Pride Profiles: Tim’m West, Taking Action At The LGBTQ Institute

West became Executive Director of the LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in 2023 and since then has focused heavily on cultivating youth advocacy.

There aren’t many executive directors who also rap and write poetry. Tim’m West, who leads the National Center for Civil and Human Rights’ LGBTQ Institute is one of them.

“The Center has definitely affirmed spaces for me to bring my creativity and art—I’ve been able to perform spoken word, hip hop and poetry as the executive director,” said West, who’s a bit of a modern Renaissance Man. He’s authored several books, from essay collections to poetry, produced and released nine hip hop albums, been featured on multiple documentaries about hip hop and masculinity, and has worked for years as an acclaimed scholar and educator. He’s also bringing his erudition to Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area on 6/15 for a free Juneteenth Movie Night In The NHA screening and panel discussion of the film Rustin.

Since 2023, West has brought his many talents to the LGBTQ Institute as its Executive Director. Part of Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the LGBTQ Institute started in 2015 as a way to connect academics and advocates to advance LGBTQ equity through research and education. Not long after the organization’s founding, marriage equality happened federally under then-President Obama—the climate for LGBTQ acceptance looked sunny. “And then…things changed,” says West. “Our initial mission of connecting academics with advocates is very noble—we’re going to continue to do that—but I think there was a call for more urgency around our work and what we should be doing.”

Working With Youth

West heard and heeded that call. In the last year, the Institute has shifted its mission toward a more proactive approach of, in West’s words, “cultivating the next generation of youth advocates” and creating more spaces for them to learn and develop those advocacy skills. “I’m reminded of a picture of [the late Civil Rights icon and Congressman] John Lewis as a 19-year-old that’s featured at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights,” said West. “And people like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker started their advocacy as college students or even in high school. So the idea that young people can start their journeys in advocacy very early and often need support and training on how to do that is very important.”

Attendees at the 2024 LGBTQ+ Symposium gather for a “Framily” photo.

The LGBTQ Institute is now leaning hard into that new mission of reaching out to young people and college students. The center has spearheaded three advocacy-focused initiatives geared toward engaging younger folks.

  • YOU(th) Belong: a local program designed by the Institute to support LGBTQ students many of whom don’t have access to gay-straight alliances. This fun non-school program for youth is held each month at the LGBTQ Institute and celebrates youth leadership, advocacy, and creative expression.
  • Youth Advance Georgia Together: Advocacy Academy: for all Georgians aged 18-30, this first-ever 3-day Advocacy Academy designed by LGBTQ Institute Board, which covers queer advocacy history, understanding the legislative ecosystem, and more.
  • Youth Advocacy Fellowships: this program is research-based and provides young people nationally, ages 16 to 25, an opportunity to receive guidance, mentoring, and support to connect their professional aspirations to their social justice passions on a diverse array of creative projects.

Attendees from Statesboro and Savannah of the Youth Advance Georgia Together Advocacy Academy.

The Power Of Art

Before joining the LGBTQ Institute, West was an educator for 15 years. He’s written about his upbringing and how it impacted his desire to work with youth and open up more spaces that weren’t available for people like him when he was a younger. Born in Cincinnati but raised in rural Arkansas, West was painfully aware of his Blackness and his sexuality from a young age. “When I was a young boy, I had a fondness and an affection for both boys and girls and had crushes on boys and girls,” he said. “And I was taught very early on that was wrong.”

West (front row, far left) with the Institute’s 2024-25 National Youth Advocacy Fellows.

Writing, finding other creative outlets, is one of the things that saved West’s life. Throughout his career, West has used his art not just as a vessel of expression but also as an amplifier for his beliefs, producing work that speaks to contemporary issues and that can also be sifted into a spoken word piece, a hip hop song, or a portrait or image. “We have to think of the arts as a pathway for education” said West. “I’d like to think this next generation of leaders will include people that integrate the arts in what they do. They could produce a 30-page research paper, or produce something that is a lot more palpable and exciting for people to engage.” West points to some of the LGBTQ Institute’s current fellows, who are following in his footsteps with one group working on a graphic novel about the experiences of trans and non-binary kids in school, and another doing a photo journalism project portraying people living without homes in Atlanta. 

As for West’s own art, he’s been more focused on mentoring than creative output in recent years. However, that might be about to change. “I think being in Atlanta will generate some inspiration,” said West, who recently relocated to Georgia’s capital after splitting his time between there and his home city of Cincinnati. “I’m hoping to write another collection of poetry or finish a novel that I’ve been tapping away at for a long time.” When does this Renaissance man sleep?

Come see West as part of the Arabia Alliance’s panel discussion during Movie Night In The NHA: Rustin on Saturday 6/15 from 5:30-9pm.