MaryEllen Broderick, a Democratic Party activist and Barb Wold’s partner, says she first noticed something was wrong with EQNM just after the November 2008 election, when California voters approved Proposition 8, creating a ban on gay marriage.
“Two or three days after the Prop 8 vote, I called to ask whether they were even going to issue a statement,” Broderick tells SFR. “They were zoned out entirely, and I said I will never contribute to them.”
In many ways, the push-and-pull culture war over gay civil rights was perfectly expressed in California’s Prop 8 battle. Voters overturned gay marriage and California’s Supreme Court upheld the ban but left intact tens of thousands of gay marriages that had already taken place prior to Prop 8’s passage. A federal challenge is still pending.
For New Mexico, California’s Prop 8 saga hit home not just psychologically but fiscally. As activist dollars flowed toward California, they dried up at home, leaving EQNM with little ability to express the outrage burning inside Broderick and other members of the community.
“The ‘No on Prop 8’ campaign really sucked resources out of the rest of the states,” EQNM’s McElroy says. “The national foundations focused their efforts in California because a victory in California would’ve had ramifications for the rest of us.”
According to several sources who asked not to be identified by name, EQNM discovered it was in trouble in September 2008. The organization was $20,000 in debt, which was only discovered once its former executive director, Alexis Blizman, resigned to help reduce overhead. The big blow, sources say, came after Blizman spent $40,000 on operational expenses she had expected would be repaid by a grant from the Civil Marriage Collaborative, a project financially backed by the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund. That money never materialized.
“It took the whole board and staff to mismanage that organization,” Lynn Perls, an Albuquerque lawyer listed as a member of EQNM’s steering committee, tells SFR. “It wasn’t any one person’s fault, but the people in charge do appear to have mismanaged, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s 15 years of history before that.”
In order to mount a serious lobbying effort during the 60-day 2009 legislative session that ran from mid-January to mid-March, EQNM set up an entirely separate fund, which was able to raise another $40,000 in a matter of months.
In April, with the failed domestic partnership bill behind it, the board struggled to restructure itself. Rachel Rosen was tapped as the new chairwoman and her first move was to order an independent audit. The results took the board by surprise: The debt was more than triple the original estimate, sources say.
“The audit found there may have been some mismanagement, but there was no malfeasance,” McElroy, who is shouldering some of the workload normally handled by an executive director, says.
McElroy admits the board should have started local fundraising efforts earlier and more aggressively to close the budget gap. EQNM also could have laid off its staff earlier, McElroy says.
As of now, Rosen says, “We’ve stopped the bleeding and cut overhead drastically.” As for the future, “We have some [grant applications] out that we will not hear back on for six months. A lot of the foundations have had to cut back considerably on funding, so, as far as new [funding] sources go, it’s a very difficult time right now. They’re not funding new clients.”
The economy isn’t the only challenge EQNM faces. The organization’s management problems during the legislative session left many supporters wary. Others said they felt completely alienated, including former AIDS/HIV patients’ rights attorney Mauro Montoya, who says he had offered to gather letters of support for domestic partnerships but was ultimately “shot down. “
“It kept coming up again and again, this frustration with the lack of a central organizing force for the LGBT community,” Cooper Lee Bombardier, a transgender male who coordinates the New Mexico Gay Straight Alliance Network at the Santa Fe Mountain Center, says of the Listserv emails he received after the vote. “I’m not saying that to begrudge anybody, but we need to be a little more cohesive.”
Rosen accepts the criticism that many felt left out of the loop.
“Because of the destaffing, we didn’t have folks that were communicating well with our constituents,” Rosen says. “We had to make a choice of where to put our resources. Was it more important to take time to lobby or to go over the process step-by-step with the constituents? It was a question of time, and communications suffered.”