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Actor Evan Todd to visit Milwaukee youth, attend film screening

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Milwaukee LGBT center hires new executive director

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center’s board of directors announced on Feb. 19 that Karen Gotzler, who has served as the center’s interim executive director since July 2014, will assume the role permanently, effective immediately. 

The board and center supporters will officially welcome Gotzler at the center’s annual meeting, set for 6 p.m. on March 5 in the center’s community room at 1110 N. Market St.

“Karen has come full circle,” said board co-president Paul Williams, noting that Gotzler was an integral part of the center’s creation in 1999.

“Karen is well-known in Milwaukee, both for her work as an expert in nonprofit management and for her dedication to the revitalization of the center during the past three years. We are very pleased that she will continue this work by moving into the role as the center’s permanent executive director,” Williams added in a press release.

Over the past 15 years, Gotzler has consulted a wide range of organizations, from businesses to government and nonprofit groups, in her role with Urban Strategies/Sector Management Consulting Group. Previously, she served as president & CEO of Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin. And prior to that, she was an economic development consultant for Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

“In 30 years of working with nonprofit groups, the board of directors of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and its hundreds of volunteers are the most diverse and committed group I have had the pleasure to support,” Gotzler said in a statement to the press. 

“It is a joy to be part of this team,” she added.

Gotzler said her focus will be on community-building and program expansion.

“We are excited to be moving forward with a full leadership team that includes a new executive director and a diverse and engaged board of directors that will ensure that the center helps to meet current and emerging needs of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community,” stated co-president Tina Kreitlow.

The center now has a full board for the first time in many years. New members including high-ranking leaders of major corporations that are locally headquartered, Williams said.

The center’s previous director was Colleen Carpenter, who assumed the position in November 2013 but abruptly resigned in July 2014. Carpenter had taken over from Gotzler, who was thenalso  serving as interim executive director.

Director of LGBT Community Center abruptly resigns

After just eight months on the job, Colleen Carpenter, executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, resigned yesterday. No reason was given for Carpenter’s abrupt departure.

“I have been honored to serve the LGBT community in this role, but I have decided to move in a different direction professionally,” Carpenter said in a prepared statement.

Community-building initiatives, day-to-day management of the center and fundraising efforts will continue uninterrupted under the leadership of Karen Gotzler, who also filled those roles during the search that ended with the selection of Carpenter in October 2013.

“The Center’s board of directors is committed to quickly filling the position permanently,” wrote the board in press release.

A statement released by board co-president Tina Kreitlow thanked Carpenter for “her strong commitment to the well-being of the LGBT community.”

“Colleen leaves the center in a stable financial condition. Most recently, she secured a $10,000 grant to support Project Q, the Center’s core youth program,” said co-president Paul Williams. “In addition, she has developed new programming initiatives that will continue to shape the center’s future.”

Prior to joining the center, Carpenter was executive director of Daystar Inc., a Milwaukee-based organization that provides long-term transitional housing for women fleeing domestic violence. She has more than 25 years of experience working for nonprofits in the areas of domestic violence prevention, housing for people living with AIDS and youth services.

Carpenter was selected for the position from a field of 58 candidates.

Carpenter’s departure from the center follows the similarly abrupt resignation of Cream City Foundation president and CEO Paul Fairchild last month. No reason for Fairchild’s sudden departure was given.

Williams stressed that the center has undergone a dramatic financial turnaround over the past year, although people associated with the center say that some formerly full-time positions have been cut to part-time in recent months.

This is a developing story.

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Center’s new director seems born for the job

With a smile that lights up the room and a personality that makes you quickly feel as if you’ve known her for years, Colleen Carpenter could host a morning television show or be a star diplomat.

But, fortunately for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, she’s decided to become its new executive director — after being selected from a pool of candidates that numbered close to 60. The announcement of her hiring was the crowning achievement of a year that saw the struggling center come back from near death to firm financial footing, while at the same time attaining an unprecedented level of community engagement.

Carpenter’s resume and her personal history create the portrait of someone who’s not merely suited for her new position but fated for it.

“I had four different people send me the announcement (for the job) and say, ‘You’d be perfect for this position,’” she said. “And I thought, ‘What fun!’” 

Carpenter’s professional background mirrors many of the programs offered by the center.

Carpenter was married and had three children when she finally came out to herself and her family in 1986. She lived in Milwaukee at the time and worked for organizations serving victims of domestic violence.

In the late 1990s, Carpenter relocated to St. Louis, where she ran a YWCA community center and also worked for organizations that that found housing for people living with AIDS and assisted homeless and runaway youth. 

