Chris Douglas

Time for Change in GLBT Business

Filed By Chris Douglas | September 25, 2006 9:11 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Politics, The Movement
Tags: business, local leadership, Rainbow Chamber

The Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce is undergoing a leadership change, which change will likely result in an organization of much greater benefit to the members of the Chamber, to the glbt business community, and to Indianapolis at large.

President since the founding of the organization, I am exiting that position, just as Jon Keep (of IBM) is exiting the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors, which he has also held since the founding of the organization. The founding board, Jon and I all shared a common sense of mission, namely, developing a credible business organization with which glbt-owned and allied businesses could affiliate, network, demonstrate support for the community, identify themselves to glbt customers, and promote the city's economic development.

Jon and I especially have concentrated on promoting the community's efforts in civil rights and gaining for the glbt community a formal seat at the table in Indianapolis. We are pleased with a great deal of success that has flowed from a strong board, dedicated and supportive membership, and sheer perseverence. Introducing itself in 2001, we believe the Chamber has played a helpful and supportive role in promoting the efforts of Indy Pride, Indy Black Pride, Indiana Equality, Lambda Legal, The National GBLT Chamber of Commerce, and democratic and executive progress in nondiscrimination. We feel a special pride in the organization's early and unconditional support for the transgendered community, and a deep appreciation for the contributions the transgendered have made to the Chamber throughout our history.

We are pleased that the Chamber has been a welcomed presence at the Diversity Council, a forum consisting of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the City of Indianapolis, the Hispanic, Asian, and Black business organizations. We are pleased to have joined and cooperated with the Indianapolis Visitor and Convention Association (ICVA) and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and proud to have both those organizations as members of our own.

But it has long been past time for change at the Chamber. Visits with other Chambers and with the National Chamber have persuaded us that the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber is nowhere near its potential, that there is so much more we can do. This week the Chamber is releasing to the public news of significant changes, which have been a long time coming. The most immediately obvious among these changes is that Jon Keep and I being replaced as Chairman and President respectively, to be succeeded by Jeff Newman as Chairman of the Board and James Kuester as President. While we will remain on the Board and retain our focus on civil rights, the new leadership will assume as its primary focus business development for the Chamber, for its members, and for the City of Indianapolis.

The chief executive capacity will remain in the Presidency. James Kuester, a member of the Board from the Chamber's founding, has exciting ideas and direction, which we defer to him to unveil. Jeff Newman, who has done so much hard work both for and for, will chair Board meetings (think of him as stately King to Jame's Prime Minister!). Board members Tara Betterman and Patricia McIntyre are in the wings as Treasurer and Secretary, Bob Chenowith (communications) and Chad Secrist (Vice President) also serve on the board as major contributors to the organization's success.

We have appreciated the support of the community. New members are always welcomed, and anyone who has any interest in becoming active should contact the Chamber through our website. We hope to see you at our next afterhours event.

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As a member of the Indy Rainbow Chamber, I am disappointed to say that in the more than 2 years I've been a member, I have not once been given an opportunity to vote on a board member, an officer or anything else pertaining to the governance of the organization. In fact, I am not aware of any general membership meetings which have been held. I'm invited to a monthly mixer and told what is happening at those events, but that's the extent of it. Why is it that every GLBT organization in Indiana, with Indy Pride being one notable exception, must operate in such an undemocratic fashion?

Chris Douglas | September 25, 2006 3:45 PM

Gary, I think you'll find the new leadership interested in opening things up. - Chris

Chris Douglas | September 25, 2006 5:10 PM

I'll take the opportunity of Gary's comment to emphasize that everyone's participation at the Chamber is welcomed at any level. Anyone wishing to help out can contact the Chamber through [email protected] or at an after hours event.

It may indeed be appropriate that a new phase is called for with the Chamber, for when we founded I was determined to exert considerable control over the organization so that it would be governed with an eye toward preserving the reputations and respect of businesses that would join, and provide stability that would encourage the membership of institutions and corporations.

Your example of Indy Pride actually played on my thinking, Gary. At the time of our founding, Indy Pride was suffering public divisions and internecine warfare between differing visions and constituencies on Indy Pride's board. Indeed the gay community on the whole in 2000 and 2001 was highly factionalized. And I had well recalled the example of the founding of Rainbow Democrats, which I had understood had involved a meeting at which factions developed and angry words had been exchanged, as competing agendas vied for power.

