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New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy
24 W. 25th St., 9th floor New York, NY 10010 Tel: 212-675-3288, x266 Fax: 212-675-3466  

 NYAGRA open letter to the community  5.8.2002

9 May 2002 
Dear colleagues, 

It is with some sadness that we write to inform you of recent developments affecting the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, Inc. We had hoped to write with only good news – namely, the passage of Int. No. 24 (the transgender rights bill) by the New York City Council on April 24 and the signing of the bill into law by the mayor on April 30. Unfortunately, at the moment of our greatest legislative victory, some disturbing developments have distracted us from the advocacy work for which NYAGRA was founded in the first place. 

This letter is intended to communicate to LGBT community members some of the salient facts concerning an ongoing situation involving NYAGRA. Put in the simplest terms, the current conflict has been initiated by a terminated ex-employee determined to regain her job by unseating the Board of Directors that hired her. Jamie Hunter commenced a campaign of public vilification against NYAGRA and its Board of Directors after she was terminated from at-will employment (2.22.2002). In this effort, she has been joined by a few ex-board members and apparently has the support of Housing Works, Inc., whose fiscal sponsorship of NYAGRA was revoked by the NYAGRA Board of Directors on February 21. Despite this vilification, we have made no public response until now, out of concern that this conflict not be allowed to damage prospects for passage of Int. No. 24, and from a hope that we could resolve this conflict through formal mediation. With that legislation now enacted, and with the breakdown of mediation because of the ex-employee’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, we feel it is now time to explain the situation to the community. What is at stake here is the ability of NYAGRA to continue to do the effective and path-breaking advocacy work that led to the enactment of Int. No. 24. Unfortunately, the destructive behavior of a few could undermine the good work of many. 

Since her termination, Ms. Hunter and her partner, Andrea Sears, have organized two meetings: one on March 16, the other on May 4. Neither meeting was a duly constituted meeting, and both were in contravention of the NYAGRA bylaws (not only the March 2002 bylaws, but also the superceded May 2000 version of the bylaws that Ms. Hunter and her partisans cite). The fraudulent “election” meeting on May 4 was organized with the express intent of removing the four current Board members and installing a so-called “new” NYAGRA board of directors (or “working group”). However, the NYAGRA bylaws do not sanction a membership-elected board. In fact, most 501(c)(3)s have self-selecting boards, even if some are denominated “membership organizations” in the colloquial sense of having members, such as the LGBT Community Center. The fact that Center members do not vote in board elections has never been used to challenge the legitimacy of the Center’s board, as far as we know. 

The ex-employee and her partisans are attempting to characterize this as an internal conflict between the existing Board and the general membership. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of a small faction, the four members of the NYAGRA Board of Directors have the support of the NYAGRA membership, and we have acted from a deep commitment to NYAGRA's mission and with the utmost respect for our Board colleagues, staff, and members. We value the general membership of NYAGRA as an integral component of the organization, but the fiduciary responsibility for the organization rests with the Board of Directors under the NYAGRA bylaws and under not-for-profit corporation law governing organizations such as ours.  

In fact, the fraudulent “election” held on May 4 was organized in order to attempt to give the semblance of legitimacy to a serious misappropriation of funds. 

NYAGRA is the first statewide transgender advocacy organization to win significant funding. We have received grants from the Stonewall Community Foundation, the Paul Rapoport Foundation, and the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation, based on grant proposals written by Pauline Park (with the assistance of David Valentine on the Soros grant). Those funds were deposited in our bank account (a sub-account of the Housing Works HSBC Bank account). Of the original $80,000 in grant money, more than $50,000 remains, the bulk of it most likely from Soros. Housing Works has had no authority to retain control of NYAGRA funds since the NYAGRA Board of Directors terminated the fiscal sponsorship agreement with Housing Works on February 21. However, despite a formal request from the NYAGRA finance committee, Housing Works has refused to release the remaining funds belonging to NYAGRA or to NYAGRA’s new fiscal sponsor, the Latino Commission on AIDS. In addition, the ex-employee continues to use the old NYAGRA office at Housing Works, which is no longer the office of NYAGRA; and she continues to use the old NYAGRA e-mail address (<nyagra@nyagra.org>), despite her lack of authority to represent NYAGRA in any capacity since her termination on February 22. 

The ex-employee, since her termination, has also fraudulently collected membership fees for membership in an organization that no longer employs her. Without any legal or organizational authority to do so, she has unilaterally added and removed members from the original NYAGRA membership list, thus altering the original list beyond recognition. In effect, she and her partisans have created an entirely different organization, which they fraudulently denominate as NYAGRA, and they are doing so in order to gain control over NYAGRA’s financial resources. We urge LGBT community organizations to join us in insisting on a principle of accountability to the community that we believe has been violated by those who, through improper means, would attempt to gain control over the limited resources available to NYAGRA. 

But as important as the control of NYAGRA’s financial resources may be, still more important is the attempt to appropriate the NYAGRA name, which has become even more valuable since the passage of Int. No. 24. If those who disagree with the NYAGRA leadership were responsible and mature, they would put their energies into forming a new organization or into building existing transgender advocacy organizations, of which there are many. 

As for us, we will continue the advocacy that is at the heart of NYAGRA’s mission, and we will do so as the sole legitimate NYAGRA Board of Directors. We in NYAGRA look forward to continuing to work with you to advocate on behalf of freedom of gender identity and statement for all. 

Sincerely,

Stuart Chen-Hayes
Pauline Park
Sophia Pazos
Moonhawk River Stone
 

The NYAGRA Board of Directors