She moved back to Milwaukee to be near her grown children, and she’s now single and living in the neighborhood she calls “Gay View.”

Carpenter officially begins the job on Nov. 18. I sat down with her shortly after her hiring was announced, and we had a wide-ranging conversation.

Louis Weisberg: What attracted you to the job?

Colleen Carpenter: The board of directors is the first thing. When you’re an executive director, you have not one boss but 12 or 14. This group has done such an amazing job of pulling in the same direction. I’ve never met more dedicated, intelligent and passionate people.

The second thing was the business structure. Most nonprofits are confined to a specific mission: sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, whatever it is. A community center is so different because whatever programming is there should be reflective of all the needs and interests of the community it’s designed to serve. You have a chance to be creative with the programming in a way that you can’t when you’re working with a single issue.

What will be your first order of business?

It seems to me that my first couple of months here my stance should be to watch, listen and learn. It’s really presumptuous when a new director comes in and her first week or first month comes says, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ I think it’s disrespectful, and I don’t really have an agenda.

To come in behind (interim executive director) Karen (Gotzler), whom I’ve idolized for 25 years, is humbling. I’ve known her since shortly after I first came out. She’s brilliant and driven and entrepreneurial — and it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ If  I can perform at half the level that Karen Gotzler performs at every day with one hand tied behind her back, I’ll be doing good.

What’s your vision for the center?

I’m really interested in hearing from the community. I really do believe that we should be reflecting the interests of our community. When our community says, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this?’ then our job is to make that happen. 

“I describe the community center model as a big canvas. You’ve painted certain things in certain places on the canvas but there’s still a lot of white space there. I want to see us painting on a larger surface of the canvas.

What’s your approach to youth programming?

“When we talk about young people, we’re always programming toward their deficits. We want to help them address safety, risk prevention and all of those things. They’re absolutely essential. But you talk to any of our young people and they can tell you what their issues are, but they might not have a clue what their gifts are. In a broad sense I want us to figure out ways to help our young people to find their gifts and find things they can celebrate as opposed to just what their problem is this week or month.

Are you looking forward to this?

I think it’s going to be a blast. I know you’re not supposed to have fun at work because then it’s not work — that’s our puritan upbringing.

Milwaukee LGBT center selects full-time executive director

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center’s board of directors late on Oct. 22 announced the selection of an executive director after an extensive nationwide search. Colleen Carpenter assumes the post at the nonprofit on Nov. 18.

A news release said Carpenter would be the first full-time executive director at the center since 2011. She was hired to “help guide the organization as it continues to develop programs, build fiscal sustainability and cultivate relationships throughout the greater Milwaukee area.”

In a statement to the press, center co-president Paul Williams said, “Thanks to strong community support, the center has experienced a remarkable comeback, allowing us to take this next step towards our goal of making the center a national model of effectiveness and vibrancy.”

He continued, “Colleen’s extensive experience in program management, staff development, community outreach and grant-writing make her an outstanding choice for helping to achieve that goal.”

Carpenter currently is the executive director of Daystar Inc., a Milwaukee-based organization that provides long-term transitional housing for women fleeing domestic violence.

Her resume details more than 25 years of experience working for nonprofits in the areas of domestic violence prevention, housing for people living with AIDS and also youth services.

Carpenter spent the early years of her career in the Milwaukee area serving in leadership roles related to domestic violence prevention, including as president of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

She became the executive director of the YWCA in Alton, Ill., in 1999, and led a campaign to heal an organization on the verge of bankruptcy and “beset with employee morale and public relations challenges,” according to the news release. Carpenter is credited with overseeing a turnaround that put the YWCA on solid financial footing with the development of programs and new funding sources and improved public relations.

For the past decade, she has focused on fund development work with a specialty in grant management.

In 2011, Carpenter accepted the executive director post at Daystar and returned to Milwaukee, where her three grown children and their families reside.

“Milwaukee is where I came out, and I have always considered it home,” she said in the news release. “With the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, I am thrilled to blend my passion for serving the LGBT community with my lifelong career in nonprofit management, all in a location that I truly love.”

The center’s national search for an executive director was aided by Centerlink: The Community of LGBT Community Centers and funded by the Johnson Family Foundation.

Fifty-eight candidates applied for the job and were vetted by search and hiring committees.

“We were thrilled by the caliber of candidates who applied for this position,” stated center co-president Anne Perry Curley. “Given the center’s current opportunities and challenges, Colleen’s range of skills and experiences stood out as an extraordinarily good fit. The center’s board of directors unanimously endorsed her hire.”

