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S.D. Pride faces no-confidence vote, falls silent

Community takeover at hand?

Thom Senzee, author of this article, is a West Coast-based freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to San Diego LGBT Weekly.

SAN DIEGO — Supporters and detractors will face off at the Joyce Beers Community Center Nov. 13 for an up or down vote of confidence aimed at the current board of directors of San Diego LGBT Pride as outrage continues to smolder throughout much of the local community following the sudden ouster in late August of former Pride executive director, Stephen Whitburn by the organization’s board.

Stephen Whitburn

Stephen Whitburn

As anger grows, what could easily be described as an attempt at a hostile takeover by a group of prominent community leaders is gaining traction. But Pride’s board seems neither able to find its footing nor even its voice in the post-Whitburn era it created during the warm, waning weeks of summer 2016.

Pride’s board of directors issued a statement after it terminated the executive director hired in early 2013 by a board comprised largely of members who have since moved on. The statement praised Whitburn’s work in words so counterintuitively glowing as to border on the poetic. Even more mystifying to those who are now calling for the installation of a new set of directors to take over is why the current board got rid of a leader who just weeks earlier had delivered San Diego’s most financially lucrative, and arguably its most widely praised, LGBT Pride festival ever.

“I can’t speak to the rationality of the board, but I can speak to their actions,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, cofounder of an ad hoc group calling itself the Pride Community Accountability Committee. “Mistakes have been made…[t]here must be fundamental change of the board’s membership.”

Save SD PrideRodriguez-Kennedy, a U.S. Marine veteran who previously served as Pride’s board secretary and is now president of the politically powerful, San Diego Democrats for Equality (which Rodriguez-Kennedy emphatically indicated has no position regarding the current controversy surrounding Pride), has alleged publicly and repeated to San Diego LGBT Weekly during an interview for this report that “some of Pride’s directors have committed egregious acts for which they should resign.”

Another cofounder of the committee Rodriguez-Kennedy organized to oppose Pride’s sudden firing of Whitburn as well as other actions and alleged mistakes made by the board is City Commissioner and “Mayor of Hillcrest” Nicole Murray Ramirez, who is a columnist for this publication and one of Pride’s original founders.

“If they would have had the (disbanded) Advisory Board and talked to them about Stephen (Whitburn) they would have gotten a widespread reaction of how Steve Whitburn has done an outstanding job and has great standing and a lot of support in the community,” Ramirez told LGBT Weekly.

San Diego LGBT Pride’s Wall of Silence

LGBT Weekly postponed publication of this report no fewer than three times during the past two weeks in order to give officials and board members from the organization time and multiple opportunities to respond to the allegations made by Rodriguez-Kennedy and his so-called Pride Community Accountability Committee.

Our attempts to obtain a response included several phone calls, emails, text messages, as well as voicemails, handwritten messages and in-person visits to Pride’s offices in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood.

We reached out to board members, both active and emeriti, and to interim executive director Christiana Tasto, who came to Pride by way of a temporary-employment agency specializing in non-profit executive talent, to no avail.

We were also told by a staff member that Director of Operations Fernando Lopez and Board Secretary Jaime Carrillo would be reachable via email despite their being in Europe on business for the organization at Pride’s expense. That was more than a week ago. As of press time, there had been no reply to our requests for comment from anyone at San Diego LGBT Pride.

“Their lack of connection to the community, the conduct of some of their members, their failure to keep corporate records and their shocking decisions have created a palpable feeling of distrust in the community – because of these factors I would say they are not, in their current construction, a representation of our community,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.

The accusations against Pride are manifold. They include violating basic standards of practice for non-profit organizations that accept federal funding and enjoy 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, not least among them failing to post minutes of board meetings. As of this morning, minutes for several board meetings held this year had not been posted, despite multiple requests having been made in person, via the media, online and in writing by individual community members and by the Pride Community Accountability Committee in recent weeks.

Another, perhaps more troubling accusation centers on one board member who has been accused of engaging in physically and verbally inappropriate behavior against a volunteer during the kickoff to this year’s Pride festival at Balboa Park.

In a dramatic and very public mea culpa, board secretary Jaime Carrillo responded to the person who was allegedly the target of the alleged behavior as she made her complaint to the board by loudly proclaiming “It’s me! I’m the one!” It’s worth noting that the person making the complaint had not named the person about whom she was complaining.

Read next week’s print edition of LGBT Weekly for a full expose about the incident as well as an exclusive interview with the woman who brought forward the accusation.

For a full list of the Pride Community Accountability Committee’s 14 grievances and nine demands for “corrective actions,” which include recomposition of the board in a manner that would look remarkably like the one that hired Whitburn back in 2013, and the re-hiring of Stephen Whitburn as executive director, click here.

Although LGBT Weekly was unable to obtain direct comment from San Diego LGBT Pride, previously the organization issued a statement to the media which read, “Stephen Whitburn was a beloved member of the Pride family, but we have parted ways at this time.”

Visit sdpride.org for more information about San Diego LGBT Pride and savesdpride.org for further details about the Nov. 13 vote of confidence or no-confidence regarding the organization’s board of directors.

A previous version of this story referred to the Pride Community Accountability Committee by its former name, the Community Negotiating Committee.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=74825

Posted by on Oct 21, 2016. Filed under Around the City, Online Only, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “S.D. Pride faces no-confidence vote, falls silent”

  1. The piece details recent attempts to salvage San Diego Pride, the frustration with the Pride Board’s unwillingness to listen to the community, and the “Stonewall of Silence” detailed in this report.
    We believe the community deserves a voice in the direction of Pride, and as mentioned we are calling for a Town Hall Sunday November 13th at the Joyce Beers Community Center
    This is a chance for our community to let their voices be heard. With your help we can Save SD Pride.org, and we can have an accountable organization with community support.
    Please share this on your Facebook page so we get the word out to the community.
    The community deserves better, the community demands action!


  2. I consider Stephen to be a friend. I have had many pleasant conversations with him over the years, and I have always hoped for the best for him in his personal and professional lives. However, the way that he has handled his termination has made me question his judgement and his ability to continue to serve as a community leader.

    After being let go, Stephen applied for a permit to produce his own pride festival in Balboa Park on the same weekend that San Diego Pride is normally held. Whether his intent was to block San Diego Pride, whose dedicated year-round staff continue to plan next year’s events, from using the park or whether his intent was to produce a competing festival that would draw people away from San Diego Pride, the last thing that our LGBTQ community needs right now is further division amongst us.

    The community is upset over a shakeup in an organization that produced a wildly successful parade and festival this year, and that’s totally understandable. However, I propose that there is a better path to move forward. The Pride board has brought in an outside interim director to replace Stephen, and that is absurd when San Diego Pride already has a director of operations who is utterly qualified to take over as executive director. Fernando Lopez has undertaken initiatives that have not only produced a better festival for all of us, but have also provided greater outreach to LGBTQ youth in San Diego. It makes no sense at all for the Pride board to hire from outside the organization when there is already a staff member who could step into the executive director’s office and hit the ground running, and the board’s failure to hire Fernando Lopez is bound to hurt both the organization and staff morale.

    I hope that you will all consider shifting your focus to demanding that the board hire the most qualified replacement executive director, and I believe that that person is San Diego Pride’s director of operations Fernando Lopez.

  3. This story from LGBT Weekly about the Pride Youth Leadership Academy is just one example of a program that Fernando, in his capacity as director of operations, has created to help support our community’s LGBTQ youth.


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