Disaster, Deceit, and Betrayal at the International Foundation for Gender Education

| Jun 27, 2011

Dallas Denny

Twenty years ago the International Foundation for Gender Education was seen by many in the fledgling transgender community as the bright shining star of the universe. I didn’t share that opinion — nor did JoAnn Roberts, who penned an article in Renaissance News titled “The International Foundation for Gender Education: None of the Above” — but many community leaders were enthusiastically supportive.

With IRS 501(c)(3) educational status, an annual budget of $325,000, a headquarters in suburban Boston, a bookstore, a perfect-bound four-color magazine, an annual conference,  and an endowment worth some $100,000, IFGE was a formidable entity in a day when every other community organization had an income of $25,000 or less. IFGE was clearly doing a lot of things right.

IFGE’s goal was to educate and provide support to professionals, transgendered and transsexual people, and the general public. This was accomplished with a variety of well-funded educational activities.

First and perhaps most important, IFGE held an annual conference at which all transgendered and transsexual people were welcome, and which allowed budding activists and educators and helping professionals from all around the world to meet one another face-to-face, often for the first time. Encounters in the lobbies, restaurants, and hallways led to any number of friendships, new organizations, publishing and research endeavors, and social justice projects, and played a huge role in making the transgender community what it is today.

Tapestry

Second, IFGE’s house journal Transgender Tapestry provided space for discussion of all things trans. In its perfect-bound pages ideas were floated and terminology discussed, helping both individuals and various subgroups define and consolidate their identities. Resource lists at the back of the magazine steered individuals to support groups, conferences, and helping professionals.

Third, the Congress of Transgender Organizations served a role in setting priorities for the community and allowed trans organizations of every description to work together on mutual projects and address mutual concerns. (The Congress ran out of momentum in the mid 1990s and died a slow death.)

Fourth, IFGE had an actual base of operations: a walk-in center in Waltham, Massachusetts with paid staff and volunteers. It was open every day from noon until late in the evening. Community members could walk in and change their lives. Those not in Boston could phone the IFGE help line and get advice and referrals.

Fifth, IFGE had a bookstore which mailed materials all over the world and was hauled around to almost every community conference.

And lastly, IFGE’s Winslow Street Fund functioned as an endowment that was designed to grow in perpetuity and fund various transgender-related projects and endeavors.

The Winslow Street Fund was named in honor a street in Provincetown, where, in 1989, Joni Chrissman met Merissa Sherrill Lynn for the first time. Out of that meeting the Fund was born. It was fully operational by 1990.

IFGE actively recruited donations for the Winslow Fund, promising the money would never be used for internal operations of IFGE itself (I heard Executive Director Merissa Sherrill Lynn say this in public). The Winslow Street Fund soon grew to about $100,000 and throughout the 1990s and the first decade of this century awarded small sums to community organizations to help fund worthy projects. A Board of Trustees, appointed by IFGE, oversaw the fund’s growth and selected award recipients.

IFGE Today

In 2006, all of IFGE’s services were intact. Today, only one survives — the Winslow Street Fund — and it is, I believe, in grave peril.

IFGE’s annual conference is dead. This year’s conference was cancelled and there will apparently be no conference in 2012.  According to a source within IFGE, the cancellation occurred because of heavy financial losses at the 2010 conference.

The esteemed Transgender Tapestry is no longer being published. The last issue appears to have been #115, which appeared in 2009 with a fraction of the usual content.

The bookstore is still listed on IFGE’s dormant-since-2009 web page, but the content is severely dated and it now shows up at only a few community conferences. My IFGE source told me the bookstore is now at back-of-the-van/broom closet status — in other words, for all practical purposes dead.

Most recently, and sadly, IFGE’s long-term walk-in center in Waltham, Mass. has been closed, presumably in favor of new and smaller offices in Washington, D.C. Well, probably not offices — think a desk or two in another nonprofit’s space.

That leaves the Winslow Street Fund. I have great concern for its well-being. I fear it is being used or might soon be used to fund IFGE’s internal operations — something IFGE swore to the community it would never do. IFGE has broken this promise at least twice before and I fear it has broken it or is about to break it once again. And if it happens, unlike the previous two occasions, there will be no way to pay the money back, for there is no longer any substantive cash flow. Go HERE to see my press release.

