittenden County, having lived outside of it?

Phoebe Zorn: I think that having lived outside of Chittenden County is a really helpful perspective for me. Because Pride Center is based in Chittenden County, we do tend to have a lot of our programs and events here. And then we have a lot of our staff, but not all live in the Chittenden County area. So, it's really helpful for me to have that perspective of somebody who was a queer person living not in Chittenden County, living in more rural areas, and remind myself and our staff, that those are also the folks we serve, and that our programs and offerings have to be as accessible as we can make them to folks all over the state.

Jenn Jarecki: Now that you are going to be leading PCVT, what are some of your biggest long-term goals? And what do you see the organization doing in the future that it's not currently doing?

Phoebe Zorn: The two things that I'm really focused on right now — and we are overall as an organization — are uplifting and supporting our programs that serve sort of the less represented or historically more marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ umbrella. We have two programs that we really have an internal focus on supporting and increasing funding for and increasing capacity of right now. And those are Thrive, which is our program for queer and trans people of color in Vermont. And then our trans program, which is for trans and gender non-conforming adults. Identities are very intersectional. It's not like there's our separate groups within Pride Center's, communities, but they're two identity groups that have historically — within the organization and queer spaces in general — just been less represented or had less opportunities for spaces and support and funding within the community. Especially considering that we know Vermont is not a very racially diverse state, especially outside of population centers like the Burlington area.

Jenn Jarecki: Seven Days had a recent cover story on folks who have moved to Vermont from states enacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, specifically anti-trans legislation. One newcomer identifies as both transgender and BIPOC, and while they seem to be enjoying life in rural Vermont, said this, "Vermont is definitely not the perfect liberal utopia that everyone outside makes it out to be … There's still racism; there's still transphobia. All kinds of problems still exist here." Talk to us about these concerns.

Phoebe Zorn: I think that's absolutely true. And it's something that we've discussed as a team at Pride Center, as we have been encountering this increase in folks from out of state who are reaching out because they want to come to Vermont or reaching out because they have come to Vermont and now needs support. You know, it's definitely something that I think we all agree with, Vermont is a lot safer in a lot of ways and has more resources and support for folks than other states for sure, and that doesn't mean it's perfect. We certainly experienced and hear about transphobia, racism and all kinds of identity-based harassment and violence in Vermont all the time. I'm grateful that it's a safer place in a lot of ways.

And a lot of the work that our SafeSpace Anti-Violence Program does is to try and support folks who are experiencing violence and harassment, something that I really appreciated about SafeSpace is, it's an anti-violence program, but their definition of violence is broader than you may think of as a traditional, like domestic violence organization. It also includes harassment and discrimination, and basically any kind of identity-based profiling or attacks based on sexual and or gender identity.

Jenn Jarecki: Are there other issues within our LGBTQ+ communities that aren't getting enough attention?

Phoebe Zorn: Two things come to mind. The first one being services and support for aging and senior LGBTQ+ folks. I think it's really important that we continue to hold space for and honor our queer elders.

The other thing is accessibility and disability justice, it's something that's been a big internal conversation for us. And we've been shifting towards trying to be more inclusive, in a lot of ways both, as I mentioned before offering Zoom and other online or hybrid events, both for transportation accessibility, and also all of the other reasons that somebody may prefer to join something remotely instead of in person. And just accessibility of online materials and having websites and social media that work with various devices like screen readers. And then in-person events being in accessible spaces for bigger events, like our Pride festival. We work on things like trying to have ASL interpreters and setting up things so that they're easy to navigate with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. And I think that, unfortunately, in a lot of queer spaces, accessibility isn't really a priority. And it's so important because folks are all part of our community with all kinds of different access needs. And it's so easy to just take steps towards making things accessible. So that's going to be a big priority for us going forward is continuing to focus on and increase our accessibility following the leadership of folks in disability communities.

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