Four Members Quit Christopher Street West Board of Directors

LA Pride 2016. (Photo by Derek Wear of Unikorn Photography)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This story has been updated to include comments from one of the resigning board members and from current board member Craig Bowers.

Four members of the board of directors of Christopher Street West, the non-profit that stages the annual L.A. Pride event, have resigned, complaining that the board is requiring them to sign “gag orders,” is not supportive of the transgender community, that they are not being respected or listened to and that the organization is not transparent.

Those four are Steve Ganzell, former CSW board president; Marlon Morales, chairman of L.A. Pride, who also is viewed as representative of the Latino community; Andy Sacher, founder of the Lavender Effect, a non-profit to preserve and promote LGBT history and culture, and Karina Samala, who represented the transgender community.

The resignations leave CSW with 11 board members.

WEHOville as yet has been unable to contact only one of the board members who resigned (the resignations were first disclosed in the Fight magazine.) The mention of a gag order apparently is a reference to a CSW request that its board members sign non-disclosure agreements, which was made after board members discussed internal divisions with WEHOville.

That board member, Andy Sacher, said he quit out of frustration.  “It was a very hard decision for me because I really felt for a long time, almost two years, that I could make a serious impact on the organization on the inside,” Sacher said. “I hit a point where I didn’t have the hope of that anymore. So I’m focused on work I can do and things that are necessary, the work that I can do with the Lavender Effect.”

Craig Bowers, a current CSW board member, told WEHOville that the four board members submitted their resignations on Dec. 20, with no explanation. “As a board and, me as a board member, we certainly appreciate their time and support,” Bowers said. “… I do know that Chris reached out to each of them after they submitted their resignations and asked if they wanted to be involved in some less formal capacity.” Chris is a reference to Chris Classen, the board’s president and Bower’s partner in a separate events promotion business.

Bowers said the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that apparently was referenced in a board member’s complaint about a gag order is  a common requirement of those serving on non-profit boards and that one has been in effect since 2002. Bowers said CSW decided to update its NDA at the recommendation of its attorney, Jeffrey Thomas.  Bowers noted that the CSW board has held two retreats in the past year in an effort to improve communication, the latter of which was not attended by two of those who resigned.

Under the leadership last year of Classen and Bowers,CSW has generated significant controversy. A major issue was the board’s decision to rebrand the annual L.A. Pride Festival as a music festival targeting millennials. CSW also decided to cut back time and space given to the transgender and lesbian communities for the June 2016 festival, allowing it to accommodate more performers who appeal to a young audience. The organization also decided to raise on-site ticket prices by 40%.

Those moves sparked demands by some groups to boycott L.A. Pride, which is a major revenue generator for the City of West Hollywood, generating an estimated spending of $5 million each year among local merchants and in pay to local residents, according to a study commissioned by the City of West Hollywood. The controversy led CSW to back down somewhat by increasing the time and space available to lesbian and transgender and other groups and providing free entrance to the three-day event during limited hour on Fridays.

Perhaps because of the controversy, and perhaps because of mass murders of LGBT people at a nightclub in Orlando just before the event in West Hollywood, attendance was down at last June’s event as was revenue, with a final loss of $395,000.

A copy of CSW’s 2016 profit and loss statement made available to WEHOville showed the organization’s overall revenue was $2.1 million, 30% less than budgeted. Its overall expenses were $2.5 million, 13% less than budgeted. CSW had projected a $162,000 profit.

Major factors in the loss included a 30% shortfall in projected revenue from festival admission tickets. CSW had projected revenue of $1.3 million (44% of the total revenue from the event), but realized only $915,710. Another shortfall was in revenue anticipated from beverage sales, which at $250,000 was down 65% from the $718,000 that CSW had projected.

The losses reportedly have been covered by a substantial profit made by the L.A. Pride in 2015, before Classen and Bowers took over the organization’s management. While Classen has promised many times to make the organization’s 2015 tax returns available, that has yet to happen. The financial results for the 2016 Pride event were made available to WEHOville, which published them as CSW was telling its board members that they weren’t yet available.

  1. The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.

  2. Sadly, when 2 business partners are controlling the board then independent voices cannot thrive. While well intentioned one of the C’s (Chris and Craig) – should resign. — because they are not a) doing a good job and b) are stifling the independence of the other directors. When 2 business partners outside of the board conspire to do things ‘their way’ and lose their open minded independent approach we all suffer the consequences.

  3. Here we go again, the leader of the organization once again spreading misinformation. Aren’t we already facing 4 years of a national leader spreading misinformation that we need a local one doing the same? So I’ll pose this to Chris and Craig, once again.

