The community voices the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte willfully ignored in their public statement on Tuesday

UPDATE: Center will host ‘open forum’ on Dec. 4, 7 p.m. More info…

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte

LGBT Charlotte Center Chair Roberta Dunn says constructive criticism constitutes an "attack" on center volunteers and board members.

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte

On Tuesday, after more than a week’s worth of public discussion, the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte issued a public response, via center board chair Roberta Dunn, to constructive criticism and suggestions they received from me regarding their operations, their programs (or lack thereof) and their expenses.

Instead of taking responsibility for their many mistakes in non-profit governance, including their expired charitable solicitation license from the North Carolina Secretary of State, the center and Dunn thought it was more important to paint me merely as a critic with no solutions.

They stated: “As a well-known leader in the Charlotte LGBT Community, Comer should be behind the Center for the events we are now creating, not attacking the work of our volunteers and Board.”

I find it outrageous and shameful that the center chair and board of directors would attempt to equate constructive criticism and feedback with an attack. I believe such an insinuation serves only to intimidate and threaten other community members with feedback from speaking out publicly.

Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately for the center) plenty of community members have already spoken out about their experiences with the center. None of these experiences were addressed by Dunn’s statement on Tuesday.

Throughout this endeavor for public conversation — a conversation years in the making — I have attempted to represent and highlight the concerns not only of myself, but also those of community members. Obviously, the center board couldn’t see that, and instead chose to respond with a statement that attacked me directly.

So, here are the direct comments from community members recounting some of their experiences with the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte.

We each await an official response from the center leadership regarding their decision on when exactly they will hold an open town hall to discuss these issues. Thus far, the center has proposed a town hall on Wednesday, Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, a date which is unworkable for most community members.

Community feedback

Below is feedback directly from the community, as shared on Facebook over the past week. Comments below have not been edited for grammar or spelling. Unless an individual has given me explicit permission to use their name, I have removed individual names of those making the comments so as not to subject individual community members to the same public attack I received from the center on Tuesday. Each comment represents a different community member with negative experiences with this community organization.

Called names
I agree, the center will fold ,, and I will pray we can rebuild it without the drama of people who think they need to be on top of everything, BULLDOGS some have been called. I put Lots of effort into the center with the move, Everything I did has been throw out,, I was even called names by a few people when I spoke up. [Another person] was treated poorly by the then board also,,, he had fantastic ideas for the center, it all fell on drama ears,,, people who couldnt see the troubles coming cause of there own self righteousness Maybe [another communtiy member] Yourself myself and a few others should have a “coffee” and talk about this,, I dont have much free time during the days,, but I can slip away for an hour or two

Employee outcast,  same conversation and no change
Ya know, I find it amazing that this very same conversation was happening 5 years ago. Are they still NOT subletting to local LGBT orgs to offset some of the cost? If not, then why? Aren’t there currently some LGBT orgs renting space at other locations?

I can remember when I was administrator there it was talked about but no one ever did anything to bring in tenants. I also remember getting my hand slapped on more than one occasion when trying to bring in revenue. It was one of the reasons I finally quit. The micro management by a board that met once a month was a struggle. I want even allowed in the meetings. Near the end of my time as administrator they would bring me into the monthly meeting for a few minutes but that wasn’t consistent. Like I said before, little seems to have changed and I don’t understand why.

Pushed away
I, like many others, have been pushed away from The Center. Having been involved with Non – profits most of my life, in both professional & volunteer roles, I’ve never seen such behavior from a Board

Thanks for all the reporting on this, Matt. The Charlotte LGBT community DESERVES an LGBT center that actually serves the community. It should be the hub of our community’s activity. Hopefully the spotlight on all their shortcomings will be a catalyst for positive change.

Cold reception, hoping for change (Mark Wisniewski)
Matt – I’ve been reading your articles with mixed feelings. You know first hand that Visit Gay Charlotte could have been a Community Center project/program from the get go but for the cold reception I received from Denise and John on the subject.

