Equality California spokeswoman Rebekah Orr is leaving the statewide LGBT lobbying organization next week, Orr confirmed today.
The departure of a communications staffer would typically be a minor development, but Orr has essentially been the only public face of EQCA since October 2011, when former Executive Director Roland Palencia abruptly resigned. Palencia had joined EQCA just three months beforehand.
The organization has an interim executive director, Laurie Hasencamp, but she rarely speaks to the media and it’s never been clear what exactly she’s doing with the organization.
Orr said she’s joining Goodwin-Simon Strategic Research, a firm that’s worked closely with EQCA.
“For quite some time, I’ve wanted to work more on the research side of communications work, and I had the opportunity to do that with Amy Simon, and so that wasn’t an opportunity I felt like I could pass up,” Orr said. Her last day with EQCA will be Friday, August 10.
Orr said her replacement hasn’t yet been selected.
EQCA also appears to be nowhere near choosing a new executive director.
“The board is in the same position it has been in,” she said.
EQCA’s board of directors “would like to bring someone on as soon as possible, but it doesn’t have a specific timeline. … The board is going to take whatever time it needs to make the right choice,” she said.
It is unknown how many candidates have applied for the ED position or how many have been interviewed.
“I’m not in a position to say how many people are being interviewed,” she said.
Candidates are being vetted “on a rolling basis as applications come in,” she explained. “At some point, the search committee will make some recommendations to the full board about a set of candidates to interview … or even to hire.”
Orr has recently said that EQCA’s finances are improving, but the group appears to have struggled to find direction after the 2011 departure of longtime Executive Director Geoff Kors. EQCA dodged a bullet last month when anti-gay groups failed to gather enough signatures to force an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the state’s new law mandating that public schools have curriculum about historical contributions of LGBT and disabled Americans. Had the initiative been on the ballot, it would have meant the likelihood of an expensive statewide campaign at a time when many LGBT organizations throughout California are struggling financially.
Asked why EQCA doesn’t just shut down, Orr laughed and said, “Really? Isn’t there work to do? Isn’t there work to do for the LGBT community in California? I mean, the organization has been experiencing a lot of challenges, but the reality is it’s considerably more stable today than it was a year ago.”
She pointed to current EQCA-backed legislation such as Senate Bill 1172, which would outlaw so-called reparative therapy designed to turn gay people straight.
But now that Orr is leaving, it’s unclear who will step in to help organize supporters of SB 1172 and other gay- and AIDS-related legislation and make sure that news about such legislation is disseminated.
[Updated 8/6/12: Orr said Monday that while she supervises EQCA's social media work, it is and will continue to be managed directly by Shaun Osburn, deputy director of online communications. As for organizing supporters for various legislative work. Orr said that will be a team effort.
"Alice Kessler works to secure witnesses to provide testimony at bill hearings and secure letters of support from key individuals and organizations for each bill," Orr said in an email Monday. "Our communications team creates online action alerts, emails, videos, infographics, and other social media to drive letters to legislative offices."
Additionally, EQCA's field staff "goes out into the community and talks to voters every day about the legislative work we are doing and collects postcards in support of our work, which are then delivered to legislative offices," Orr added.
Supporters may also work with EQCA to call or visit legislators, she said.
EQCA is not the only organization supporting SB 1172, which is expected to be voted on in the Assembly later this month. Co-sponsors include the Courage Campaign; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Gaylesta, a group made up of LGBT therapists.]
- Reported by Seth Hemmelgarn