How it Happened

The advent of transgender political organizations and in particular the National Center for Transgender Equality severely impacted IFGE’s budget — primarily by siphoning off high-dollar donors who had previous kept the organization riding high. IFGE’s management had concerns about this as early as 1999, when editing and layout for Transgender Tapestry were outsourced, doing away with two full-time in-house paid positions. The bookstore manager position was also eliminated.

Clearly a change in finances requires organizational restructuring, but this does not seem to have occurred in any coherent way in this century. Instead, the organization was hijacked. Change was forced upon the organization by a single individual, who acted with relentless and deliberate malice to dismantle and destroy IFGE and its services. I watched it happen.

Denise Leclair

Shortly after IFGE Acting Director Denise Leclair was made Executive Director in 2004 or so, she began to slowly and systematically dismantle the organization. Her initial target was Board Chair Hawk Stone. She slyly undermined the board’s confidence in him, putting pressures on him that led to his resignation in July 2005.

Leclair next got rid of the editor of Transgender Tapestry. That happened to have been me. She did so by overriding me, forcing publication of an article solely for political purposes, to appease the bruised ego of a contributor whose solicited article I had rejected because she had web-published it on the same day she had submitted it to the magazine. Leclair also made it clear I would not be allowed to publish an editorial warning the community about the then-missing collection of the Rikki Swin Institute. And so rather than have my name on the masthead of a magazine that had lost its integrity, I resigned.

Leclair next  went after IFGE’s board, forcing through an amendment that removed long-serving members Kristine James, Yvonne Cook-Riley, Alison Laing, and Abby Saypen. They were replaced by a new and naive board with little experience with the organization or knowledge of its history and politics.

The next obstacle was Trans Events USA, a team consisting of Kristine James and Alison Laing, who had been running IFGE’s conference for more than a decade. Leclair fired them in 2008 and took responsibility for the conference.

Having rid IFGE of its Board Chair, editor, and conference planning team, and having expelled long-term supporters from the board of directors, Leclair was free to do as she pleased with the organization. Suddenly IFGE’s focus was on politics rather than education, and suddenly the focus was on Washington, D.C. Leclair relocated the conference and then the corporate offices (if there actually are any) to D.C.

There was only one obstacle to Leclair’s complete control of IFGE: the trustees of the Winslow Street Fund. In April 2011 Board Chair Bree Hartlage told the trustees via e-mail they were fired, retroactively — in fact, they had been dismissed but not informed of that dismissal one year and eight months earlier!

A Trust at Risk

Last October at Fantasia Fair, two Winslow Street Fund trustees came to me — separately — to tell me they were concerned about the fund. They cited a lack of  coherency at the IFGE offices and told me they feared Leclair and Hartlage would drain the fund, killing it. They asked me to inform the community. I said I would look into it.

In April one of those trustees told me she had just been told of her retroactive dismissal. Yesterday — 24 June, 2011 — I learned from an IFGE source that the IFGE Board of Directors held a special board meeting in August of 2009 for the purposes of exerting control over the Winslow Street Fund by dismissing its directors.

There can be only one reason for this — IFGE had its eyes on the monies in the fund and wanted to remove the last obstacle to obtaining them. And so I am doing as requested by Winslow trustees and letting the community know what is about to happen — or perhaps has already happened.

With the Winslow Street Fund bereft of trustees, with a gutted, secretly re-purposed organization, and with a compliant board of directors,  the Winslow monies are within Leclair’s easy grasp. My fear is she will plunder the fund, if she hasn’t already, using the monies to pay her salary and IFGE’s expenses. If that happens, I’m morally certain the money will never be recovered, for IFGE’s financial status is beyond bleak.

So here it is in a nutshell: Through mismanagement, and by deceit and betrayal, Denise Leclair has single-handedly dismantled the transgender community’s largest educational resource, turning a once large organization with a conference, a magazine, and a walk-in center into a desk in Washington D.C. and a pathetic hope that she will be allowed to play politics with the big girls and boys.

Now, with an imploded budget and with nothing else to plunder, Leclair has turned her eye to the monies in the Winslow Street Fund.

In a press release, I have called upon the IFGE Board and especially Leclair and Hartlage to inform the community about the disposition of the monies in the Winslow Street Fund and to immediately separate the fund from IFGE, establishing it as an entity of its own, overseen by a board of experienced and trusted community leaders.

Will that happen?

Of course it won’t.

I’m afraid the monies are already gone.