That said I think that the Center has made some steps that I applaud including changing their name to reflect transgender, the election of Roberta Dunn to the board, the hiring of Glenn Griffin, and the moving out of NCMF which was never a good fit for the community’s needs.

My hope is that this recent publicity will result in the Community Center recognizing what a great opportunity this is to reconnect with the community and both publicly respond to both your articles and to any sentiment (small or large) within the community that the center is disconnected and managed by a few in closed settings without interest of the community reaction to that.

I think Charlotte is lucky to have a Center. I also think Charlotte is lucky to have such an involved community. My hope all this translates to an opening of doors (real or imagined) at the Center.

Several attempts, turned away
My wife and have made several attempts at volunteering and gotten nowhere. It’s unfortunate and I hate to display negative remarks on a fb page, but feel like people who want to reach out should be able to. Matt thank you for addressing this. Honestly, I have grown up in Charlotte. My wife is from FL and NYC. We have great networking and a lot to offer the community center regarding pride, events and motivating a community to step out and up. We both have made several attempts with open hours to devote time to the LGBT community center and both have been turned away. WHAT organization turns away volunteers? Especially during this time? Charlotte’s largest pride was not credited towards the community center, but 70,000 that showed up and were proud to be there. Vote on what you want, keep your board, your laws and your secrets. My love, my life and my charities have no bearing on your pride or your community.

Tried to get involved
I have to agree with Matt Comer’s analysis. We tried to get involved when we moved to the area 8.5 years ago and attended an “open public” meeting. Based on my experience in Miami Beach, I offered a few suggestions. All were dismissed outright. A “my way or the highway” approach is not suitable. I wrote the new E.D. asking to meet; he was ill and it took him a couple of weeks to recover and respond. I suggested meeting him at the Center or Amelie’s nearby two weeks ago and am still waiting for a response. Operating like Blockbuster will not prove to be a successful business strategy.

Never able to accomplish anything
Having spent 10 years in the CLT gay community I can say I have seen the good, the bad and ugly from not only the gay community but he Center. When I moved to Charlotte and came out the Center was the first place I went to. After visiting and meeting some great volunteers I am thankful to this day it was there – imperfections and all. I volunteered on and off for years while I lived in Charlotte and the issue that always drove me away was no matter what you did you were never able to accomplish or expand anything.

Hoping for change, accountability
I think Matt Comer is one of the most outstanding journalists in the country. His points are valid and should be addressed. I say this as a supporter of the center and as a friend of many of those on the board and those who work there. Am hoping the center will address the questions, handle the issues and end up in a much stronger position. I know that the LGBT Community Center can be a strong and vibrant asset to the LGBT community and the entire Queen City.

Don’t turn people away
The Center’s Problem has always been a shortage of money, from the get go. I was on the Board. I know. When I came on, the Center was over $50K in debt. By the time I rolled off, we had erased the debt, but there was scarce little to do any programs. I worked to create programs that didn’t cost anything, and one of those is still going today StillOut LGBT Photography Club) but until they get more support as in $$$, the programming will be as skimpy as a pair of daisy dukes. I hope that the gap between the Center and those who would be willing to support it, will be bridged through your efforts Matt. But I fear that you have had to push so hard, that it has put them on the defensive when they should be reaching out. I am hoping that their belated responses to the demand for openness will build to complete openness. But they will need help and they will need to welcome that help with open arms and not turn people away.

Day before Thanksgiving, hoping for openness
I would suggest that the Town Hall Meeting be scheduled on another day instead of the proposed Nov.27 meeting which happens to be the day before Thanksgiving when most people are out of town or otherwise engaged with Holiday activities. I very much hope that this line of discussion will lead to a new era of openness and inclusivity for not only the Center but for the Charlotte Community as well.

