Only six months ago, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) was clearly at the nadir of the organization’s 38-year existence. The Center’s officials were still reeling from a town hall meeting in July when they endured testy questions from angry members of the community on a range of grievances from not returning phone calls to a lack of transparency to accusations that minorities are not welcome. The shift in June of the annual GLCCB-run Pride celebration to a new locale was unpopular, which didn’t help the mood.
Earlier in February, the GLCCB had moved to its new headquarters in the city-owned Waxter Center after a controversial sale of its longstanding grayish white four-story edifice on Chase Street that was in dire need of renovations and repairs. However, the lease prohibited the GLCCB from making any cosmetic improvements to its new third floor suite at the Waxter Center. The water was not potable; plumbing fixtures were not operational; and other deficiencies rendered the space unsuitable for an “open house” event that would allow the community members to see it as a new beginning for the GLCCB.Far more grave was the financial situation. Debt was accumulating from past years’ difficulties. Income was slow to come in—less than needed to meet salaries and operating expenses. Complicating that was the diminishing of the GLCCB brand that was partly caused by the Pride snafu. Naysayers repeatedly characterized the Center as being in a state of “turmoil”.
Instability on the Board of Directors contributed to the increasing PR damage. Members came and left with such frequency that one’s head would spin. In 2014 alone the GLCCB had three executive directors—the latest of whom is Joel Tinsley-Hall who continues to hold down the fort after his appointment last October. An amiable and soft-spoken fellow, Tinsley-Hall became the first African-American to hold that post at the GLCCB.
Around a hundred people with over half being people of color and/or women showed up to welcome back the Center—something that the relentless critics would not have predicted.
“Back in October when I was entrusted by the Board with being the executive director of the GLCCB I sensed not only among those closely connected with the Center but also in the community as a whole, a feeling that it would not be long before we became insolvent and would close the door on our long history,” he told me.
Undaunted, Tinsley-Hall reached out to other organizations and individuals in an effort to partner with them on a variety of programs that form the core of the Center’s mission. He met with a diverse group of folks with the goal of alleviating concerns, repairing damage and restoring confidence in the GLCCB.A new era of transparency with support from the Board emerged, which began when Kelly Neel was interim executive director prior to the hiring of Tinsley-Hall. The Center’s bylaws, board applications and financial statements are posted on glccb.org. Also, monthly board meetings have been open to the public. (It’s curious that similar demands for transparency are not made to other LGBT organizations that accept donations from the community.)
Soon after Tinsley-Hall arrived on the scene, a significant turning point occurred. Paul Liller, a familiar face in the community and a former Pride coordinator, returned to the Center to once again perform that function. This is a crucial development as revenues from Pride constitute the largest source of income for the Center.A highly motivated dynamo, Liller almost instantly garnered sponsorships for Pride, brought the celebrations back to its previous locales to the delight of community members and businesses, and has set up highly visible events and fundraisers to promote the big weekend of July 25-26. He has since been hired to be the Center’s development coordinator in addition to his Pride-related duties.
Receiving two grants—from Brother Help Thyself and Gilead (a drug company that produces Truvada for the PrEP regimen designed to combat HIV) didn’t hurt either. “The grant has allowed me to hire another staff person, and produce more programming for the Center,” explains Tinsley-Hall.
|Ribbon cutting at the grand reopening on April 14, 2015|
The GLCCB finally persuaded the city to allow at least some painting to take place on the walls of the new space. That and a volunteer-powered clean-up allowed the Center to hold what was termed a “Grand Reopening” that took place on April 14.Around a hundred people with over half being people of color and/or women showed up to welcome back the Center—something that the relentless critics would not have predicted. The guests were feted to food, wine, a DJ, drag performances and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Those attending the free event also included a “who’s who” of local LGBT leaders, signifying the potential for cooperative efforts with the GLCCB.
“With these 100 people in attendance at our recent Grand Reopening I stated that the Center is going through a ‘renaissance’. I would challenge anyone to recall the last time that many people were seen at the Center,” Tinsley-Hall said. “The diversity seen in the crowd was also notable. Various races, genders, socioeconomic statuses were represented, and I was very proud to stand before the community with my husband and daughter. Our community is so diverse and that must be highlighted and appreciated.”He credits this new spirit at the GLCCB to having a permanent, full-time executive director, an active Board of Directors with many new faces, new staff members and extraordinary volunteers. “All of these people are bringing renewed passion, excitement and dedication to the Center and to the needs of our community.”
Gay Life, the monthly magazine published by the GLCCB under the deft guiding hand of editor Daniel McEvily, is more “cheerful, bright and gay,” as Gilbert O’Sullivan would sing.Yet, Tinsley-Hall cautions that they are far from being out of the woods. “We still have many financial needs and many opportunities to expand services as needed to our community,” he says, “but we are definitely better off today than six months ago.”