Kip Williams and Robin McGehee, Co-Directors of the National Equality March, have left Equality Across America citing differences about the direction the new group should take. The march, held less than a month ago, attracted about 200,000 LGBT people to Washington DC to demand full federal equality under the law.
EAA founder Cleve Jones confirmed that both activists had stepped down from their leadership positions. Everyone involved agreed that the parting of ways resulted from concerns about financial security and the leadership of the new organization.
"We're still not sure this is a viable organization," Jones said. "It's still not clear to me that EAA is going to happen yet. There needs to be a working group to take EAA forward. I'll be inviting [the March's] steering committee and executive committee members to participate."
Executive committee members elected Tanner Efinger as the interim Project Director responsible for the org's legal contracts with the Tide Foundation. Underlying tensions in the committees, however, have many frustrated activists at the breaking point as various factions vie for control of the organization's leadership.
Two Unexpected Resignations
In an e-mailed statement, Williams explained that a large part of his decision was financially motivated. He was paid approximately $9000 for his work on the March from July 1 until November 1.
"I'm moving on from EAA for personal and professional reasons. First, I need more security in my life, because I worked on the march for less than minimum wage and without health insurance," Williams said. "Second, I share with EAA the goal of full federal equality, but I have different ideas about the road to get there."
Williams notified the NEM committees of his resignation two weeks ago when he took a job with another non-profit organization. McGehee notified the steering committee of her intentions to leave on October 30.
"Although I am equally driven in my desire for full federal equality," McGehee wrote, "there are different directions that my life, both personally and professionally, are going and I have decided that I will no longer be able to serve with Equality Across America as this organization begins to take it's next steps."
Some insiders have charged that Williams and McGehee were forced out in an attempt to wrest control of the organization from the popular activists. They claim that Efinger, who also assists Jones with personal matters, is being rewarded for his close friendship with Jones.
"This position is one that is required by our fiscal sponsor, the duties of which include liaising with them on fiscal paperwork and legal matters. It is not a glorified leadership position - but as Kip was stepping out of that position it needed to be filled," Efinger clarified. "As I currently have the availability to take this on in a volunteer capacity, I agreed to the interim role."
The Future of Equality Across America
One member, Derek Washington, however, was particularly vocal about his concerns over Efinger's ascension and the group's direction.
"I think that Robin could be persuaded to come back if she felt she was being respected as she deserves to be," he said. "I joined up with the march because of Robin. She worked without a need to be constantly out front."
"I also will not be at all happy if it becomes about any one person as if it was some monarchy," Washington continued. "Mr. Jones and I are probably never going to be team mates on The Amazing Race."
Jones, however, argued that it was still too early to discuss paid leadership positions with the new organization. The group still has no formal bylaws, a budget, mission statement or organizational structure. March committee members only agreed to help until the event; Jones and Efinger are currently polling them to see who wants to continue as part of a new group.
"None of this has been decided," Jones said. "The steps just haven't been taken.
"And what about the big picture? Do we want to create a new national organization? Would it be helpful or hurtful? Will it bring us together or further divide us? These things need to be thoughtfully decided."
Whatever form EAA takes going forward, Williams and McGehee both promised continued involvement in LGBT issues.
"In our activism against Prop 8 and for the National Equality March, Robin and I have found that we work really well together," Williams said. "We're both fully committed to the struggle for full federal equality, and we're developing some ideas and visions about our next steps.
"We hope that no one will be distracted by the civic life and governing structure of EAA, but that we'll all focus on doing good organizing with integrity."
Full Disclosure: I was a member of the National Equality March Executive Committee. I voted in favor of appointing Tanner Efinger to the interim Project Director volunteer position.