July 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm EST | by Steve Charing
Spirited discussion at Pride town hall
town hall, Baltimore Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

A majority of those surveyed were unhappy with this year’s Baltimore Pride celebration. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There was some heat and a bit of a storm on the night of July 23 but we’re not referring to the weather outside the Waxter Center, the new home of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB).  It was billed as a town hall meeting to provide feedback regarding the Pride celebration of June 14-15, but the meeting morphed into a sometimes heated discussion of the broader issues regarding the GLCCB’s past and current lack of accountability and relevancy.

In an open letter to the LGBT community, the Center’s interim executive director Kelly Neel wrote, noting the urgency, that the community is disengaging with the Center and vice versa,  “I am here to ask for your help in bringing it back. It will take time, patience, and a lot of community elbow grease, but I’m confident that we can learn from our past mistakes and revive the bond between Baltimore’s LGBTQ community and its community center.”

Neel sent out email invitations to the Center’s mailing list and through social media inviting people to the town hall and to complete an online feedback survey. About 60 people showed up to listen to the Pride coordinators and GLCCB board members and to voice their concerns. The survey extends to Aug. 15.

Neel said there was insufficient time to adequately plan for Pride 2014 given the Center’s move to a new building and the departure of the previous executive director, Matt Thorn.

“We got started late in the game,” explained Neel. Dates had to shift, and a new “footprint” to the Mt. Royal area required permits and added security. The decision to move the events was made before Neel assumed her duties.

Expenses for Pride 2104 exceeded $114,000 while revenue was close to $178,000 resulting in a $64,000 profit, which is a modest total as Pride is the main fundraising activity for the Center.

Based on the survey results, the GLCCB is considering a return to Druid Hill Park for the Sunday celebration, which would add a family-friendly element to the event. It will also try to deal with concerns about the beer garden and the drag stage, among other tweaks suggested via the survey. Of the 61 responses received at the time of the meeting, 58 percent were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with Pride this year.

The meeting was opened up to comments from the audience. Initially, some issues with Pride were brought up, such as why there was no open drinking permitted.

Then comments came about a range of topics, including the Center’s outreach to minorities, a perceived lack of transparency, the sale in 2013 of its long-held building, the need for face-to-face communication with the community rather than electronic dispatches, renewed charges of racism and classism in board selections, that transgender people are not made to feel welcome, the Center’s failure to respond to invitations to faith-based events, and a lack of a specified mission or purpose.

Mike McCarthy, board president since 2012, and others stated that the board has never intended to exclude anyone. Since the meeting, a board application was made available at GLCCB.org.

Neel and the board members thanked the audience and promised to take this feedback seriously. “We heard what needs to be heard—not just Pride but the Center,” Neel said following the meeting. “Changes are needed. It starts here.”

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