Carpenter will take over from interim executive director Karen Gotzler, who since February 2012 has volunteered her time and the services of her company, Urban Strategies/Sector Management.

Gotzler will continue to serve as the center’s volunteer interim executive director until Carpenter joins the staff on Nov. 18 and will remain actively involved during a transition period.

Gotzler also has agreed to join the center’s board of directors when her staff role ends.

A reception to welcome Carpenter is scheduled for Dec. 5 at the center.

On the Web …

mkelgbt.org

Milwaukee LGBT Center, Boulevard Theatre’s Mark Bucher team up to produce a tear ‘Jerker’ of a play

Two gay men begin a phone-sex relationship against the terrifying backdrop of the emerging AIDS epidemic. Although their physical contact is limited to sound waves, the couple’s erotic talk sessions lead to a deeper connection. 

That’s the simple premise of the 1986 play “Jerker.” Boulevard Theatre artistic director Mark Bucher was moved by Robert Chesley’s script when he first saw “Jerker” at Milwaukee’s now-defunct Theatre X. He decided instantly that he wanted to direct it someday, he says.

That was about two decades ago. Now Bucher’s longtime wish is coming true. He’s directing a concert reading of the play that runs Sept. 18–22 at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. The production marks the first collaboration between the two organizations.

Chesley originally saddled his 90-minute, one-act play with the imposing title “Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty.” But the play’s been known as simply “Jerker” since opening at a Los Angeles theater in October 1986. Together with “The Normal Heart” and “As Is,” “Jerker” is considered one of the definitive plays of the early AIDS era – a time of ignorance, panic and political indifference that’s hard for today’s young gay men to fathom.

For Bucher, 56, “Jerker” is more timely than the other two pioneering AIDS plays. The difference, he says, is partly in the way that “Jerker” uses telecommunications as the basis for a relationship – a phenomenon that digital technology has made even more prevalent.

“In 1986, you had to go out to a bar and engage in conversation to get laid,” Bucher remembers. “What Chesley is talking about is the ability to work through the surface and actually develop a caring, affectionate connection” with a virtual stranger, he says. 

“In an age of Grindr and Internet sex, there’s this idea of being connected – but we are more disconnected than ever before,” Bucher adds. “Jerker” has become more powerful over time because it depicts two men using technology to create a deep connection, he says.

Bucher says “Jerker” also works more fully than the other AIDS plays of its era because it focuses on the two men’s relationship. Its approach is simple and direct, avoiding polemical rhetoric.

“This script talks around the politics of the time,” Bucher says. “By taking a more oblique approach, (its) political power is stronger than those other scripts, which are really in your face.”

While the human heart might be the true center of the play, it’s another organ that gets the most mentions. The sexual content of “Jerker” is highly explicit, making the play unsuitable for audiences under 18.

Bucher says he purposefully chose to present “Jerker” as a reading rather than a staged production complete with full frontal nudity and the rest of what comes with a play whose action revolves around masturbation. Bucher says his strategy will force the audience to focus beneath the surface.

“I didn’t want a live sex show,” Bucher says. “In Chicago, they did it with porn stars, and they actually acted it out. (In my production) you start to listen to the characterization and the meaning behind the words.”

Bucher hopes that his presentation will not distract from the play’s testament to the universal yearning for “connectedness.” Instead, he hopes to underscore the meaning of a work that critics have called a love story for the AIDS era.

“This is a beautiful play, and (it’s) not limited to the term ‘gay play,’ because it’s about human interaction,” Bucher says. “It’s as much a gay play as ‘Raisin in the Sun’ is only a black play. It’s a timeless love story. Audiences who get past the adult language will be rewarded by a tremendous theatrical experience.”

Of course, “Jerker” also bears witness to the plague-like devastation of the incipient AIDS epidemic – as well as serving as a reminder that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is still impacts millions of gay men.

“I think for younger people, (“Jerker”) obliquely addresses what a different time 1985 was,” Bucher says. “But they should remember that HIV has not gone away. Some would argue that it has morphed into something more insidious. People today think they can just take a cocktail of pills” and be done with it.

But Bucher hopes to remind audiences that HIV is hardly that simple.

As WiG reported several months ago, the Boulevard Theatre is investigating the possible sale of its current building at 2250 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View and becoming an itinerant theatrical group. Bucher says the production of “Jerker” at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center “will allow us to explore off-site and satellite performance venues.” At the same time, the “relationship hopefully will introduce new patrons to the center.”

“This is truly a synergistic relationship,” Bucher says. “We’re very thankful to the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and to the Milwaukee Arts Board, which is underwriting this production through a grant.” 