(In fact, I'd like to think the Chamber contributed somewhat to Indy Pride's success, for at a time when controversy was attached to the governance of Indy Pride, and various groups were exchanging angry barbs and discouraging cooperation, the Chamber refused to become factionalized, and instead resolved to support Indy Pride with our sponsorship and participation no matter the controversies Indy Pride suffered at that time. And I'm pleased to say our relations are and always have been excellent.)

My view was that if the Chamber became a scene of such conflict, it would die in the crib, no business wishing to commit its reputation to the organization, and no opportunity to develop credibility with the City at Large. It was also critical from a strategic civil rights perspective and in light of the stresses of that era that the organization be bi-partisan, with my Presidency and reputation as a Republican balanced by Jon Keeps Chairmanship and reputation as a Democrat. (Even today, in my opinion, the Chamber would collapse quickly if factionalism, controversy, or dispute afflicts it, for businesses would flee rather than see their reputations tarnished. From a civil rights perspective, the positive influence and respect the Chamber has gained with important establishments around the city could all too easily be destroyed, with those organizations distancing themselves at the very time we need their support.)

I don't think the new leadership will be in the least bit jealous of welcoming the participation of anyone wishing to contribute energy, or of reworking the organization's charter to change the governance. Indeed, I think they identify more with your point of view than mine. While I would personally be very cautious about reworking governance for the reasons I have described, it is possible that it could be done in a healthy manner and in any case that is no longer a call that will be mine to make!

Another notable exception:

Every year since its inception, INTRAA has held an annual membership meeting where members in good standing vote on the Board of Directors and are provided the opportunity to submit changes to bylaws and resolutions for the organization to adopt.

Our annual membership meeting is October 21st. Details available on the website.

Brylo, thanks for correcting me on INTRAA's policy. I apologize for the mistake. What Chris speaks of was true of Indy Pride several years ago, but that had nothing to do with it a being democratic organization. It was just the opposite. Fran Quigly wrote in Nuvo at the time of the closed membership of the group:

Four members of the Indianapolis gay and lesbian community sit around a conference table, reviewing documents, fliers and printouts of dozens of e-mails. The talk is about Indy Pride, a non-profit group that advertises itself in mailings and its Web site as Indy's only grass roots gay pride organization and Indianapolis' premier local pride organizer. It seems a natural topic for these folks to discuss: The assembled group has a long history of volunteer service and financial support to local gay organizations. Indy Pride sponsors a variety of local gay pride events, most notably a fall Street Fayre. Indy Pride also works closely with Justice, Inc., the gay civil rights organization and summer PrideFest organizer.

But these activists, and several others in the gay community who have joined in similar discussions over the past year and a half, are not talking about how they can participate in Indy Pride. They are asking why they have been shut out. I know of only two organizations that refuse to allow a gay man to join, says Bruce Seybert, one of the people gathered here. The Boy Scouts and Indy Pride.

If you would like to read the whole story to take everyone down memory lane a little bit, here is the link:

Yikes! I sat on that board and it was a nightmare. I don't remember how that I got talked into that mess (I think that I blanked it out) but it was insane. I quit before my term was up and Linda hounded me for months because I didn't turn my "written" resignation in so therefore I was still "technically" a board member. I saw her at Pride a couple of years ago and I practically belly crawled through the crowd to avoid her. Man, she was one twisted sister! That is one trip down memory lane that I could do without! The pics were very interesting though.......

I'd like to take a moment to thank Jon Keep and Chris Douglas for their leadership of the IRCC for the past few years. IRCC is a valuable part of the local LGBT movement and it took a lot of hard work to get it off the ground. It's always a welcome sight to see organizations evolve and change as the leadership changes - things become static when new ideas and leaders are stifled or suppressed.

While I don't know the incoming president, I DO know Jeff Newman. Jeff is a former bilerico contributor and one hell of a guy. He is, quite literally, one of the nicest guys I've ever met. I'd follow Jeff to hell and back without complaint. I have no qualms at all about Jeff's leadership abilities and look forward to working with the new team on local issues.