Breaking: Kors joins NCLR
by Cynthia Laird
Former Equality California executive director Geoff Kors is stepping back into the LGBT rights arena as he is joining the National Center for Lesbian Rights as its new senior legislative and policy strategist.
Kors starts his job today (Tuesday, August 28), will be at the state and local level to advance LGBT laws and rights, mainly outside of California.
In a conference call Monday with NCLR legal director Shannon Minter, Kors said that he's looking to replicate successful strategies that other state and local LGBT organizations can use in conjunction with passing and implementing legislation.
"Oftentimes state groups replicate things that are done elsewhere," Kors said, adding that NCLR has regularly assisted with such work in the past. Kors said he hopes to develop sample emails and action alerts and "put together a standard campaign" for state and local organizations, "to hand them this package."
Minter explained that NCLR currently has two full-time employees doing work with state and local groups: Connie Utada who is based in San Francisco, and Maya Rupert who is based in Washington, D.C. and focuses on federal policy.
"But we've not been able to provide, until now, real hands-on support to implement and enact policies," Minter said. "That's where Geoff adds a new dimension."
He will also be identifying coalition partners and where votes are for legislative matters.
Kors, 51, who moved to Palm Springs with his partner James Williamson after he stepped down from EQCA in March 2011, said he will remain in southern California.
Most of Kors's work will be outside of California, he and Minter said. One of his first projects likely will be working with Equality Florida, which has requested assistance, Minter said.
"NCLR was EQCA's closest partner in legislative drafting and that will continue," Kors said.
Minter and Kors explained that most LGBT state and local organizations have few resources – financial and staff – and the extra help from NCLR would be welcome.
"There's a gap between places that are amazingly successful and places that are struggling and really stark," Minter said. "Our thinking was, how can we expand and what do groups really need?"
Since leaving EQCA, Kors has spent time traveling. Once back, he and NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell started talking about strategy and "kicking around ideas," he said.
"Kate asked if I'd be interested," he said. Many of the groups he's worked with before and he knows many state leaders and executive directors. In May, Kors joined the board of Freedom to Marry, a national marriage equality organization. In that capacity he has been doing fundraising and chairs the board's development committee.
Kors did say that in his new position with NCLR he would probably not be involved with the marriage campaigns this fall in Washington state, Minnesota, Maine, and Maryland.
It was after the passage of Proposition 8 in California four years ago that Kors came under intense criticism from many in the LGBT community. People blamed the No on 8 committee, of which he and Kendell were executive members, for running a campaign light on LGBT voices and heavy on consultants. Both sides stayed even in the money race, raising about $80 million combined. Last year Kors called the No on 8 campaign "a 24/7 effort, and having the voters take away our rights was a painful experience, I think, for the whole community."
Kors joined EQCA in 2002 and quickly set about rebranding the group, raising money, and hiring staff. EQCA had a track record of successes under his leadership, including the first legislative passage of a marriage bill in California (vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger). It also developed a standard for its political action committee to endorse candidates, insisting on them being 100 percent for full equality, including marriage and transgender issues. EQCA had a string of legislative victories, including advances in equal rights fro LGBT youth, transgender people, and domestic partners.
Since Kors has left EQCA, that organization has struggled. First with a significant drop in fundraising, and then the board hired an executive director who resigned after just a few months on the job. Current interim Executive Director Laurie Hasencamp maintains a low public profile, although Kors saw her last weekend at the Equality Awards in San Diego.
"I'm in contact with them," Kors said of EQCA staff and board members. He praised Alice Kessler, who was recruited back to EQCA and works on legislative matters in Sacramento. "Alice being there is really critical," he said.
He said that he thinks EQCA is stabilizing.
"I was at the San Diego Equality Awards Saturday – there were close to 300 people there and elected officials," Kors said. "They have really good people in place. From what I understand the board is engaged in finding an executive director and will undoubtedly take the time to find the right fit."
Excited with new role
Kors said that he is looking forward to his new job.
"The reality is that there is so much work to do with partners at the state and local level," he said. "So many states have one or two staff people. There's room for lots more."
NCLR is a 501(c)3 organization that also has a (c)4 component. But Kors said that under the (c)3 H designation, the nonprofit would be allowed to spend a percentage of its budget on legislative work. Groups that have a 501(c) 3 status without that designation are not supposed to engage in political work such as endorsements or donations. Nonprofits with a 501(c)4 designation can engage in political work.
NCLR's annual budget is just over $4 million; it has 32 staff (full- and part-time). Minter declined to answer a question about Kors's salary, saying the organization only releases that information for its executive director.
On the agency's 2011 990 tax form, Kendell's salary is listed at $231,372; two other staffers are also listed as they make more than $100,000 per year.
NCLR spokesman Erik Olvera said Monday that Kors's salary would not fall under the threshold for reporting requirements, and that his hours would vary depending on the scope of his work.