Milwaukee LGBT Center pays off debt

The once-beleaguered Milwaukee LGBT Community Center has eliminated its largest debt, which originally amounted to $500,000 for back rent and remodeling costs owed to the organization’s landlord.

After new leadership took control of the center early in 2012, negotiations began with Siegel-Gallagher, the building’s management company, to reduce the amount of space occupied by the center in the former Blatz Brewing Company building. That successful move eliminated the cost of future rent on unneeded space.

Interim executive director Karen Gotzler led a team that included center treasurer Peter Larson and attorneys Kass Hume and Jan Pierce to negotiate a deal reducing the center’s debt to the landlord to $93,000, with the stipulation that the amount would be paid in full within three years.

The center’s leaders were able to eliminate that debt by borrowing $50,000 from several supporters and offering to pay it immediately to the landlord in exchange for canceling out the center’s debt altogether. The landlord agreed.

Center board co-president Paul Williams said the $50,000 borrowed from supporters will be paid back in three years at an interest rate of 1 percent.

“(They’re) helping the center at a critical time so we can move forward toward our goals more quickly and save significant money in the process,” Williams said.

“These supporters saw the logic and the benefits to the center and the community – in terms of reducing overall debt, and in terms of further increasing the confidence of the broad community in the center,” said center board co-president Anne Perry Curley.

Williams praised Siegel-Gallagher for its role in facilitating the negotiations that brought the center so far from the fiscal cliff it faced just 18 months ago. “This is an amazing nonprofit turnaround story,” he said.

Center officials said they believe the debt elimination will enhance confidence in the center’s future and fuel enthusiasm for the “Believe in the Center” fundraising campaign that’s currently under way. The campaign aims to raise money that will expand support for programs such as SAGE Milwaukee and provide for basic resources, such as heat and light, which are not covered by direct program grants.

Next up on the center’s agenda is hiring a new executive director through a nationwide job search. CenterLink and the Johnson Family Foundation provided a $30,000 grant to conduct the search and support the hiring process.

“We have a job description out and we’re accepting applications now,” Williams said. 

“We’re getting a very strong response. It’s very exciting.”

In other developments, the center reported that its 2012 audit was completed on time, with a clean “non-modified” rating.  Copies of the audit are available at the center.

On the web: For more, or to donate to the center, go to www.mkelgbt.org.

Milwaukee LGBT Community Center pays off debt to landlord


The once-beleaguered Milwaukee LGBT Community Center has eliminated its largest debt, which originally amounted to $500,000 for back rent and remodeling costs owed to the organization’s landlord, GG 252 Highland, LLC.

After new leadership took control of the center early in 2012, negotiations began immediately with Siegel-Gallagher, the building’s management company, to reduce the amount of space occupied by the center in the former Blatz Brewing Company building. That successful move eliminated the cost of future rent on unneeded space.

Interim executive director Karen Gotzler led a team that included center treasurer Peter Larson and attorneys Kass Hume and Jan Pierce to negotiate a deal reducing the center’s debt to the landlord down to $93,000, with the stipulation that the amount would be paid in full within three years.

The center’s leaders were able to eliminate that debt by borrowing $50,000 from several supporters and offering to pay it immediately to the landlord in exchange for canceling out the center’s debt altogether. The landlord agreed.

Center co-president Paul Williams said the $50,000 borrowed from supporters will be paid back in three years at an interest rate of 1 percent.

“(They’re) helping the center at a critical time so we can move forward toward our goals more quickly and save significant money in the process,” Williams said.

“These supporters saw the logic and the benefits to the center and the community – in terms of reducing overall debt, and in terms of further increasing the confidence of the broad community in the center,” said center co-president Anne Perry Curley.  

Williams praised Siegel-Gallagher for its role in facilitating all the negotiations that have brought the center so far from the fiscal cliff it faced just 18 months ago. “This is an amazing nonprofit turnaround story,” Williams said.

Center officials said they believe the debt elimination will enhance confidence in the center’s future and fuel enthusiasm for the “Believe in the Center” fundraising campaign that’s currently under way. The campaign aims to raise money that will expand support for programs such as SAGE Milwaukee and provide for basic resources, such as heat and light, which are not covered by direct program grants.

Next up on the center’s agenda is hiring a new executive director through a nationwide job search. CenterLink and the Johnson Family Foundation provided a $30,000 grant to conduct the search and support the hiring process.

“We have a job description out and we’re accepting applications now,” Williams said.

“We’re getting a very strong response. It’s very exciting.”

In other developments, the center reported that its 2012 Audit was completed on time, with a clean “non-modified” rating.  Copies of the audit are available at the Center.

To donate to the center, click here.