The executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania stepped down late last month after less than a year in the position.
Lynn Zeitlin resigned as head of the agency and served her last day in the position this week. Zeitlin, a former board member of Equality Advocates, began as executive director Feb. 9, about six months after the abrupt resignation of former executive director Stacey Sobel.
Two of the agency’s board members also recently resigned.
Board president Brian Sims declined to divulge their names, but said, “In July, Lynn was instrumental in bringing in two board members she’d known and had worked with for years, and they have both stepped down.” However, he said he didn’t believe their resignations were related to Zeitlin’s leaving.
Last summer, nearly all of the board members resigned, and the organization’s search for a new statewide board was led by a steering committee of Sims, Ann Loftus and Jay Meadway, neither of whom responded to calls for comment.
Zeitlin’s and the board members’ resignations are the latest in a series of transitions for the organization.
Equality Advocates launched its 501 (c)(4) lobbying component, Equality Pennsylvania, in the past year and also discontinued its legal department, which is now being run by Mazzoni Center, so the organization could focus solely on education. In the fall, the group announced several new board members. Sims said more members, who will represent LGBT communities throughout the state, will be announced in the next few weeks.
“It’s been no secret to anybody that this has been a huge year of transition for Equality Advocates,” he said. “When I stepped into the board position, Lynn had been here for about six months, and I think when she looked at the year we had with 2009 — between dealing with the economy and the transition of the legal services and the creation of a truly statewide board — she decided that she’d done what she wanted to when she stepped in, and that was to leave the organization in a better position than it was in when she found it.”
Sims said the board had been discussing its options for its future growth over the last few weeks, but that Zeitlin initiated the resignation.
“The board did not vote to ask Lynn to resign,” Sims said. “I met with Lynn personally last week to discuss it. She and I had never discussed her resignation before that. But all of us who’ve been involved in the organization have been looking critically for months as to what we can do different and what we can do more of, and when she and I sat down to talk, that was what was discussed.”
Zeitlin said she stepped down after accomplishing the immediate goals she’d set for herself and the organization, namely the launch of the lobbying group and the expansion of the board to include members from throughout the state.
“I thought it was time. I’d been there almost a year and accomplished a great deal of what I set out to do, so I thought it was time to move on,” she said. “I didn’t know how long I was going to stay, but I knew there were some immediate critical needs and I believe we accomplished a great deal in a short space of time.”
Board member Jeffrey Brauer said Zeitlin’s stepping down is part of the agency’s evolution.
“This past year we’ve been trying to restructure and transform the whole organization to really make it the premiere statewide LGBT civil-rights organization, so this resignation is just part of that transition as the board moves in a new direction,” Brauer said. “Certainly Lynn did some amazing things while she was here — particularly transferring the legal services over to Mazzoni Center, she did an excellent job with that — so it wasn’t so much Lynn herself or the job she did, but we want to move into a new direction.
“Our main focus is now going to be fundraising so we want to move to where we can put ourselves in a position to become a major player in the fundraising game, and the executive director is a big part of that. Fundraising is not necessarily one of Lynn’s interests or strengths, so we decided that it was important that we move in the direction where we look for someone who has a strong development background.”
Zeitlin said she’s confident the board will continue her goal of making Equality Advocates and its lobbying counterpart viable agencies that address the needs of LGBT residents statewide.
“I fully expect that the officers and the board will be able to continue what I got going in that same vein and move it along the way they want to do,” she said. “And I will continue to support the organization because I believe it’s very vital to our community. I care a great deal about the mission of the organization, and I hope they can accomplish great things. I wish the organization nothing but the best.”
Zeitlin said she’ll be available as a consultant for Equality Advocates and plans to resume her political-action work on behalf of such organizations as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
An interim executive director has not yet been named, Sims said.
“We don’t have any plans yet until we have the chance to have a full board meeting.”
He added that a date for the next board meeting had not yet been scheduled.
Sims said the agency is in a “good financial position” heading into 2010 and, just last month, received a $50,000 grant from the Tides Foundation’s State Equality Fund, a national philanthropic partnership that includes the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation and anonymous donors.
This marks the third year that Equality Advocates received the grant, and Jake Kaskey, policy and programs director for the organization, said the group will use the funding to heighten education about LGBT issues in Pennsylvania, specifically the need for a statewide LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination bill.
Kaskey said Equality Advocates may also consider using the grant to fuel a statewide polling project and to support the return of its LGBT summit, the first of which was held last year.