Pride CEO discusses plans
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The new head of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and Celebration Committee has a lot of ideas for making Pride a year-round event.
"Pride is much more than just that weekend, that week, or that month," Earl Plante, 40, said, referring to the annual June celebration. Ideas include a speaker series and discussions on topics like marriage equality.
But first, Plante, the openly gay CEO of San Francisco Pride, said the group has to get through this year's festivities, which are planned for June 29-30.
Officials are "on target," Plante, who officially started the job December 17, said in a recent interview.
There's a lot to prepare for. San Francisco's Pride celebration is one of the world's largest, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the city's streets every year. Since 1997, Pride has granted over $2.1 million to nonprofits through its community partner program. This year, the organization has a budget of about $1.7 million.
Much of that revenue comes from sponsorships. This year, Pride has budgeted $690,000 from sponsors. So far, more than $500,000 has been committed. Last year's sponsorship goal was about $500,000 to $600,000.
Plante said a lot of the money tends to come in May through July, and "we need the money more on the front end." Sponsors have been "very responsive" to that message, he said, and many have committed to increasing their support.
Last year, the board decided to replace Executive Director Brendan Behan, a decision that caught many, including Behan, by surprise.
Behan became Pride's interim executive director in April 2011 and eventually gained the permanent position. The top post had been vacant since former Executive Director Amy Andre left in November 2010, just over a year after she started the job.
Soon after the 2010 celebration, several community partners complained that Pride had shortchanged them. In December 2010, the city controller's office revealed that the nonprofit was $225,000 in debt. As of September, most of that had been paid down.
The move to replace Behan seemed to be based on a desire for him to be an at-will employee, meaning the board could terminate him at any time.
"I honor Brendan's contributions to Pride," said Plante, whose contract is also at-will. Any issues there were around Behan's tenure "are in the past," and Plante indicated he plans to stay for a while.
"This is a dream job for me," he said during a January 11 interview with the Bay Area Reporter.
Plante has several years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including development and communications work. His most recent job before joining Pride was the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York. Plante wouldn't disclose his salary at Pride.
Possibilities outside June
At the time of the interview with Plante, he said he'd been meeting with people to get their input and "share my vision for the organization." A large part of that vision seems to include developing programming throughout the year.
Plante said among the options he's been thinking about are a speaker series and discussions on topics such as marriage equality. Those plans would wait until after this year's events, he said, with a speaker series possibly being rolled out in 2014 or 2015.
He said he wants to reach out to organizations that the nonprofit hasn't traditionally worked with, including sports teams and other businesses. Plante also spoke of "bringing new resources to the table" and explaining to potential supporters, "this is an organization that needs to be on your radar screen," and why.
He'd also like to see a study on Pride's economic impact on the city. Such a report hasn't been done in several years, he said.
Plante, who previously lived in San Francisco, said the Pride organization "is at a critical juncture."
There's been a lack of strategic planning in recent years at Pride as it recovered from serious leadership and financial troubles, and he eventually wants to "map out the next three to five years."
He said the LGBT movement is also at a "critical moment," with one example being the U.S. Supreme Court potentially deciding in June – around the time of the Pride festival – on whether same-sex marriage should be legal. He said despite "dramatic progress," there's "still work to do," including gaining employment protections for LGBTs nationwide and addressing hate crimes.
Plante, who comes from a mixed-race family, spoke of his own childhood experiences with poverty and homelessness and his obligation to advocate for social justice.
He noted that in 2015, Pride will mark its 45th anniversary, and he said he sees "an opportunity to build on the strong legacy of service." Pride's "hallmark" is inclusion of people in marginalized communities and others, Plante said.
He said he wants everyone to have "an opportunity to engage," and to know their opinions are valued and respected.
"I'm open to what the community wants," he said.
The Pride organization had planned to give people a chance to deliver their input in person at a forum last Friday, February 8, at the San Francisco Public Library, but the event was canceled.
In a phone message that day, Plante said, "We decided internally to open it up to a larger group of community stakeholders, so that's why we postponed the event. We're in the process of looking for a larger space."
Others are also waiting for some news from the nonprofit.
San Francisco's Grants for the Arts office is set to provide $58,400 for this year's parade. In a January 29 interview, Kary Schulman, the city agency's director, said none of that money had been distributed yet.
"We're still waiting for some audit information before we can release any of the grant," Schulman said. "... It's to their advantage to submit [the audits] as soon as possible." She said her agency was waiting on the audits for 2010 and 2011.
Plante has said an auditor has been working on the audits for the fiscal years ending in September 2009, 2010, and 2011.
In an email Wednesday, February 13, he said as soon as the audits were completed, his organization would share them with the B.A.R.
The theme for the 43rd annual San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and celebration is "Embrace, Encourage, Empower." For more information, visit http://www.sfpride.org.