Monday, July 09, 2012

The Center's Needed Reset

Just two days removed from a successful and joyous Pride celebration in Baltimore, news that the Board of Directors of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, or what is commonly referred to as the GLCCB or the Center, has changed its leadership.  In doing so, the Board announced it is re-writing the organization’s bylaws and presumably ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability.
This is welcome news.

“The GLCCB is a truly historic center,” Bud Beehler, the newly appointed president told me. “As one of the oldest five in the nation, we are proud of our history... Like many LGBT centers, we have had a bumpy path that has been magnified for us in the past few years. The Board spotted some problems in how the Center was being managed and because the current Board is committed to due diligence, we made some important changes.”

I’m not going to sugar-coat this.  The Center’s “bumpy path” has been fraught with a series of “misses” over its 35-year existence: mismanagement, missteps, misinformation, miscues, misunderstandings, miscommunication, and misappropriations.

Clearly, there have been very capable and dedicated people on the Board and at the helm and have done well in their roles.  Unfortunately, there has also been, at times, ineffective leadership that was comprised of good people with simply bad ideas as well as bad people who did bad things.  The actions or inaction from this tapestry of leadership has led to a decline in respect for and confidence in the Center within Baltimore’s LGBT community. 

Several factors play into this: 

·       occasional controversies, such as alleged thefts and misappropriations, have sullied the Center’s brand; 

·       the clear lack of financial reporting and disclosures to the community sustain lingering suspicions;

·       the reputation that the GLCCB only surfaces during the run-up to Pride but retreats into dormancy following the event erodes confidence in its relevancy and viability;

·       the reluctance to use its clout to fully engage in non-candidate, issue-related equality efforts also impacts its relevancy; and

·       the perception that the Center lacks inclusiveness especially among women, African-Americans and transgender people has been detrimental.

While it may seem easy to point fingers at the GLCCB’s past leadership over the years, in all fairness, there is plenty of blame to go around.  As the largest multi-service LGBT organization in Baltimore as well as the sponsor of Pride, the community as a whole, including myself, has failed to demand transparency from the Center’s leadership.  This hands-off approach enabled the Center to function without the necessary oversight to ensure a diverse, smooth-running, well-managed, financially sound organization. 

But the pendulum may now be swinging in the right direction.  In April, a revitalized Board, with the financial help from a grant, commissioned the services of Strategic Management Consulting, LLC, a local firm with Odette Ramos, a former candidate for the City Council, as President and CEO.  Its mission was to survey the LGBT community regarding the GLCCB’s performance and recommend what it should be doing in the future.  Ms. Ramos interviewed dozens of community members for the study, and we look forward to her findings and recommendations very shortly.

The very fact that such an undertaking was launched is encouraging, as it demonstrates a willingness on the part of the Board to right some wrongs and to improve the Center’s operations.

Installing Bud Beehler as President of the Board is another positive.  At a community town hall on June 25—the initial such meeting in a series and the first since 2000—Beehler explained that this is a “reset” for the GLCCB, and the Board is committed towards “striving for transparency and engagement.” Beehler envisions the GLCCB to be “the lighthouse LGBT organization in the community,” meaning that it will be more visible and more involved at important community events.

The personable and responsive Director of Programs Gary Wolnitzek is a plus for the Center as is Maggie Beetz, the smart and affable editor of the revamped Gay Life—the GLCCB’s monthly publication.  

The Center should continue its fine work with LGBT youth and in particular, The Den, Baltimore’s all-volunteer LGBTQ Youth Center.

The new Board seems very earnest in their attempts to put the Center on the right course.  It does need minority representation, however, and the Board recognizes that and promises to recruit accordingly.

When Harvey Schwartz, the first executive director of the Center, arranged for the purchase of the GLCCB’s current abode at 241 W. Chase Street in 1980, he had a vision that was shared by so many community members.  He saw the building as a nucleus of gay life in Baltimore whereby people could drop in, meet and share experiences.

I think that vision should hold true today.  Additionally, a small LGBT history museum could be housed in the Center.  A speaker’s bureau could be established to enhance visibility and to provide education on LGBT issues to business, religious and community groups as well as area schools and colleges.  Undoubtedly, Ms. Ramos’ findings will disclose other low- or no-cost initiatives.

If the Center’s new leadership can learn from past mistakes and proceed along a more open path, it could win over the skeptical members of the community.  The result should attract enough resources to improve not only the building but also its place in the community.  

We need a strong, viable GLCCB in Baltimore.  The time is right for this reset.

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