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Season Of Leadership Change


It’s the season for leadership change at several Minnesota LGBT non-profits: Shades of Yellow and the Trans Youth Support network are nearing the ends of their search for new Executive Directors, and local stalwart Pfund Foundation has announced an unusual choice to replace outgoing ED Gregg Grinley: Co-Directors.

Katie Burgess (Photo courtesy TYSN)
The Trans Youth Support Network

“It’s definitely a little strange” being TYSN’s interim leader, said Katie Burgess. “It’s only been a couple of years since I stopped identifying as a youth.”

TYSN grew out of District 202 several years ago, and aims to help providers who serve trans Minnesotans better their services.

“We said, we don’t need to establish this giant center for queer and trans folks,” Burgess said. “Why don’t we just connect them [service providers] and train them to better service the youth community instead of having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”

Burgess described herself as a bit of a reluctant leader at first, saying she was “backed into a corner” by board members and other very active volunteers when former ED Ryan Li Dahlstrom left last year, and convinced to accept temporary leadership of the organization as a new, permanent director was found.

“They told me ‘You’ve been organizing for years! Take it!’” she laughed, outlining her relative lack of traditional non-profit leadership experience up to this point. “But I’d only washed dishes for 10 years, and I’d had hardly any grant management experience,” short of a brief stint as the interim Director of the Minnesota Trans Health Coalition several years ago.

Still, Burgess says the transition has been fairly smooth.  TYSN is now ensconced in its new offices and drop-in space – shared with RARE Productions and the MNTHC’s Shot Clinic – and Burgess says her main focus is on involving as much of TYSN’s membership in the ED selection process as possible, and in building up the group’s youth membership.

“We want to build a model bottom-up process for decision-making, for setting priorities and policy,” Burgess said.

Oskar Ly (left), interim Executive Director, and Chong Moua (right), Programs Director (Photo: James Sanna)
Shades of Yellow

At Shades of Yellow, another rising star on the Twin Cities’ LGBT nonprofit scene, interim Executive Director Oskar Ly says SOY is following a similar approach in trying to include a broad swath of the Hmong LGBT community in the search for former ED and SOY founder Kevin Xiong’s replacement.

Ly, who also works as a fashion designer and a hip-hop artist in her spare time, said that five leaders within the organization and five community members have spent the last several months searching for not just a new ED, but re-thinking the entire way SOY is operated.

“We want to come up with an organizational scheme that looks at how power, authority, and responsibility is shared throughout the organization, the community, and the board,” Ly said.

A short list of candidates, and the fruits of this discussion are scheduled to be presented at next week’s Hmong New Year celebrations and the crowning of this year’s SOY Ambassador at Busavanh in St Paul.

While SOY was founded to serve the entire Hmong LGBT community, Ly said they were putting a strong focus on reaching out to queer Hmong youth.

“We’re asking ‘what do they need?'” Ly said. “Most Gay Straight Alliances in area schools haven’t really reached out to them.”

“I don’t think they’re intentionally alienating queer youth or Hmong queer youth,” Ly added. “I’m just not sure they’re aware of how to do the work.”

That work, Ly explained, is pretty complicated. There is even no positive Hmong word that can be used as an equivalent label for LGBT, akin to the term “Two-Spirit” that many queer Native Americans have taken on. Most of all, though, any GSAs trying to reach out to Hmong LGBT youth would have to tangle with difficult cultural identity issues that they aren’t normally equipped to deal with. Instead, Ly said, SOY is trying to work with Asian-American and Hmong student groups and multicultural clubs at schools in the Twin Cities in order to create more accepting and welcoming environments there.

“More often,” Ly said, “LGBTQ youth of color identify with their race first, and sexual identity second. Not always, of course but it’s very common.”

Katie Eubank (left) and Susan Raffo (right), Co-Executive Directors (Photo courtesy PFund Foundation)
PFund Foundation

PFund may be the first Minnesota LGBT nonprofit to not only hire two executive directors to share one post, but to hire two EDs who also raise chickens in their backyard.

“We’re building a collective brain,” said Kate Eubank, one half of Pfund’s new leadership team. “Susan [Raffo] and I were sitting around her kitchen table, and someone said ‘what if we both applied together…No, really! what if we did it together?”

Susan Cogger, PFund’s communications director, says that other similar foundations, such as Colorado’s Chinook Fund, have used a job-share leadership model with success in the past. Part of the attraction, Raffo says is the flexibility it allows her, as a parent. At the same time, it also benefits PFund, she says, by allowing either herself or Eubank to travel PFund’s turf across the Upper Midwest, meeting with community members, grantees, and other activists while the other holds the fort in Minneapolis, tending to administrative duties.

“We’ve talked about wanting to have conversations about regionalism and…stepping outside our urban queer identity,” said Eubank

Eubank and Raffo say they are both excited to expand the foundation’s work, and are planning “listening sessions,” organized by zip code, to find out more about the needs of the area’s LGBT communities.

And the chickens? A few days before TheColu.mn interviewed Raffo and Eubank, they had all recently been turned into dinner.

“Our hobbies are connected to PFund, in a certain way,” said Raffo. “How do we build sustainability, how do we share resources, and how do we build communities while fulfilling everyone’s needs?”

UPDATE (2/18/11): Looks like this is a real week for staff turnover – both long-time Field Director Kelly Lewis at OutFront and PFund’s similarly long-serving Director of Development and Communications Susan Cogger have announced their resignations as they move on to other projects. In an email to supporters, OutFront said Lewis will be pursuing graduate school, while Cogger emailed TheColu.mn to say she’ll be resigning, effective February 25th, and will be searching for a similar development position.

“I’ve accomplished what I set out to at PFund,” Cogger wrote, “[I’ve helped] doubled revenue from individual donors, secured our first corporate sponsorships (RBC and UHG,) and created two successful branded events—Moxie Awards and the Cabaret.”


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