Friday, September 28, 2018

What a difference 25 years makes!

My second opportunity to serve Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow draws to a close in a couple of days, which gives me an opportunity to reflect on a few things. Yes it is a long reflection but I hope you will bear with me.

My first term as President began in 1990, almost exactly 25 years before this current term began.  We had gotten our foot in the door on issues of inclusion and begun to tell our stories, to evangelize if you will, The Episcopal Church about what it was like as queer persons.  The General Convention of 1991 resulted in some progress in our ministry, including two openly queer Deputies coming out on the floor of the House of Deputies: one a lesbian priest, the other a gay layman. A few jaws dropped, but a new era had begun.  We could now speak for ourselves in the councils of the church rather than rely on our much beloved straight allies.

Over the course of those 25 years we managed, with the help of non-LGBTQ+ allies and other organizations similar to us, to attain goals we had only dreamed of achieving: appointments to Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards (CCAB’s); passage of revisions to the canons and constitution of our church to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression/identity; election of two openly LGBTQ+ bishops; and, in 2015, marriage equality. Those were just the highlights of how our ministry managed to help in changing the heart and mind of our church.  As eight bishops have demonstrated to the entire church, there is much left to be done for full inclusion of queerfolk at the provincial, diocesan and parish levels. Our ministry needs to return to its roots if we are all to benefit from being truly full members of our church.

The board was larger in my first term as President.  Gay white males were in the majority. There was no one on the board of color and I don’t recall anyone not being LGBTQ+.  We frequently used the term lesbigay to describe ourselves. If memory is correct, our beloved founder coined that term. The concept of transgender had not actually jelled at that point in history. We were all volunteers and there was no paid staff.  To make us all feel our ages, internet communications and social media platforms such as we have now were in their infancies if they existed at all.   Paper ruled when it came to publications!

The board whose term began with my being recycled as President was very different.  There are only six of us:  Three are transgender women; one is a cisgender straight white woman; one is a gay Asian male.  I’m the sole gay white male on the current board.  It has been an absolute delight to work with these talented and dedicated folks for the last three years.  We have generally faced the challenges given us with as much grace as we could muster, appropriate humor, little if any rancor among us, and what I have found to be a deeply moving faith in God and respect for each other.  Under the circumstances, I don’t think I could have wanted a more appropriate board for the mission we have been given.

Our mission ran into challenges pretty early in our terms.  The largest then and continuing now is money.  It takes financial resources for a national non-profit organization to carry out its mission, no matter what that mission might be.  We continue to struggle to meet expectations we place on ourselves and that members of our organization place on us.  That has been more difficult with the move from even minimal paid staff to all volunteer “staff” in the form of the board itself.  We continue to find things that need to be fixed and/or things that are not working as planned or sometimes even working at all.  I think it would be an understatement to say that we did not know exactly what we were getting into when we offered ourselves in service to Integrity. Yet, we have persisted and we have made progress….even if not as much as we or our constituents might have wanted. The board is well aware that much work remains to be done, particularly in updating records of various sorts.

I personally had no clue about what I was stepping into when I ran for Integrity’s President.  Let’s just say that I was in for some surprises.  I do not want to impute guilt, fault or blame.  I do want to make some observations as my term ends.  I hope those observations might assist my successor(s) and might offer insight to our membership.

I put my name forward for President comfortable, so I thought, in the knowledge that I had almost 35 years of experience in non-profit boards and management. That experience taught me some valuable lessons:
  • Any type of paid staff requires a reliable and ongoing source of funding.  Office space, even minimal square footage, also requires a reliable and ongoing source of funding. Integrity didn’t and still doesn’t have those reliable and ongoing funding resources.  Grants alone do not achieve that aspect of financial success.  It takes a fairly complex source of funding to insure what is needed for a physical presence and paid staff to occupy that space.
  • The staff, especially the executive level staff, of a non-profit organization must have experience in managing a non-profit, particularly one that has a national scope.  Similarly, staff who are charged with unique aspects of the mission, fundraising for example, must also have experience in their areas of responsibility.   To be successful, a non-profit must have experienced staff in key positions who understand both the operation of nonprofits and development of resources.  Success is not a likely outcome when the experience is not there.  That isn’t necessarily a reflection on individuals as much as it is recognition of some of the facts of life for a non-profit.
  • Accountability is an absolute necessity.  Questions, including the difficult questions, must be asked and answered.  This is particularly true around issues of finances. Where is the money being spent?  Who is bringing in money?  Who is responsible for controlling how spending follows the budget?  Both board members and staff are obligated to ask and respond to  the questions needed to insure that the institution is a sound one from a myriad of aspects.
  • Transitions between administrations and key staff positions require detailed planning and interaction between those leaving positions and those coming into positions.  Someone new to an organization must know what is expected and where they can find the information/resources they need to accomplish their jobs. 
The above are the major issues that faced us as a board when we took office in 2015.  As a result of the fact that these issues had not been addressed, we found ourselves looking at a bleak picture.  Even though upper level paid staff had already been laid off due to lack of funds to pay their salaries, we had to proceed to gradually eliminate the rest of the paid staff for the same reason.  That was done first by reducing hours until ultimately it became clear that we could not afford any paid staff at all, even on a part time basis. Sadly, during that process we also learned of how little transition planning had taken place.

My profound praise and gratitude is due my colleagues on this board for staying the course as we became more fully aware of our situation.  To say that this was a learning experience would be to make a ridiculous understatement.  We did our best at fund raising by appealing to those who had elected us.  Development experience wasn’t really a skill any of us brought to the table, but we tried... and we managed to keep the boat floating on the water and will hand the tiller to new leadership with money in the bank and few financial obligations other than bank fees and post office box rent and what is needed to maintain our web presence.

So what is next?  A lot of that will be up to the membership of our organization.  Are we willing to continue to pledge our financial support?  Will we encourage others to join the organization?  Will we engage at the local level to help insure that those who are LGBTQ+ will indeed occupy a place that is equal to all others in our church? Will we commit ourselves to working for full equality in those dioceses where bias, prejudice and inequality continue to hold sway?

Perhaps most importantly, we support the incoming board with our prayers and support.  We support our new President, the Rev. Gwen Fry in her work and her own personal journey to be her authentic self. We support the right for all of God’s children to be exactly who they were created to be and live their authentic selves in our church and our society.

The future of Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow is in our collective hands.  I pray we will rise to the tasks before us and continue to build the bridges needed for those who come after us.  Farewell and Godspeed, my friends!

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow

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