Helena Cragg is a computer scientist turned business owner, real estate agent and residential remodeling contractor. She moved to Durham 14 years ago and jumpstarted the LGBTQ Center of Durham, which found a permanent location in October 2015. You can find her around town at The Carolina Theatre, DPAC, Beyù Caffè and Cocoa Cinnamon.
Dissatisfied with corporate America after working in management consulting, Helena rewrote her story. Armed with a bachelor’s in computer science and a MBA from MIT, she jumped into real estate as an agent and remodeling contractor. “I realized that I needed to work in a field where I could see tangible rewards of my work,” Helena says.
In 2003, Helena found herself in Durham where she has remained busy remodeling old homes, but also, now more than ever, she is witnessing the results of her hard work as the director of Durham’s LGBTQ Center on Hunt Street.
“Amazingly, the center was only an idea three short years ago,” Helena reminisces. “Today we are open seven days a week and have served over 5,000 people in our first full year of operation.”
After marrying wife Sylvia J. Williams in 2007, Helena found herself directly affected by North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. Then, “I saw an extraordinary group of activists, elected officials, businesses and families who worked diligently against it,” Helena says. Although she wasn’t deeply involved with activist efforts at the time to respect Sylvia, who spent 21 years in the military, Helena was impressed. Now a card-carrying military spouse after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Helena is a full-on advocate for LGBTQ rights.
“Folks here in Durham have always understood that there are so many more issues to fight for,” Helena says, including employment protections, transgender rights and family law protections in that list of concerns.
“Everything that is happening at the center is because someone has stepped forward and found a place and like-minded peers to take on that work,” Helena says. Like the “After-Pride” party, for instance, in which the center hosted nearly 150 young LGBTQ people. “Many of [the kids] remarked that being around so many LGBTQ youth just like them was literally the best day of their life,” Helena says.
“I live for moments like that,” Helena adds, “when I know that the center has been able to create a space for such positive impact.”