June 1, 2011 at 6:27 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Equality Maryland board chair resigns

The chair of the board of directors of Equality Maryland resigned on Tuesday and the financially troubled LGBT group reduced the salary of its interim executive director and significantly changed her duties, according to a statement released by the board.

Attorney Charles Butler resigned both from his post as chair of Equality Maryland’s board and from the board itself, according to Patrick Wojahn, who chairs a separate board of the Equality Maryland Foundation.

The statement released by the Equality Maryland board didn’t give a reason for Butler’s resignation. But his departure comes one week after he startled some of the group’s supporters and members by publicly blaming the group’s former executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, for the organization’s serious financial woes.

Meneses-Sheets, whom the board fired in April, denounced Butler’s claim that she entered into expensive contracts on behalf of Equality Maryland and hired staff without the board’s approval or knowledge. In what observers called a messy public fight, Butler and Meneses-Sheets each told the Blade that the other shared the blame for a funding shortage that threatens to force the group to close its doors.

“As we announced last Tuesday, the financial situation of Equality Maryland is very serious,” Wojahn said in the statement released by the board on Tuesday.

“We are also hearing clearly through our Listening Tour that people in Maryland want to see significant change in how we operate,” he said. “As custodians of the statewide community’s equality organization, we are committed to building an Equality Maryland that takes community input into consideration and that relies on a sustainable funding model.”

Wojahn was referring to a series of community meetings that Equality Maryland has held over the past two weeks throughout the state that the group has dubbed “listening tour stops.” The next tour meeting was scheduled to take place June 9 in Silver Spring and another is scheduled for July 14 in Temple Hills.

The statement says part of the immediate change the board has approved is a new contract for the group’s recently hired interim executive director, Lynne Bowman, former executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Ohio.

“Effective June 1, Bowman’s focus will shift from external outreach and programmatic involvement to management of internal operations and an increased role directly supporting the board’s efforts to revamp the organization,” the statement says. “As part of the new contract, Bowman will work at a reduced fee and spend half of the month in Baltimore and the other half working virtually from Ohio. She will be contracted on a month-to-month basis.”

Wojahn told the Blade the board will fulfill, on a temporary basis, the duties that Bowman carried out as of this week in advocating for LGBT-related legislation before the Maryland Legislature along with other LGBT-related advocacy efforts.

He said that unless new sources of funding emerge within the next few weeks, all but one of the group’s staff members, the office manager, could be laid off by July 1.

“We offered the staff the opportunity to stay on for the next month,” Wojahn said. “We can’t promise anyone anything beyond that.”

“As part of the organization’ s focus on the future, the board will be meeting to develop a short-term strategic plan meant to guide the organization’ s non-programmatic activities through the end of 2011,” the statement released on Tuesday says. “In addition to a renewed focus on fundraising with individual donors, it is expected that the plan will also address ways to increase and diversify the membership of the board of Equality Maryland, enhance community involvement in the direction-setting and decision-making of the organization, and identify ways to tighten internal operations and governance. It is expected that the board will report back out to the community when the short-term plan is finalized.”

Sources familiar with LGBT politics in Maryland have said the Human Rights Campaign, which is based in Washington, D.C., was expected to lead a coalition of national and local groups in an effort next year to push for a same-sex marriage bill in the Maryland Legislature.

Some of the state’s leading transgender rights advocates announced two weeks ago that they have formed a new statewide group called Gender Rights Maryland, which they said would lead lobbying efforts for a comprehensive gender identity non-discrimination bill.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • This organization’s brand is damaged beyond repair. There would be no sense by MD legislators that they have any reason to fear voting “no” on marriage, b/c EQMD is in no position to punish them at the ballot box. And there would be no confidence whatsoever that EQMD could manage a statewide campaign to defend any marriage law in a referendum.

    The best thing now would be for the organization to die. A new organization – new name and new people – should be created. It will need to be managed by professionals – people with actual lobbying experience, with some connections in the MD legislature, and people with serious experience in both fundraising and campaigning. This group should cut a deal to get civil unions this year or next. Then in a few years, with money, clout and expertise in hand, they can get marriage and send Rep. Sam Arora to the unemployment line.

    • I agree with you except that EQMD is a brand and the name is worth keeping. While it has been tarnished in the past month, this is mainly something only in some gays minds, those that are paying attention. No one else reads these articles or is in tune and so EQMD simply remains a name to them and something positive or representative of the fight in our state. This is a blip on the radar and no one will remember it in 2 or 5 or 10 years and the fight will last long beyond that. These orgs go up and down and up and down – the key is to get up and not be permanently damaged. So I say keep the name, but go with the rest of what you are recommending.

  • Unlike the handful of people who post comments here, there are several Marylanders out there actually engaging with Equality Maryland in a constructive way. Those people know that this past year Equality Maryland hired what most in Annapolis consider the best lobbying firm in town. In addition, several current and former Equality Maryland board members have extensive “connections” with the Maryland legislators and other high-ranking State officials. So the criticisms of David, and people who have posted comments on related articles here, stem from rank ignorance.

  • To all the Davids of the world — where have you and your strategic advice been all these years ? Have you ever donated your time or money or service to Equality Maryland ?

    And if you have — why aren’t you trying to talk to the organizational leaders directly ? Do you really expect ANYONE to take seriously the ranting of an anonymous voice on an internet website ?

    Or perhaps, that is all you really have to offer.

    • I agree with David, as do most of the group who I saw this weekend, where this was the main topic of conversation. But let’s not try to move ahead with fresh faces and ideas, let’s fight among ouselves and set the movement back. It’s much more gay!

  • There are two David’s posting here. I was a major donor to EM annually for at least 8 years, served in a variety of volunteer capacities, organized my delegation lobby group for lobby days twice, and have volunteered in other ways through the years. I’ve never ranted on this website or anywhere. And have not seen the other David ranting here. He’s frustrated, that’s clear. So am I.

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