By Joe Crea
Officials with the National Latino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization abruptly shut down the organization a few weeks ago, laying off all 14 of its employees in the face of a $700,000 deficit, sources familiar with the group said.
Rodger McFarlane, the executive director of the Gill Foundation, which gave LLEGO $90,000 this year and a total of $400,000 over the past 10 years, said that 'sheer financial desperation' and a over-reliance on government contracts instead of a 'serious and sustained' donor base was the death knell for the 'the only national nonprofit organization devoted to representing' the needs of gay and lesbian Latinos.
'My heart is broken because we were utterly committed to the work of LLEGO,' McFarlane said. 'No other organization can speak credibly for Latino queers. This is a tragedy. I've spoken to a number of other funders, and we all remain committed to their mission. When the dust settles, we will talk about how we can carry on that mission.'
LLEGO faces an operating debt of more than $700,000 between now and next March and a $200,000 operating deficit over the next two months, McFarlane said.
Former LLEGO president Martín Ornelas-Quintero, who said he left the organization in July to spend more time with a recently adopted child, was the sole manager of LLEGO's finances, according to McFarlane.
Neither Ornelas-Quintero nor Gloria Nieto, LLEGO's interim president, were available for comment.
According to a former employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, none of the 14 employees let go last week has been paid in two weeks. The source added that employees lost their health benefits two months ago. A LLEGO board member declined to comment.
Employees reportedly received a letter from LLEGO dated Aug. 25 on Aug. 27 informing them that they were being fired, the source said. The former employee also said that employees were not paid for accrued vacation time.
LLEGO has not issued a formal announcement regarding its apparent closure.
LLEGO's revenue in 2002 was $2.8 million and Ornelas-Quintero's salary, at the time, was $68,960.
Ornelas-Quintero headed the organization since 1996, when it had fewer than a dozen employees and a budget of $500,000.
LLEGO received financial support from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Human Rights Campaign, American Airlines, and other corporate and private sponsors, according to its Web site.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said that the group's closure would not make it more difficult for other Latino and gay groups in the future to get funding from the federal government.
'It is always profoundly sad when our organizations go through these incredibly painful times, and I don't think [LLEGO] reflects on others,' Foreman said. 'By and large, our community organizations, from the tiny ones to the big ones, are remarkably well-managed financially and I get concerned that people extrapolate the exceptiontake one particular incident and extrapolate that across the community. It is just not the case.'
However, McFarlane said that LLEGO's experience should teach organizations that to be an effective advocate, you cannot depend on government help for your well-being.
'You must have your own revenue,' McFarlane said. 'Then you can take the government contract that serves your mission and criticize them for not issuing a contract for your mission. Otherwise, your advocacy voice is completely silenced and you are subject to the changing fashions of politics.
'[LLEGO] never made a serious effort in recent history to create a serious and sustained donor base. They had no development plan and possessed a board incapable of executing it. This is not a case of groups like the Gill Foundation giving more money. We gave as much money as we would give to anybody.'
Joe Crea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade.
A number of Latina/o LGBT national leaders throughout the United States have come together to respond to the unfortunate end of LLEGO.
Local organizers in Seattle, who would have hosted LLEGO's national Encuentro conference in October, and only learned of its cancellation through media reports, have decided to maximize existing resources and momentum and host 'Sigamos Adelante: The LGBT Latina/o National Forum' from Oct. 8-10. Though smaller in scope than the original plan for the Encuentro, the event will provide a series of workshops and trainings on issues relevant to the Latino LGBT community locally and nationally. It will also serve as the formal opening of a national dialogue on the closing of LLEGO and on the next steps.
Contact Hugo@entrehermanos.org .
An open letter from the LLEGO Board is excerpted below:
'When we joined LLEGO's Board of Directors last year, we joined full of enthusiasm and desire to support our only national LGBT Latina/o organization and its mission. We are deeply grateful to LLEGO's staff, volunteers, donors, funders, and every single person who has worked so diligently on behalf of the LGBT Latina/o community for the last 17 years.
'These are difficult times for LLEGO and the Latina/o LGBT community that supports its work and mission. When we look at recent events we also look at the state of the land and how difficult it is to organize around LGBT issues. In our experience, it has always been difficult to raise money for minority LGBT organizations and the past period has proven to be especially difficult. The Board of Directors was aware that LLEGO was experiencing financial difficulties. However, we fully believed that these problems were being addressed in a manner that would allow the organization to survive financially and thrive for many years to come. As part of our efforts to delve into the financial state of the organization, a financial analysis revealed to us recently that our short and long-term debt far exceeded both our cash on hand and the revenue that we could reasonably expect to receive in the next several months. Under the circumstances and after a careful analysis of all possibilities, the Board, as the fiduciary agents of the organization, had no choice but to close our doors. We realized that the abruptness of this decision has caused hardship to staff, consultants and many others and for that we are deeply sorry.
'We appreciate very much the support and encouragement that we have received from so many people all around the country and we believe the spirit of LLEGO will continue through the commitment from its affiliates to work on pushing forward the Latina/o LGBT agenda. Latina/o LGBT leaders throughout the country are already mobilizing at regional levels to organize a voice that will lead the movement into the future.'