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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Localizing for the Right Reasons

The news that a new equality center was planned for North Baltimore that includes the heavily LGBT-populated areas of Waverly and Charles Village was met by a subtle attempt to stir unnecessary controversy by our local mainstream newspaper.  The teaser tweets relating to their story read, “Former head of GLCCB creating her own LGBT services organization” and “Will Kelly Neel’s North Baltimore Equality Center be a GLCCB partner or rival?”
The implication is that Kelly Neel, who had resigned in October from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) as interim executive director and has proceeded to launch a new organization, North Baltimore Equality Center (NBEq), is motivated by her departure in an attempt to stick a finger in the eye of her previous employer.
This is simply not true.

To be fair, the environment at the GLCCB prompting Kelly’s resignation last October was, as she described, “tumultuous”.  She believed the Board members at the time did not communicate effectively with her, did not provide needed support, nor did they share her vision regarding the Center’s finances and event planning.  In turn, Board members were not fond of her job performance. 
The permanent job (assuming the word “permanent” is even appropriate) was clearly not going to be hers although her application would have been considered.  She read the handwriting on the wall, saw no chance of reaching common ground, and said adios.  Joel Tinsley-Hall was ultimately selected to fill the position.

Evidence of Kelly’s commitment to the community and not retribution towards the GLCCB was demonstrated by her actions immediately following her resignation.  Instead of leaving the Center bitterly and with her tail between her legs as others in that situation may have done, she meticulously provided a detailed blueprint and set of instructions for her successor to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.  I know Joel appreciated that.
Her biggest gripe as stated in an email blast to her friends and supporters that announced her resignation was not so much the GLCCB but the “culture of disconnect between the various organizations that provide services to our LGBTQ community.”  Kelly lamented the lack of communication and collaboration among the organizations causing some people to be unaware of available services.

If you know Kelly, you understand her passion for helping community members receive services and participate in programs, not trying to compete with other organizations including the GLCCB.  That is one of the reasons she wanted to start an Equality Center in North Baltimore, an area where she resides.  Simply put, Kelly wants to partner with other organizations to help the community.
 “There is a need in our community and I intend to work to satiate it, not to run other organizations out of the game,” Kelly Neel told me in an interview. “Programs are similar to that of the GLCCB because there is a need for these sorts of programs across the city, not solely in Mount Vernon.”  

Indeed, there are AA meetings held at the GLCCB, for example, but AA meetings exist all over the city.  No one entity has a monopoly on a program or service; organizations could and should work together.
“I have met with Joel Tinsley-Hall…and have discussed the potential North Baltimore Equality Center and my plans to include the GLCCB as a partner,” Kelly points out.  “Joel expressed that he is 100 percent on board and would love to collaborate in the future. In addition, I see the North Baltimore Equality Center as a way to bring together the various LGBTQ organizations in Baltimore City to collaboratively tackle the issues our community faces.”

Kelly feels the critical issue of money can be best helped by a shared effort. “In my opinion, if we are all working in partnership towards the same goals, it is much more attractive to potential funding groups and foundations,” she explains.  “Applying for grants jointly and in partnership allows the funders’ dollars [to] travel further, allowing two organizations to serve their community through one grant.”

For sure, funding will be a key to success.  Competing for precious dollars from donors and securing grants is a daunting challenge.  Kelly estimates that $60,000-$65,000 will be needed the first year.  She must overcome that competition with other organizations and selling the idea to a steadily disengaging community.  While responses to a needs survey that coincided with her announced launch have been robust during the early stages, completing a survey and writing a check are two different matters.
Should the NBEq Center become successful, Kelly envisions partner sites around the city to help community member access services and programs. “I think it is important to localize the movement but in a cohesive manner,” Kelly says. “Resources and programs that do not cater to the surrounding community's interest will not be successful. In addition, one central organization becomes less effective if the community it intends to serve cannot reach them. Proximity is a big deal in Baltimore. If I cannot easily and affordably reach your services, I am far less inclined to use them.”

This idea of localization is a good one and is something I argued for on a statewide level last March.  We should decentralize the equality movement and establish local and regional outlets, such as Western Maryland Equality, Southern Maryland Equality, Eastern Shore Equality and the several PFLAG chapters already in place throughout the state to more effectively reach our communities.
Local branches would be better equipped to “put out fires” and deal with corresponding local elected officials, school boards, police departments, and business entities since the folks working with them are neighbors.

Kelly Neel’s NBEq venture would apply this principle and make it easier for community members to benefit from the services and programs offered.  This is a smart approach all the way around and should be supported by our communities.  It is by no means intended to settle scores or create rivalries.

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