By JABARI LYLES & THOMAS IDOUX
We were shocked on Monday and a bit saddened to read this highly sensationalized headline in the Washington Blade: “Baltimore Pride in jeopardy due to lack of funds.” What was intended as a community crowd-funding effort to help our organization with debts incurred from last year’s administration was irresponsibly misconstrued as immediate danger to an event that has been running for over 40 years, Maryland’s largest LGBTQ event, Baltimore Pride.
A large, capable, new team of GLCCB volunteers, board members and staff have worked countless hours over the past several months to plan and produce Baltimore Pride 2016. We have built successful new partnerships and processes to ensure the success of Baltimore Pride this year and for many years to come. We are dedicated to remaining fully transparent with our community, and providing as much relevant information as possible to help with your understanding of where we are, and to repair any lost faith in Baltimore Pride this untimely article may have caused. Baltimore Pride is not in jeopardy, and will certainly not be cancelled.
The article references a Razoo fundraising page that was created after a board decision to reach out to the community for help with the only remaining debt from last year’s Pride, police salary fees. For all 25 police officers used over the course of both days, to whom we are required to pay overtime salary for working the event, we were invoiced one month after Pride for $12,146.27. By that time, Pride funds were already depleted due to poor planning and management of funds at the time. We are happy to say those responsible are no longer involved with our organization. This bill has remained unpaid since.
Baltimore City assured us that we would not be able to move forward with permit applications for Baltimore Pride 2016 until this debt is cleared up. Instead of using funds from this current year’s Pride coffers, we asked our community for help to clear up this piece of old debt. Although our language on the fundraising site reads, “Pride 2016 will not happen unless these debts are cleared up,” we never intended to insinuate that without the success of this particular fundraiser, Baltimore Pride will simply not happen. We announced this fundraiser at our recent town hall and it has been well received, as we have been able to raise over $6,200 of our $15,000 goal. This amount will help us to pay 2015 police fees, plus $3,850 required for permits. GLCCB is fully prepared and has made arrangements to pay these fees, although we appreciate and welcome any and all community support.
However, struggles with paying policing fees are not new for GLCCB. GLCCB has outstanding bills for Pride police dating back to 2011, and is currently in arrears $61,454.28, including the $12,146.27 from last year. In an attempt to clear up this debt, GLCCB pursued a payment arrangement with Baltimore City last year. This arrangement is currently being negotiated. We have made it clear to city officials that we as the current leaders are devoted to paying our bills responsibly. We also recognize that some of these past charges were exorbitant, and the city should better consider the importance of Baltimore Pride not only in its social and historical fabric, but also for the amount of revenue it generates for Baltimore during that week. Several cities across the country are supported directly and financially by their local city government to produce an annual LGBTQ pride celebration. Baltimore is one of few cities without this support, yet has maintained a successful festival for over 40 years. GLCCB is interested in building a closer relationship with city government so that we may work together for the benefit of sexual and gender minorities, and determine ways to ensure these debts are no longer incurred. The city has been agreeable and cooperative thus far.
According to our budget, released publicly at our town hall event in March and recently on our Facebook page, projected expenses for Baltimore Pride 2016 will cost $90,850, not $200,000 as reported by Steve Charing in the Washington Blade. We have already secured over $65,000 so far toward Baltimore Pride, and are working hard every day to attract new sponsors, vendors and parade entries. We anticipate another $35,000 coming in within the next few weeks from vendors who have expressed interest but have not yet paid. Baltimore Pride is not only Maryland’s largest LGBTQ event, it is also currently the largest source of income for the GLCCB. Our new team is hungry for the opportunity to create new programs, develop new leaders, and diligently serve the LGBTQ community of Baltimore. Our success with this event directly impacts our work in the community.
It has been understandably difficult for our organization, as it currently stands, to detach ourselves from the stained history and failures of previous administrations. Although we are sure even today’s team is not yet perfect, with new leadership and authentic love for community, we have been able to make incredible strides toward restoring GLCCB into what it has always needed to be: a strong, reliable place of resource and empowerment for sexual and gender minorities in Baltimore and across Maryland.
As GLCCB President Jabari Lyles said in a recent town hall meeting, “It took a while to [mess] up the GLCCB; it will take a while to fix it.” We understand this process will not be easy, and we will inevitably meet people who believe the GLCCB may never be restored. Regardless, we must work toward moving forward, staying above the drama, keeping honest, remaining transparent, and restoring faith in our organization for the benefit of the people we continue to serve, even during tough times. It was disappointing that we had to suffer this irresponsibly constructed article during a time when we are still building and need as much public support as we can get. We can only ask that those who see the benefit in working toward a successful GLCCB, and recognize the incredible work of those involved in repairing this organization continue to support us. We will write as many statements and hold as many town halls as we need to in order to prove that we are not the GLCCB of the past, and that we are moving forward stronger and better than before. We hope that you notice we are speaking up much more than before. We appreciate the community holding us accountable, and are looking forward to a successful, beautiful Baltimore Pride in 2016.
To join in on Baltimore Pride planning conversations, the public is welcome to attend our monthly Pride leadership meetings, occurring on the second Wednesday of each month, 6:30 p.m. at GLCCB. GLCCB also holds public board meetings on the second Tuesday of each month, 6:30 p.m. at GLCCB. To donate to our Baltimore Pride fundraiser, and to help us with clearing up this old debt, visit our fundraising page at http://goo.gl/co2UWH. For more information about Baltimore Pride, or to learn how to become a sponsor, vendor or parade entry, visit our website at www.baltimorepride.org.
Jabari Lyles is president of GLCCB; Thomas Idoux is vice president and Baltimore Pride co-chair.