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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Center at the Crossroads

Because the GLCCB was holding only its second or third public town hall meeting in 12 years, it was no surprise that there would be pent-up criticism launched at the Pride coordinators and the Center’s board.  Only two of the five current board members were present on the raised stage on July 23 to field questions and comments about the recently concluded Pride festivities, but it wasn’t a stretch to expect that angry critics of the Center would eventually capitalize on this rare opportunity.

The ghosts of the Center’s past permeated the first floor community meeting room of the Waxter Center, the new digs of the GLCCB since February.  Charges of racism, classism, unresponsiveness, the lack of transparency and accountability in its finances and business matters, failure to reach out to minorities and transgender folks, noncompliance with the organization’s bylaws, and the question of its purpose all but obliterated the concerns about the beverage garden at Pride and other comparatively mundane matters.
While the critics were few in number in relation to the thousands in the community who were invited to this event—there are several ways to interpret the overall attendance—the points raised were largely valid and have obviously been held in the back of the throats of the detractors for a long time until this chance to voice their concerns presented itself.

Most but not all of the charges are applicable to the Center’s past leadership during its over 35- year history; some are legitimately appropriated to the current board.  Kelly Neel, the interim executive director (not a board member), acknowledged these deficiencies and promised, with community help, to work hard at correcting them.  
Indeed, for the first time in memory, the GLCCB at the town hall was forthcoming with the financials connected to this year’s Pride.  It revealed a modest profit of $64,000, which, to me, is not sustainable over the course of the year considering the other overhead expenses needed to maintain the organization.   Neel emphasized that with scarce resources, the Center’s staff cannot do it alone and needs an abundance of community support to keep the Center alive.

The GLCCB is currently at the crossroads.  Significant as the issues raised at the town hall are (and they are vital in winning the confidence of the community), the GLCCB’s fundamental challenge is establishing a rationale for people to support the cause. 
Perhaps former GLCCB board member John Flannery said it best on a recent Facebook post.  “As it stands, most people just don’t know what the Center does outside of Pride...so getting them to donate is a losing proposition. Donate to what?” he asks.  “The days of assuming that the community needs the Center based on general principle alone are over. The community has changed and so have our needs.”

And so has the Center.

As the founders of the Center visualized and after the Chase St. building was purchased, the GLCCB was to be building-centric.  That is, community leaders saw it as a vibrant place to hold public board meetings, house offices including the important Switchboard and provide a safe space for community members to drop in. 

That changed over time as the Switchboard was disbanded and the health clinic broke away from the GLCCB.  Lambda Rising bookstore rented the ground floor meeting area for a decade thus eliminating the space that the founders had envisioned. The building eventually lost being the focal point of the community, its center.
Other deficiencies surfaced.  The GLCCB fritted away the opportunity to be part of the marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination battles.  While some on the board eschewed political issues, the Center could have demonstrated some relevancy and be part of history.  Instead, it sat on the sidelines.

Another miscue was that the eventual sale of building was botched in that Center leadership was not forthcoming as to the actual reasons for the sale. It played into the narrative that the people running the Center leadership lack openness and honesty.
An opportunity to reconnect with the community with the move to the current space was also squandered as the Waxter Center office space was and still is in need of work so it was not ready for an “open house” to re-generate enthusiasm.  It could have been a welcome shot in the arm.

For years the Center has been saddled with the reputation of existing solely for Pride.  To be sure, much of the Center’s visibility has occurred during the run-up to and including Pride.  Afterwards, not much seems to happen.
Can the GLCCB experience a renaissance or is it a lost cause?  The hill is steep but there are actions that can be taken to get back on track.  Some suggestions:

Consider a name change of the GLCCB to something like the more general Baltimore (or Maryland) Pride Center so as not to exclude sexual and gender minorities.

Piggybacking off the financial disclosures at the town hall, continue that path of transparency.

Reactivate the Advisory Council to encourage broad community perspectives that seem to be lacking.
Vigorously recruit historically underrepresented minorities to fill board seats; don’t just wait for applications to roll in. 

Adhere to the Strategic Plan that cost the GLCCB thousands of dollars to develop; don’t simply post it on the website.
Comply with the bylaws to hold open board meetings on a regular basis.

Make better use of Gay Life, Baltimore OUTloud and social media to convey results of board meetings and other important information.
Develop a speakers’ bureau to go out to schools, businesses and government agencies to discuss LGBT issues.

Play “small ball” regarding fundraisers.  Make events affordable and diverse to add visibility to the Center.  The Orioles outings are a fine example.  Partner with other organizations.
Recruit and train grant writers to help raise needed revenue.

And most importantly, identify those projects to secure grants.  Consider areas such as LGBT youth homelessness, school bullying and senior issues and activities, just to name a few.
These are all do-able albeit challenging, but when you’re at the crossroads, choosing the right path is key to finding your way.

1 comment:

Practice Democracy said...

The meager resources of those interested in supporting the efforts of our Community should go to those who are successful at what they do. Each of us has a democratic vote in where we donate our precious few dollars. Chase-Brexton, Hearts & Ears, PFLAG, The Center for Black Equality and Equality Maryland have been far more successful at providing "our" needs. Maybe it's time to let the Center pass into history.