    Here are some of the most important facts about what ARE REQUIRED of nonprofits:

    1. – Non-disclosure agreements are NOT common among nonprofit boards. As a 501(c)3 charitble PUBLIC BENEFIT organization, the PEOPLE of the state you are incorporated in are the stakeholders (shareholders in the profit making world) of the organization.
    2. – The last date to file the Fiscal 2015 990 Tax Form is February 15, 2017 at which time this information MUST be made available to the public within 24 hours electronically or 48 hours if a printed version is request (reasonable printing fee recoverable). This is why most nonprofits post a downloadable link on their website.
    3. – IRS requires also the following policy documents: A Conflict of Interest Disclosure, A Whistleblower Policy, and Executive Compensation Survey.
    4. – Disclosure: Did any officer, director, trustee, or key employee have a family relationship or a business relationship with any other officer, director, trustee, or key employee?
    5. – Disclosure: Did the organization invest in, contribute assets to, or participate in a joint venture or similar arrangement with a taxable entity during the year?
    6. – Describe in Schedule O (Tax Form 990) whether (and if so, how) the organization made its governing documents, conflict of interest policy, and financial statements available to the public during the tax year.

    Transparent and accountable organization have nothing to hide. If some policy decisions must be made off the record, then you board meetings can have an Executive Sessions, but these matters are usually limited to human resource issues of paid staff and pending litigation issues. So a non-disclosure agreement of a PUBLIC ENTITY serves no purpose beyond intellectual property rights or similar issues. Why the need to hide anything beyond that?

    I have advised over 100 nonprofit boards what good governance looks like, both as a paid consultant and often pro-bono, including other Pride organizations. I know plenty of other respected LGBT nonprofit consultants who would be saying much the same.

    Disparaging former board members who values are in conflict with the values of the current board show lack of introspection toward good governance and transparency. Unfortunately, boards who fail to heed good governance practices are constantly haunted by the spectre of public distrust.

    The LGBT Community could use a lot of trustworthy support right now with the current Trump Administration taking office. I would strongly encourage the remaining board who seems to be stubbornly resistant to transparency and linked to cronyism bring in respected nonprofit experts to help them “right this ship”.

    Good governance, transparency and accountability to the public (the real “owners” of nonprofits) brings clarity to purpose and mission. Until then you will forever be trying to shake off that distrusted relationship with the public. No one wants to see the demise of any nonprofit, unless there is plenty of reason stakeholders have no trust and no reason to give support.

    Most nonprofits work very hard to earn trust of their stakeholders every day. This is not a difficult concept of what good stewardship of a public entity should be. We are all only stewards…lets be clear to our purpose, transparent to our public and accountable so that we earn their support every day.

    May I suggest that if the current board doesn’t see why this matters, then maybe CSW change its nonprofit exemption status to a 501(c)4 or other aligned MUTUAL BENEFIT designation with IRS. Then transparency isn’t much an issue, you can forgo much good governance and you can run it like a club. Ahhh, but then getting tax-deductible sponsors becomes impossible. So decide transparency or not. Public benefit or mutual benefit…you owe accountability to the donations “ticket fees” paid for a public benefit event. This is not rocket science.

  4. West Hollywood is a Potemkin Village of gayness. The city wants to look gay enough to get our money but gives nothing back and lets these carpetbaggers get away with destroying our traditions. Screw them all, I am headed to DTLA Proud this year.

    1. Please do not forget our councilman, John Duran WHO supposed to be part of the planing last year 2016 PRIDE, but did, NOTHING.
      Is this what our pride look like? When we all become part of the fake image the city is trying so hard to make.
      Next election is coming soon, don’t let John Duran be our, YOUR voice,
      I’m not sure of he was too busy in his lawsuit that cost all of us $750.000 or he was too busy looking on Grinder.

      The day we had our last pride, we lost 49 LGBT for hate in Orlando, but our leaders say “the show must go on.” of course it was all about money, no respect.
      All what the had to do his change the kind of music and show some class not only naked gogo dancers running around when our own families just lost they love ones. and 53 went to the hospital.
      Stop the B.S. now, we must go back to basic, when pride was real pride. not money.
      Who need this day to be all about alcohol. drugs and sex, we got it every weekend in WEHO.
      TIME TO CHANGE OUR PRIDE, LET US PEOPLE MAKE OUR OWN, We don’t need to spend million dollar on a one weekend “party”
      We can support our own LGBTQ with this money during the all year.
      YOU GO DTLA PRIDE, i will be there.
      cancel WEHO PRIDE with CSW, bring people with big hearts who care for us and our families.

  5. Let’s hope CSW will release their 2015 tax return as this might help forestall a further loss of confidence and salvage community support of a historic organization. Transparency is the best policy.

  6. they all should go, after last gay pride???
    Are we that stupid?
    It’s no PRIDE in LA PRIDE, It’s all one big lie.
    come on, people. how much more you are willing to take?
    how “blind” can we be and start seeing the truth and the facts?
    Harvey Milk, will be a shame on what’s hopping to us, WEHO.
    But like one of our LG advisory board member said, who cares about HARVEY MILK,
    Simple. So SAD.

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