The board of directors of the statewide LGBT organization Equality Maryland voted Sunday night in a closed meeting to fire its executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, according to a statement released today by Matthew Thorn, the group’s development director.
Thorn, who was hired in January to lead Equality Maryland’s fundraising activities, announced in his statement that he was resigning immediately in protest over the board’s decision to dismiss Meneses-Sheets.
“This past Sunday, the Board of Directors of Equality Maryland, in executive session, voted to remove her from her position, essentially telling the organization’s staff, volunteers, supporters, funders and general community that the organization will now move in a different direction,” Thorn said in his statement.
“I fear that the direction that the board seeks to take is one that will not be a beneficial path for the community, for the organization, for the staff and especially for the organization’s funders, and that’s why, effective today, I am resigning from my position as director of development of Equality Maryland.”
In her own statement sent to the group’s volunteers today, which sources said she planned to post on her personal Facebook page, Meneses-Sheets said, “It is with heavy heart that I share that today will be my last day as the executive director of Equality Maryland. While it is not my choice to leave, it is my choice to make my voice heard as I exit.”
While her tenure at the organization over the past 18 months has provided “some of the most rewarding moments of my career,” she said in her statement that her job has also been “extremely” difficult.
“In particular the past few months have been tough to bear,” she said. “Not because of the hard work which I welcome and felt honored to be part of, but because of the forces within the organization and external politics that created additional and unnecessary obstacles to our forward movement and success.”
She added, “As I move on, I will not focus on the negative or destructive forces that created this untenable situation; instead I will look back at the many proud moments along the way.”
Patrick Wojahn, chair of the board of the Equality Maryland Foundation, the group’s educational arm, said the board would not comment on specific reasons for Meneses-Sheets’ departure, other than to say “it was a mutual decision by her and the organization.”
He said the board views both Meneses-Sheets’ and Mathew Thorn’s departures as personnel matters, which the board doesn’t publicly discuss.
Asked about Meneses-Sheets’ statement saying it was not her choice to leave the organization, Wojahn said, “It was partially our decision, too. But we essentially decided to go in a different direction as an organization. And I don’t want to comment any more on personnel matters.”
He added, “We should be coming out next week with more information on how we intend to proceed.”
Meneses-Sheets did not return a call Friday seeking an interview to discuss why she believes the board chose to dismiss her.
Sources familiar with the organization, who spoke only on condition that they not be identified, said Meneses-Sheets’ firing could stem, in part, from disagreements between her and board members over some of her decisions in carrying out the group’s efforts to pass a same-sex marriage bill and transgender non-discrimination bill in the Maryland Legislature.
At least two sources said board members became irate when she disclosed in a telephone news conference with media representatives the group’s timetable for seeking a vote by lawmakers on the marriage bill. The board members reportedly believed releasing such information would help opponents of the bills develop strategies to block or kill the legislation.
Her discussion on the media call about the strategy for the bill’s timing prompted Equality Maryland Board Chair Charles Butler to issue an order prohibiting Meneses-Sheets from speaking to the media, an action that other staff members viewed as an unfair intrusion by the board into her ability to use her judgment in carrying out the board’s policies, one of the sources said.
The same source said some board members became further upset last month when Meneses-Sheets agreed to a question-and-answer interview in Metro Weekly magazine, in which her photo appeared on the magazine’s cover.
“Some of them thought she was thumbing her nose at those on the board who didn’t want her to talk to the press,” the source said.
Her supporters viewed the board’s directive prohibiting an executive director of a political organization from talking to the media as a petty intrusion into the day-to-day operation of the group, sources familiar with the group said.
One source blamed the board for “failing to get their own act together” on the marriage and transgender bills.
Butler didn’t return a call on Friday seeking his views on the reasons for Meneses-Sheets’ dismissal.
The departure of Meneses-Sheets and Thorn from Equality Maryland follows a tumultuous four-month period in which tense, behind-the-scenes disputes surfaced between board members and Meneses-Sheets over strategy in the group’s unsuccessful effort to pass same-sex marriage and transgender non-discrimination bills, according to sources familiar with the organization.
Sources say the tension and sometimes bitter infighting went beyond Equality Maryland and involved a tangle of alliances with several national LGBT organizations that exerted great influence over the push to pass the same-sex marriage bill. Among them were D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, Denver-based Gill Action Fund and the New York-based Freedom to Marry.
E-mails obtained by the Blade that were sent by officials of the three groups to Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland board members and LGBT members of the Maryland Legislature show that the groups pushed hard for cancelling a planned vote on the marriage bill in the state’s House of Delegates. The controversial decision to cancel the vote and recommit the bill to committee, which killed it for the year, came after the national LGBT groups and some supportive lawmakers determined they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and it would be better to recall it then go forward with a losing vote.
Other activists and Equality Maryland supporters strongly disputed that decision, saying the bill had a chance of passing and even if it lost, it would have been better to force lawmakers to take a recorded vote to determine where they stood on marriage equality.
The death of the marriage bill for the legislature’s 2011 session was quickly followed by a separate vote in the Maryland Senate to recommit to committee the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, an action that also killed that measure for the year.
The two developments were viewed as a double defeat for Equality Maryland at a time when many thought the legislature should have passed both measures. Supporters of Meneses-Sheets say at least some Equality Maryland board members were seeking to make her the “scapegoat” for the bills’ defeat, saying the demise of the two measures was due, at least in part, to forces beyond Equality Maryland’s control
Meneses-Sheets devotes most of her two-page statement to citing what she calls the major successes of Equality Maryland during her tenure and the tenure of the group’s staff and volunteers. Among other things, she said the group played a key role in the advancement of the same-sex marriage and transgender rights bills to a point further than had been achieved over the previous five years.
“As a Marylander, as a lesbian, as a parent, as someone with many loved ones who are transgender and as someone who believes in social justice, I sincerely hope that Equality Maryland will succeed in their future endeavors to ensure that our state lives up to the promise of equality for all of its citizens,” she said. “This will require significant change, but it is possible.”
Meneses-Sheets became the third executive director of Equality Maryland to leave the group since 2008. Thorn’s resignation comes just five months after he joined the group in January. His predecessor as development director, Kevin Walling, left the group in September 2010 less than two years after being hired in January 2009.
Thorn’s statement in full:
“Today, it is with great sadness that I resign as director of development of Equality Maryland. Over the past few months, I have given tireless energy to see the success of the organization and it has been made apparent in these last few days that the organization, lead by the board of directors wishes to see the organization to move in a different direction.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders have found a true champion in Morgan Meneses-Sheets. Not only has she committed time and energy away from her wife and her 5-month-old daughter, but she had the tenacity to keep fighting in Annapolis, even when all others had given up. Giving up just isn’t in her vocabulary. This past Sunday, the board of directors of Equality Maryland, in executive session voted to remove her from her position, essentially telling the organization’s staff, volunteers, supporters, funders and general community that the organization will now move in a different direction.
I fear that the direction that the board seeks to take is one that will not be a beneficial path for the community, for the organization, for the staff and especially the organization’s funders, and that is why, effective today, I am resigning from my position as director of development of Equality Maryland. I wish nothing but the best to the staff and the community and hope that we can overcome these obstacles to continue to fight for our full equality.”