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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Future of Baltimore Pride

Jay W Photos
It had been an uncharacteristically busy run-up to Pride this year for the GLCCB, the organization that has run the annual event since 1977.  The iconic 33 year-old building on W. Chase Street had been sold at the end of May.  Potential new venues are being evaluated. The board of directors removed the interim label from Matt Thorn’s title and appointed him executive director. 
Then the Center got caught in the firestorm of words among business owners and the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association as to the management of the block party and its related problems of the past.  All these taking place in the two weeks leading up to the big weekend.

GLCCB executive director Matt Thorn, who among other positions in our community is also the Pride Committee chairman.  Undaunted, he managed to pull off Pride, and with the help of a cadre of volunteers, did so quite well. 
It wasn’t always a smooth ride in the past.  Invisible to the parade watchers, partiers and festival attendees were behind-the-scenes miscues at various points throughout Pride’s history that included wasteful spending, mounting debt, poor decision-making, a lack of transparency in the planning process, and allegations of theft.  These blemishes are more likely the result of organizational and financial instability that has beset the Center during its long history..

Some of these blunders, which had been concealed from the public by GLCCB leadership over the years, did manage to leak out.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that individuals and groups have floated the idea of wresting Pride away from the Center and running it independently (as done in D.C. and Philly) and presumably more efficiently.  Aside from Pride’s management, many people feel that the current location does not allow for expansion. 

“I think it's all about growth and Pride is a stunted child both because of where it is and because of the natural limitations placed on it by virtue of its oversight,” said a member of the community who asked not to be identified.

Thorn is aware of such criticisms.  “Pride has been a staple event of the GLCCB for many years. While not all of those years have been perfectly managed or executed, Baltimore Pride has consistently been an event enjoyed by thousands each and every year,” he told me.  “According to the large majority, Baltimore Pride 2013 was one of the best run and best executed Prides in recent history, [as evidenced by] statements from attendees, the MVBA and local businesses including Club Hippo, Grand Central and City Cafe. There is always going to be bumps with planning any event especially one of this magnitude but the GLCCB and I are committed to improving the event year after year.”

Mindful of the negativity stemming from past Prides, Thorn adds, “There is little that can be done with previous actions of previous administrations; its history cannot be rewritten.  We can only learn from those actions and what has taken place utilizing them as learning experiences to move forward allowing Baltimore Pride to be better and better.”
It is quite possible, even likely, that a well-managed and run private entity could do an effective job in organizing, planning and running Pride.  But Pride is the principal fundraising effort for the GLCCB; an attempt to deny the Center of those important dollars is ruinous.   

There are steps the GLCCB should take to mitigate the criticism directed at itself, and by extension, Pride.  In no particular order:

Improve the Center’s brand within the community.  The leadership should adhere to the strategic plan and follow the recommendations laid out by the company who developed the plan.  Transparency and community involvement with decision-making is crucial.  People will not respect, support or contribute to an organization that they do not trust.

Be mission-centric.  The relevancy of the GLCCB takes a hit after each Pride within the community because the Center seems dormant until the next cycle.  There are a number of issues the GLCCB can wrap their hands around to the betterment of our community, and there should be a concerted, well-publicized effort to do so.
Consider Pride alternatives.  Either outsource some of the Pride operations to a private entity without damaging the Center’s financial position or task the Pride function to a separate body within the community.  Thorn’s direction of this year’s Pride was admirable, but the executive director needs to concentrate on improving the GLCCB’s relations with the community, developing other revenue streams, and fulfilling the promise that the Center once had.

Become more diverse.  This is not as easy as it sounds but the GLCCB should establish a task force dedicated to encouraging women, African-Americans, transgender and other sexual minorities to get involved and convince them that a strong GLCCB benefits all.
Rally the community around the new home.   When the GLCCB settles into a new space later this year, the leadership should set up a series of open house events and fundraisers to rally the community.  It’s always exciting when a move takes place, so the Center should capitalize on that buzz.

The GLCCB is at the crossroads.  It needs to vigorously demonstrate its willingness to move forward and if and when confidence is restored, so will its stewardship of Pride. 
Matt Thorn is looking ahead.  “Plans are already under way for Baltimore Pride 2014 including extending the event from June 12 through June 22 and adding a multitude of events to the festivities,” he said.  “I understand some of the frustrations that people have and I encourage them to join us on July 22nd for our Baltimore Pride 2014 inaugural planning session.”

A good start.


Bud Beehler said...

Well said, Steve. You are right on target with your observations and recommendations. I might add one additional recommendation; the GLCCB leadership should follow the strategic plan that the Board approved in Sept. '12. It is a blueprint to guide the Center to financial stability and truly serving the full LGBT community.

John Roberts said...

The GLCCB board and executive director need to be transparent about why the building was sold at below market value to a developer. GLCCB leadership must institute strong financial controls to promote transparency and to prevent the kind of blunders that lead to the loss of the center. I will not rally around the GLCCB until leadership comes clean on these issues. Are you listening Matthew Thorne?