Hub of the community?
Thanks for all the reporting on this, Matt. The Charlotte LGBT community DESERVES an LGBT center that actually serves the community. It should be the hub of our community’s activity. Hopefully the spotlight on all their shortcomings will be a catalyst for positive change.

UPDATE: Center will host ‘open forum’ on Dec. 4, 7 p.m. More info…

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte

Professional feedback

Additionally, I received this feedback from a local community member and leader — a person who has spent years working on behalf of the local LGBT community. This person, like so many others who have approached me privately, has asked me to withhold their name from public use. So much for a center that is “a safe place that welcomes all.”

The leader’s comments are below; again, they have been edited to remove any personally identifying information so as to protect the source from retaliation from the center board:

Another perspective on the Center, though you clearly don’t need more fodder:

When the Center was formed, I was involved peripherally. As I recall, there was a great deal of consternation about creating another organization that would create programming that would overlap with or “compete” with programming offered by other groups. The “threat” perceived was that a building + services was a combination that would spell the end of other groups. Nobody could hope to maintain independence.

So the idea was that the Center would provide SPACE for OTHER GROUPS to provide services and programs. While I think the Center could run programs of its own, there’s also still a need for the original vision. But to do even that:

1. They have to be open more than 21 hours per week. I have never understood why the Center is only open so little (though this is a lot more than it used to be). Why isn’t it open on Saturday and Sunday all day? Plus, most evening meetings/activities start at 7:00. The Center is totally out for anything that extends beyond 8:00.
2. They have to have relationships with the other organizations that could be conducting programming at the Center. They need to court them, invite them for tours, etc.
3. They need to look at their rate structure. It seems kind of odd that they pitch to donors that they provide space, yet charge $50 an hour to the groups using the space. This is unaffordable for many groups. To be fair, I have had a couple of meetings there for FREE. But my understanding is that on-going usage of the space requires a rental fee.
4. They have to deal with the issue of food and food service. It’s really hard to have a meeting that starts at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon with nothing to eat or drink. I’m not serving volunteers meals, but they are volunteers and I want to respect their time and contribution and treat them well. An arrangement with Amelie’s would seem to be perfect. At least they could have a coffee pot and a drink machine (these, by the way, are revenue generating items).
5. They need to equip the meeting rooms for meetings. White board, tables that allow flexible set-up, etc. And it would be nice if it were clean.
6. If you want to have an event there, you have to have some sort of kitchen facility. If we were going to use the space for [a larger event], I think it would be fair to rent it.
7. For an event space, the Center just doesn’t cut it. It’s not attractive; it looks junky.

Some groups that could use the space for all sorts of things:

1. One Voice is paying for rehearsal space. While GMCC and the Pride Band have rehearsal space for free, it wouldn’t hurt to have access to the space. These groups and others have to make other arrangements because of various scheduling or cost concerns with the centers and their host groups. Having these organizations meet at the center regularly might be disruptive, but at least occasionally it would be really helpful.
2. Time Out just went somewhere else for space. Missed opportunity there?
3. Charlotte Pride is also meeting elsewhere, for free, after they were asked to pay for meeting space at the center.
4. Some other groups are also reportedly looking for other space, which is free unlike the center
5. All of the groups that meet 1-4 times per month.
6. All the board meetings.
7. All the committee meetings.

Additionally, several other business leaders or community leaders who work for or are associated with other local LGBT non-profits have reached out to me. None have felt comfortable speaking out publicly. Their reasons are legitimate. Regardless, each also have legitimate concerns with the center.

One, in particular, shared with  me a past experience regarding a potential center building purchase and purposeful efforts to keep center board membership numbers low and exclusive. See that feedback here.

Another, in particular, shared with me a specific story about a specific center project. The information this leader shared with me is too specific and contains too much personally-identifying information to be shared publicly. Suffice it to say, this particular leader says they “washed their hands” of the center and will have nothing to do with them unless they see changes from center leadership.

UPDATE: Center will host ‘open forum’ on Dec. 4, 7 p.m. More info…

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte

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