Online Extra: Political Notes: Mixner, Jones endorse termlimits for LGBT board seats
by Matthew S. Bajko
Longtime gay activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones voiced support for term limits on boards of major LGBT organizations while addressing an LGBT media forum held over the weekend in Philadelphia.
Asked about how board members overseeing the nation's various LGBT groups are selected, both Mixner and Jones backed seeing routine turnover on such governing bodies.
"I have long believed in term limits on LGBT boards," said Mixner, who campaigned to elect President Bill Clinton in 1992 only to become a vocal critic of his anti-gay stances on military service and marriage equality. He later added, "I believe in new blood and turnover and mentoring of new members."
Mixner, 67, was a co-founding board member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and instituted term limits for its board.
"When I was national co-chair of the Victory Fund, I said I wouldn't be co-chair if we did not have term limits," recalled Mixner, who lives in upstate New York and blogs about a variety of topics at http://www.davidmixner.com/.
A co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation as well as the Names Project, which oversees the AIDS Memorial Quilt that he conceived, Jones also called for turnover on nonprofit boards.
Such groups "should make space for new people coming up," said Jones, 58, a resident of the gay Castro district in San Francisco.
He also voiced support for giving a nonprofit's membership a say over who becomes one of its board members. At most organizations, the executive director and current board members recruit people to the board.
Nonprofits "should have the membership elect boards," said Jones, an organizer for the labor union UNITE HERE, in response to a question.
Their comments prompted attendee Sean Bugg , editor of Washington, D.C. paper Metro Weekly, to write on Twitter that he found it "odd when you're a 30-year-plus activist lecturing on need for term limits in LGBT leadership."
In an email to the Bay Area Reporter this week, Gay USA co-host Andy Humm wrote that he felt the issue his question as submitted raised – if board members should be "elected by the grassroots" - was not addressed.
"Until the bureaucratization of LGBT organizations, power was all among the members of a group - not boards and certainly not self-appointed, self-perpetuating boards," wrote Humm.
A number of LGBT nonprofits already institute term limits on their board members.
SFAF for instance enacted a policy that states each director on its board, which has a maximum limit of 30 people, serves a three-year term and can be re-elected for a total of six years of service, noted SFAF spokesman James Loduca.
The Family Equality Council, a Boston-based group that advocates nationally on behalf of LGBT families, restricts its board members to serving three three-year terms for a total of nine years, if the person renews twice. Board members of the Human Rights Campaign are also required to cycle off after serving several terms.
At the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force members of the board of directors are initially elected to a one-year term. Afterward they may serve a maximum of two successive terms of three years each, and until a successor has been elected and qualified, explained spokeswoman Inga Sarda-Sorensen, adding that a board member can rejoin the board after a one year absence.
Term limits can be advantageous, according to the D.C.-based BoardSource, a nonprofit that trains board members of nonprofits across the country. Such policies can attract diversity to a board, regular infusions of "fresh ideas and new perspectives," and provides a mechanism where "passive, ineffective, or troublesome board members can be more easily rotated off."
They can also become problematic, adds BoardSource, due to the "loss of expertise and organizational memory" or if too much time is spent to recruit and orient new board members.
There are also disadvantages in not capping the time a board member can serve, though, such as concentrating too much power to a small group or losing connection to the constituency that the nonprofit is meant to serve, according to BoardSource.
Those who serve on boards deserve credit for volunteering their time, Mixner said.
"I will never be ungrateful to those who step up and serve," said Mixner.
But at the same time, board members must be willing to do the necessary work serving on a nonprofit board requires, added Mixner.
"I do not believe in stacking boards with people who don't work," he said.
Mixner and Jones were the featured guests at the opening reception Friday, February 22 of the fourth annual LGBT Media Journalists Convening. The forum brought together 70 journalists and bloggers from various LGBT newspapers and websites from around the country.
