Shannon Thomas, executive director of the Seattle Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Community Center, is leaving in September to explore new challenges after four years at the helm of the Capitol Hill-based agency.
"It was my decision," Thomas said of the move. "It's just time for a change, personally, for me.
Thomas is on her way to a well-earned vacation and, after that, she will aid the LGBT board in choosing an interim director. That will give the center's board of directors time to do a search for qualified candidates from which to pick a permanent director.
Thomas' last day at the helm is Sept. 7.
"It's been four great years, and this last year I worked my butt off," Thomas said. "We had an extremely successful 2006 to 2007." She said she completed the goals she set when she started, and then some.
In the last year and a half, Thomas created and then produced-twice-Queer Fest, the Capitol Hill-based event that fills the void left by the downtown relocation of the annual Gay Pride celebration in June. She and the board also completed the community center's strategic plan at the end of 2006, and the Fruit Bowl Awards-the gay community's salute to activists and organizations-has grown into a major event, attracting a third more attendees this year (400) than last (300).
"We've had a crazy good year," Thomas said. "We created a new community event, two organizations merged with the center and we completed our strategic plan."
Thomas said that this is a good time for her to leave. She said she has accomplished what she set out to do with the center and feels that she is leaving it in good shape.
The center programs and events reach more than 50,000 people every year and it is the primary gathering place for more than 100 community groups since opening in 1996.
Thomas said the biggest goal she accomplished was creating a strategic plan for the LGBT center. That took two years, from 2004 through 2006, and involved a broad cross-section of the community. This is the center's first strategic plan and includes an assessment of the center and how it can better serve the community.
"We started tapping a number of institutions," Thomas said of the planning process.
The item of utmost importance in the plan is supporting the community in any emergent need, Thomas said. One of those signal needs, brought about by the Seattle Pride march and festival move to downtown, was creating a community event on Capitol Hill. The result was the highly successful and well-regarded Queer Fest, which includes a march as well as events in Volunteer Park on the day before national Gay Pride Day.
At the same time as the first Queer Fest was in production, another part of the plan-supporting community organizations-was called into play when Ingersoll Gender Center, the area's oldest transgender support organization, merged with the LGBT center.
The Ingersoll Gender Center was founded by Seattle community activist Marsha Botzer.
In early December, Gay Community Social Services chose to bring itself under the center's umbrella. This organization was founded by legendary Seattle community activist Faygele Ben Miriam and is Washington's first gay nonprofit organization.
Gay Community Social Services works for human rights for all people, especially sexual minorities, with the conviction that their opponents are not people but ignorance, intolerance, injustice and fear. Their tools are education and supportive activities and programs.
Both the organizations' missions fit neatly within the Seattle LGBT Community Center's goal of providing needed services to Seattle's LGBT community.
"We have done a lot of work shoring up our funding," Thomas said. She said the center has been providing excellent services to the community, but more is needed. "The big thing is keeping the vision for senior housing alive."
Thomas said she already is negotiating for a new job, but was unable to say more about it until the deal is final. In the meantime, she said she is very pleased with her legacy.
"The more organizations come together, the less we are fighting over resources," Thomas said. "I think that is the most important message I am leaving the community. Working together will create the change we want to make."
She said she was especially pleased that when Queer Fest was created, and then produced a second time, it was not seen as a move against the Seattle Pride committee but rather a move for the community. She said there were attempts by angry people to paint it as divisive, but they failed. Dividing the community is the last thing Thomas wants to happen.
"It's about uniting and solidarity," Thomas said. "I feel good that I am leaving that legacy, [and] that that is my message."
Founded in 1996 by Queen City Community Development, the LGBT Community Center is operated by a nine-member board of directors. The organization can be contacted through www.seattlelgbt.org, by calling 323-5428, or by visiting the center at 1115 E. Pike St.
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