Prizm News / November 16, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
AJ Casey stands in the gallery of the newly renovated Stonewall Columbus community center on N. High Street. (Prizm photo by Sydney Ashbaugh)

‘This is going to be the place where people can come to just be themselves,’ AJ Casey says.

 

By Bob Vitale 

The board of trustees for Stonewall Columbus has chosen a new executive director who brings to the job 30 years of experience as a nonprofit executive and consultant.

AJ Casey, a native of Cincinnati, graduate of Youngstown State University and resident of Columbus since the 1990s, will join the LGBTQ community center officially on Jan. 1. She had been a member of the Stonewall board since January.

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“It’s a scary honor,” Casey joked in an interview with Prizm before the announcement today.

“I know how much people depend on this center,” she said. “I think now, in this political environment, a community center is more necessary than ever before. I think we live in a society now where hate is almost acceptable. A lot of the progress we’ve made is threatened. I think this is the place—and I really intend that this is going to be the place—where people can come to just be themselves and also to find refuge and support and just love.”

Casey, who is a lesbian, takes over at a critical juncture for the 37-year-old LGBTQ community center.

Stonewall is ready to open the doors on a $4 million building renovation and expansion that will allow it to expand services and programming. But it’s also working to turn the page on almost 18 months of friction that followed the arrest of four black, queer activists who were part of a 2017 Pride protest against police violence and violence against trans women of color.

The new director replaces Karla Rothan, who stepped down in April after 12 years at the head of Stonewall and Columbus Pride.

Casey said she plans to meet with people throughout the LGBTQ community during her first 100 days on the job. She praised efforts by Kaleidoscope Youth Center Director Erin Upchurch and others to host conversations about issues of race and inclusion within the LGBTQ community.

“People are trying to mend fences, build bridges,” Casey said. “That has to happen. It’s going to start with conversations. It’s going to start with people coming together. It has to start with a willingness to understand.”

Podlogar said he’s confident the Stonewall board made a great choice.

“The Stonewall Board of Trustees could not be happier welcoming AJ Casey as our new executive director,” he said. “As the organization moves in to our new center, we saw and have every confidence that AJ will bring the leadership, community partnership and fundraising experience to usher in this exciting new chapter. Together, we’re excited to expand the current programming to ensure that our entire community is represented.”

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com