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|It’s up to all of us to decide whether we still deserve to be the gay capital of the South|
|by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|February 03, 2012 00:00|
Outwrite is closed. YouthPride is teetering on the brink. Atlanta Pride will have a new leader for the first time since 2008, and it will be the first year since 1999 that James Parker Sheffield has not been involved.
Only a month into 2012, the year has already brought tremendous change to three iconic institutions in LGBT Atlanta. Outwrite was the city’s highest profile LGBT business. YouthPride is one of our city’s most important and beloved LGBT organizations. And Atlanta Pride is by far our city’s largest and most visible LGBT event.
What all of these changes mean for Atlanta will take months or even years to determine, but one thing is certain: How we respond to them will define whether we deserve to keep our reputation as the gay capital of the South.
Pride’s change is perhaps the simplest, though the impact could be profound. The festival has had consistent leadership for almost 20 years. Executive Director Donna Narducci led the organization for 12 years before resigning in 2008. James Parker Sheffield was already festival director then, and basically took the reins and provided a smooth transition.
Sheffield’s tenure included officially moving Pride to October in order to return the festival to Piedmont Park, after a disastrous move to the Civic Center in July 2008, caused by city drought policies. He weathered the resulting criticism with aplomb, and leaves the festival on solid footing.
Now the Atlanta Pride Committee faces the choice to hire someone new, or to select someone from within Pride’s pool of volunteers. That’s the tack the festival has already taken by hiring Buck Cooke, former entertainment committee co-chair, as interim manager.
Whoever becomes the new director of Pride, it’s incumbent on all of us to not only offer suggestions of what we want future festivals to be like, but also to get involved to make it happen.
Outwrite’s closure leaves a void much larger than just where to buy LGBT books.
While we encourage you to now order books from lesbian-owned Charis Books & More or gay-owned Brushstrokes, we also hope that both of these stores — or someone else — will step forward to host the authors who once packed Outwrite for readings and signings.
Charis already hosts readings, though in the past they haven’t sought the celebrity authors who came to Outwrite, and Brushstrokes owners said this week they plan to partner with gay bar Mixx to host future events.
That’s welcome news, as it would be a shame if Outwrite’s woes meant Atlanta was no longer a destination on the LGBT literary circuit.
YouthPride’s crisis is even more dire for gay Atlanta than Outwrite’s closure. Our community simply cannot let our next generation go without support, especially here in the South, where homophobia is pervasive.
YouthPride went public in December about a financial crisis that could spell closure. Our later questioning revealed a much greater problem: An appalling lack of transparency from the organization’s leadership, and a board that had dwindled to below the minimum required by bylaws and hadn’t met in over a year.
In response, gay teacher Charlie Stadtlander convened an invitation-only meeting to discuss what to do if YouthPride closed. No one from YouthPride was initially invited, but YouthPride Board President Jordan Myers attended.
Myers at first tried to lay the blame for YouthPride’s problems at the feet of the “community.”
“As an organization we have felt underrepresented in the community and by the community,” he told meeting attendees.
But how was the community supposed to know of the problems with YouthPride? The agency’s website showed a full board of directors (although GA Voice revealed many were no longer involved). Executive Director Terence McPhaul boldly stated at a November meeting about homeless youth that the agency was taking steps to open its own shelter in the future — all while YouthPride was behind on its rent and in danger of becoming homeless itself.
Stadtlander has been a controversial figure, including in his runs for public office. And at least one person who attended the meeting — Woodrow Leake, who was fired as YouthPride director in 2009 for allegedly harassing an adult female volunteer — should never have been on the list. True or not, any new effort can’t afford to be tarnished by past scandals.
Still, Leake is not involved in either of the two ad-hoc committees that came out of it: one to try to determine YouthPride’s financial and legal viability (a duty that the board abandoned) and one to look at ways to ensure services for LGBT youth continue.
The committees have also invited others who are interested to contact them to join in, so grousing about how they were formed is no longer productive.
Moving forward, the best we can hope for is that YouthPride accepts the help. We can also hope that no single person becomes the face of that effort, which could turn into a battle of personalities and derail any progress, and the committees are united as they offer their findings Feb. 8.
We can also hope that other leaders and volunteers get involved to continue serving LGBT youth, whether through a rebuilt YouthPride, other organizations, or a new effort altogether.
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