It is funded by the Evelyn & Walter Hass Jr. Fund, based in San Francisco and created in 1953 by heirs of jeans purveyor Levi Strauss. Matt Foreman, director of the fund's gay and immigrant rights programs, conceived of the LGBT media forum and teamed up with Bil Browning, editor-in-chief of the Bilerico Project, to organize it.
The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association serves as a sponsoring organization, while the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation assisted with this year's gathering.
"LGBT newspapers and blogs are not only critical sources of information for our community, they also drive public opinion and action," stated Foreman, previously executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The annual convening for LGBT editors and bloggers gives these thought leaders the chance to get in-depth information about leading issues of the day, such as immigration reform, and to get to know one another."
The conversation with Mixner and Jones ran a gamut of topics, from marriage equality to labor issues. The two have teamed up this year to promote a week's worth of actions leading up to the Supreme Court hearings next month on two marriage equality lawsuits.
The justices will hear oral arguments in a case seeking to overturn California's ban against same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, Tuesday, March 26. The next day the court will hear a New York-based lawsuit against the federal ban known as the Defense of Marriage Act.
Jones and Mixner are calling for actions to be held in cities throughout the country in advance of the highly anticipated court proceedings. They created a website at http://www.lighttojustice.org to serve as a clearinghouse for the various events set to take place.
"It is extraordinary to hear gay people talk about getting married," said Mixner, marveling at how fast the LGBT community's concerns have changed over the years.
He noted that in his youth during the 1950s it was routine for gay people to undergo lobotomies in order to treat their homosexuality.
"We've come a long way," said Mixner.
Jones also grew up under such threats, saying that he waited until he turned 18 to come out to his father so he "wouldn't be lobotomized."
He said he worries that younger LGBT people today are ignorant of the community's past struggles and don't find it necessary to learn about their forebears' experiences.
"They don't know their history and don't seem to be particularly interested," he said.
He also lambasted LGBT groups and individuals for turning their back on the labor movement, which was an early supporter of LGBT rights. Jones criticized NLGJA and its members for hosting its 2010 convention in San Francisco at a Hyatt hotel being picketed.
He also called out the National Minority AIDS Council "for crossing our picket lines" when hotel workers are largely people of color.
And Jones said he has "real problems" seeing the Human Rights Campaign name corporations like Hyatt, BP and Goldman Sachs as good places to work for LGBT people.
"They should not take money from large corporations that are regulated by our government," said Jones.
Looking back over the LGBT advances of the last decade, Jones and Mixner credited much of the work to grassroots activists and not national LGBT organizations.
"It didn't come from large groups, it came from the grassroots," said Jones.
Mixner pointed to former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom 's 2004 decision to marry same-sex couples as an example. He said that Newsom "thought he was granting a marriage license to" pioneering lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and was not prepared for when "6,000 people showed up" from around the country. (Martin died in 2008 but was able to legally wed Lyon in June that year during the brief time such unions were allowed before passage of Prop 8.)
When that action by Newsom led to the passage of Prop 8 in 2008 and the new group Americans for Equal Rights filed a federal lawsuit to strike it down, Mixner pointed to how the majority of national LGBT groups opposed doing so at first despite having lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies arguing the case.
"Are we fucking crazy?" asked Mixner, astounded at the lack of support behind "two of the best lawyers in the country willing to fight for us."
Those same groups are now on board and have filed amicus briefs in the case.
The men's push to have local actions in March on behalf of marriage equality is partly based on the advice of Olson, said Jones, as the nine Supreme Court justices do take note of public opinion.
"It helps to show the depth and breadth of support," he said.
In addition to rallies, teach-ins, and marches, they are asking people to request the editorial boards of their local newspapers write editorials in support of striking down both Prop 8 and DOMA.
In New York the night of Sunday, March 24 Mixner plans to be in Times Square silently holding a candle to protest the anti-gay marriage laws.
"I want to show that we are still here, still fighting and that we won t go down without a fight," said Mixner.
A meeting to plan events in San Francisco ahead of the Supreme Court hearings will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco, 150 Eureka Street, in the Castro.
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