The Carolinas’ LGBTQ+ news source reflects on challenges, successes over its 37-year history

By Caitlyn Yaede

Chris Rudisill said he doesn’t remember anyone coming out in his Gaston County high school the 1990s.

At 16 years old, Rudisill said he was a young kid beginning to understand his own identity, at a time when a lack of social media and queer media made it difficult for LGBTQ+ people to remain visible. He wasn’t ready to come out yet.

It wasn’t until he found QNotesCarolinas, then solely a print publication based in Charlotte, that Rudisill realized he wasn’t alone.

“Even in a time when I couldn’t go out and form that community,” he said. “I knew the community existed.”

Now the digital and audience engagement manager at QNotes, Rudisill said his goal is to generate community among readers and continue the paper’s 37-year tradition of maintaining visibility for queer communities in the Carolinas year-round — not just during Pride Month.

Charlotte Rally Against Prop 8 by James Willamor, under Creative Commons

QNotes provides that visibility by meeting audiences where they are and building a variety of programming, from news to outreach. The publication offers online news, three newsletters and a biweekly print issue made by LGBTQ+ journalists for LGBTQ+ readers.

It started as a monthly print newspaper in 1986, with roots in a monthly newsletter named “Q-Notes’ by Queen City Quordinators, a group of LGBTQ+ organizers. In the 1980s, Rudisill said, being able to access LGBTQ+ news and connect with other queer people was life-saving. The newsletter ran from 1983 to 1984.

Jim Yarbrough

Jim Yarbrough, the publisher of QNotes, purchased the paper in 1989 and has worked to expand its reach. In 2006, the paper merged with The Front Page, an LGBTQ+ newspaper based in Raleigh.

QNotes hosts a quarterly event called Qnotes Connect at local venues, where reporters have the opportunity to meet their readership, get to know the community and hear story ideas directly from readers.

“It’s important for our community to have its own space, its own voice and to be able to tell our own stories,” Yarbrough said.

Rudisill has also led efforts to improve how the media covers and engages with the LGBTQ+ community in Charlotte. He recently hosted a session with the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce to share what resources are available for businesses who want to connect with the LGBTQ+ press and community. The session included guides for pitching stories, writing press releases and advertising and partnering with LGBTQ+ institutions.

The newspaper, which is free to all, has struggled to make enough money to sustain itself through advertising, he said, but recent efforts by both Yarbrough and Rudisill have helped increase revenue and community engagement.

In 2021, QNotes received a $130,000 North American Innovation Challenge gift from the Google News Initiative to launch an updated website. They also have a membership model for reader support.

QNotes is also a founding member of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative – a partnership of seven news outlets and several local entities to cover critical issues in the Charlotte region. Rudisill is the director of the CJC and says the partnership has strengthened QNotes’ reporting, while Yarbrough said the paper’s involvement has been instrumental to its sustainability.

“We need to be here, we need to be sustained and we need to grow,” Yarbrough said. “We need the support from readership to help do that, but it’s important, too, for us to be here, especially in this political climate.”

As a member of the Solutions Journalism Network labor cohort, QNotes also published a series of stories about labor and workplace issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community, looking specifically at transphobia, homophobia and racism in the workplace.

“It’s important that we can tell these stories that need to be told because there’s nobody out there doing it like we do,” Yarbrough said.

Charlotte native David Aaron Moore served as QNotes editor-in-chief from 2003 to 2007 and returned as a senior writer and editor three years ago. He says the publication has been an educational experience, as well as a way to connect with people he wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.

“There’s always something happening in the community to cover, especially considering what’s happening with national political attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people,” Moore said.

Having news by and for queer the community is important, he said, because the queer press can cover how an issue intersects with the LGBTQ+ community. Legacy media outlets typically cover the topic more generally.

While the future of print journalism is uncertain, Rudisill said he appreciates QNotes’ biweekly print paper’s role in generating visibility, especially in the local stores where it is distributed.

“That’s a little rainbow flag there,” he said. “Think about the 16-year-old me who, even if they’re not able to come out to their family, they get to go to the grocery store and have some validation that they are represented.”