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October 9, 2009

 

Bowman to leave Equality Ohio for post with national federation

Search for new director will be ‘thoughtful, but not long’

Columbus--Equality Ohio’s founder and first executive director is stepping down December 11 to take a position with a national LGBT organization.

Lynne Bowman, who has led Ohio’s largest LGBT advocacy group for nearly five years, will become the director of programs and services for the Equality Federation.

The federation provides resources for statewide organizations like Equality Ohio in fundraising, building capacity, peer support, data management, mentoring, and building professional relationships.

In her new position, Bowman will be responsible for much of that activity.

The Equality Federation is 12 years old. Equality Ohio is nearly five years old, and has grown to be one of the largest statewide LGBT operations.

Bowman worked to organize the core team of LGBT leaders that formed Equality Ohio shortly after voters passed a constitutional ban on marriage equality in 2004. Repealing that amendment remains one of its core missions.

She is one of the longest-serving directors of a statewide equality organization in the nation.

In her new position, Bowman will still live in the Columbus suburb of New Albany with her wife Nancy. The new position will require her to travel about 30 percent of the time.

“This gives me the opportunity to break from the 24/7 of running a statewide organization,” Bowman said. “My mind and body need the break, but I am still going to be working in the movement.

Bowman has served as the federation’s co-chair since 2007.

“It’s painful to leave Equality Ohio behind,” Bowman said, “but it’s time for me and the organization to grow, which won’t happen if the founder sticks around forever.”

Bowman will, however, be advising Equality Ohio on its biggest current project, passing the Equal Housing and Employment Act. She will also be an active lobbyist for the measure.

The LGBT equal rights bill passed the Ohio House on September 15, but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

“I will stay around for [EHEA] strategy, and will have direct conversations with legislators,” Bowman said.

She will also serve as an advisor to the Equality Ohio board as they choose her replacement, though she will not be part of the interview process, nor the selection.

Equality Ohio board chair Rev. Mike Castle of Dayton said he expects the transition process to a new executive director to be “thoughtful but not long.”

The position is being advertised, and there has been some interest.

Castle expects to announce the new director at the group’s Statewide Leadership Summit to be held December 5. Bowman will organize that event.

Castle said that if there is a period of time between Bowman’s departure and the new director taking charge, “the board will provide executive leadership.”

Castle said the new director will need to live in Ohio, but not necessarily in Columbus. Other staff positions that are currently open, including communications and fundraising, will not be filled until the new director is hired.

None of the “design team” that established Equality Ohio remains on the board, and many board members are relatively new.

“Lynne has stretched herself to hold the board’s hand,” Castle said, acknowledging that the board has work to do in its governance of the organization.

“The board is going to have to step up more intentionally in that role,” Castle continued. “The board is going to have to take more ownership in its role as a board.”

Getting EHEA through the Ohio Senate remains a board priority too, said Castle.

“We’re not going to stand by and watch it go up in smoke,” Castle said, “and we will work the strategic plan through 2010.”

Castle said the boards of Equality Ohio and its related Equality Ohio Education Fund have been using the services of two consultants to help them work through the transition.

The transition team includes Castle, Education Fund chair Jeff Smith and members of the two boards: James Elliott, Melanie Falls, Phil Martin, Lee Gibson, Lynn Calloway and Jack Jackson.

For the rest of her tenure, Bowman and the board will need to focus on fundraising.

Bowman said donations to Equality Ohio are down this year about 25 percent, or about $65,000.

Asked to reflect on her tenure as director, Bowman is most proud that Equality Ohio is still around.

“I’m also proud of the messaging we do,” Bowman said, “and how we talk about what we do.”

A little farther down the list, she talks about passing EHEA in the House. Asked why it’s not higher up, Bowman replied, “Because it’s not passed yet.”

Bowman is also proud of her involvement with the LGBT community in Cleveland.

Her time as director is not without some rough spots.

Equality Ohio experienced relatively high staff turnover. Most people who left did not have new jobs to go to, and they have not worked in the LGBT movement since leaving.

The board generally did not conduct exit interviews to find out why employees left, and Castle was unaware of any staffing issues the board needs to deal with.

Bowman reflected on the organization’s genesis, and said, “There were benefits to starting with a paid executive director on day one, and the benefits probably outweigh the disadvantages.”

“But,” Bowman continued, “if the board operated without a paid executive director for a while, my sense is that there would be a stronger sense of community ownership [of the organization] now.”

Bowman said she regrets that there are still people who don’t know that Equality Ohio exists.

“If I could do it again, I’d figure out a way to change that,” Bowman said. “I’d also like to see us stronger in places like Marietta, Portsmouth and Youngstown.”

Bowman also regrets that the group’s effort to identify LGBT-supporting voters across the state got “pushed right out the door.”

“We need to be doing that in order to repeal the amendment, but it has been a matter of resources and the sense that there is no immediate need for it,” Bowman lamented.

“It was a Herculean effort to get EHEA through the Ohio House,” said Castle, “and Lynne brought us enormous gifts and talent and passion. We want to celebrate her leadership of Equality Ohio.”

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