Call to Action

I call upon the IFGE Board of Directors, and specifically upon Executive Director Denise Leclair and Board Chair Bree Hartlage to inform the transgender community of the state of the Winslow Street Fund, and specifically to answer these questions via a press release:

  • What is the balance in the Winslow Street Fund?
  • When was the last Winslow grant to another organization?
  • Has IFGE borrowed against the fund in this century?
  • If so, was the money paid back? Was interest collected?
  • What safeguards are in place to protect the fund?

I moreover call upon the Board to take immediate and decisive steps to fiscally and administratively separate the Winslow Street Fund from IFGE, making certain the Fund has a board made up of trusted and honest community members who will safeguard the Fund’s monies in perpetuity.

If IFGE has withdrawn money from the Winslow Street Fund, I urge the Board to do whatever is necessary to return all funds.

I ask others in the community to contact IFGE and ask these same questions. And please, make sure your donations go some place where they will be honored.

Postscript

The monies in the Winslow Street Fund were solicited in mailings and at IFGE conferences, where envelopes were left on tables at the final banquet. Hundreds or thousands of community members — myself included — stuffed tens or twenties into those envelopes. Many people wrote checks– repeatedly — for hundreds of dollars. And a few folks, perhaps even someone who will read this, gave thousands of dollars. The clear promise was the fund would be used for the betterment of the community — and so any raid into the fund for IFGE’s private good is a betrayal of trust — of yours, of mine, of the community’s. It will be a long time before there is another Winslow Street Fund.

What’s even more tragic is Leclair has destroyed all sorts of valuable educational services: the conference, Transgender Tapestry, the walk-in center, the bookstore, and the website.

There has been, of course, in late years an explosion of web-based educational materials, but they don’t have the warmth, the humanity of a hug to a newcomer at the walk-in center in Waltham. For that’s what IFGE was best at — making frightened transsexual and transgendered people feel comfortable, assuaging their fears, letting them know they had finally come home.

I wrote this article not as a journalist, but as a community advocate — one who unfortunately waited too long before speaking up. And so I made no attempt to contact Leclair or Hartlage for their comments. I merely wanted to get the word out. Too late, too little, possibly, but here it is.

I expect a certain amount of vehemence, character assassination and denial in response to this article, but I’m tough. I can take it. And I can back up what I’ve said. It’s substantively true.

A New Community Resource

I liked being editor of Transgender Tapestry. It was a valuable resource for transgendered and transsexual people. I enjoyed the paycheck — the only money I ever made doing work for a community organization — but I (and I made sure I didn’t tell IFGE this) would have happily done the work for free.

After my resignation in 2006 I was burning to continue editing work — but out of respect for IFGE and for the sake of Tapestry, I refrained.

Now, five years later, the demise of Tapestry clears the way for me to launch a magazine of my own. And so I’m happy to announce I will once again be publishing a journal I founded in 1990 and edited until 1998: Chrysalis.

Launching as Chrysalis Quarterly and ending with the name Chrysalis: The Journal of Transgender Identities, Chrysalis was a print magazine published by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit American Educational Gender Information Service (which is now known as Gender Education & Advocacy). Go HERE to view the final issue.

In this era of the internet, and out of concern for the environment, the new Chrysalis will be electronically published on my website, which is, coincidentally, and how about that, www.dallasdenny.com. It will be solely my project. Launch is expected in early 2012.

Like its predecessor, the new Chrysalis will feature theme-based issues.

I am now accepting trans-related articles, reviews, photo essays, brief fiction, poetry, and editorial material. Please send them electronically to me, Dallas Denny, at aegis@mindspring.com.

I’ll soon have editorial policies, advertising and subscription rates, and other information available online at www.dallasdenny.com/Chrysalis.

Copyright 2011 by Dallas Denny

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Category: Community News, Opinion

Dallas Denny

About Dallas Denny: Much of Dallas' work is available at her website at http://www.dallasdenny.com/Writing Dallas Denny is a writer, activist, and educator who divides her time between tiny Pine Lake, GA and the Hudson Valley. She holds a M.A. and was licensed to practice psychology for many years. She retired her license after relocating to Georgia. Dallas founded and was for eight years Executive Director of the American Educational Gender Education Service. She started the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group in 1990. She was part of the group that started the Southern Comfort conference and did programming for the conference. She has long been involved with Fantasia Fair, where she was Director for six years. Dallas was editor of the journal "Chrysalis" from 1990-1998 and "Transgender Tapestry" from 2000-2006. She has three published three books and many book chapters and journal and magazine articles. Dallas holds a number of honors, including IFGE’s Trinity and Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards and Real Life Experience’s Transgender Pioneer Award.

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