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January 4, 2008

Equality Toledo director
Kim Welter resigns

She moves to board position because group could not fund a full-time post

Toledo--Equality Toledo has lost its founding executive director, although she is now a board member.

Kim Welter left the position on December 31 to seek full-time employment with health benefits. She and her partner, Merri Bame, are both self-employed, which she noted after they became the second couple to sign onto Toledo’s domestic partner registry on December 21.

WhileWelter is leaving the position of executive director, she is joining the board of directors, and will continue to be the public face of and the guiding hand behind Equality Toledo’s “faith and fairness” initiative, which brings together religious leaders to advocate for equality.

The initiative has 98 religious leaders in its database, although not all are public with their support.

“It’s been a difficult time,” said fellow board member Rev. Michelle Stecker. “She’s been executive director for about a year and a half. We were paying her next to nothing, and then we were paying her a little bit more and a little bit more, and we were hoping we would have enough.”

She noted that, while Welter was being paid, it was not the equivalent of a full-time salary.

Welter also substitute teaches, but that position does not come with health benefits either.

“I contacted the Equality Federation and Equality Ohio and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force too to see if there were some funds that we didn’t know about, but they’re all having hard times too,” said Stecker, who also sits on the NGLTF board.

“The Equality Federation is hoping to one day support local organizations, but their current priority is getting state organizations going,” she said.

Stecker, who drafted the domestic partner registry ordinance, noted that Equality Toledo has hired an executive coordinator to handle phone calls and administrative issues on an extremely limited basis, about ten hours a week. The organization’s phone will now be in the hands of Sharyl Hankin, the executive coordinator, instead of being a fixture at Welter’s side.

The public faces of the organization will be Stecker on the education side and board member David Mann on the political side.

“We have a lot of very talented volunteers, whether they’re lawyers or social workers or professional educators,” Stecker said.

Despite the funding difficulties, Equality Toledo has a number of successes under its belt since it was founded in 2005, all under Welter’s stewardship.

At last April’s annual meeting, Welter announced the formation of the Safe Schools Project, a joint effort by Equality Toledo, Rainbow Area Youth and the University of Toledo College of Law Legal Clinic. In the space of three months, the groups raised $20,000 for the project and did programs in three schools.

Among other outreach spearheaded by Welter was a family-friendly ecumenical service and festival, Celebrating Our Welcome, held at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Toledo in June. Equality Toledo and the Northwest Ohio Faith Coalition put on the event, and presenting the pro-gay side of religion is something that was always at the forefront of her work.

Welter’s father, a Presbyterian minister, gave a presentation for his church at Celebrating Our Welcome.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Stecker said. “We’ve had so many successes here in Northwest Ohio--winning domestic partner benefits here at the University of Toledo after Issue 1, the domestic partner registry 10-2 vote, we’re going to be announcing transgender protections at the University of Toledo, we have six GSAs in our schools. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t have the funds to build infrastructure, because we really need paid staff.”

“All of this will continue to move forward, but not having an executive director makes it more difficult to fulfill our mission,” she concluded.


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