Prizm News / March 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

National search planned for successor, who should be on the job by the end of 2018.

 

By Bob Vitale 

Stonewall Columbus Executive Director Karla Rothan, who has been at the epicenter of a divide within Columbus’ LGBTQ community since the arrest of four black queer protesters at the Columbus Pride parade last June, has announced her retirement. 

Karla Rothan
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In a letter sent out by Stonewall Columbus Thursday afternoon, Rothan made no mention of the controversy that has swirled around both her and the 37-year-old LGBTQ community center since June 2017. 

She spoke instead of her 12 years as executive director and upcoming work on tasks such as fundraising and preparing to open an expanded community center in the Short North that’s currently under construction.

“We have had so much success together!” she said. “We rebuilt an organization teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and brought it back to viability, hosted a Pride Festival and March that has grown to become the largest in the Midwest, touched and changed the lives of so many with our nationally-recognized programs, and created deep long-lasting connections with other nonprofit social service organizations around our city that are dedicated to providing care for those in need.”

Stonewall Columbus Board President Rob Podlogar said the organization will conduct a national search for a new leader and seek input from those who use the Center on High, LGBT leaders and the community. A new director should be on the job by year’s end.

“The hope is we’ll get a very diverse candidate pool,” Podlogar said.

He praised Rothan’s leadership of Stonewall Columbus for the past 12 years and said she had mentioned about a year ago her wish to retire. The board did not ask her to step down, he said, and Rothan’s retirement is not related to the controversies since last year’s Columbus Pride.

“We would not be where we are today—within this city and as an organization—without Karla’s leadership,” Podlogar said.

Allies thanked Rothan for her service.

“No one has contributed more to making Columbus a great place for the LGBT community than Karla Rothan. No one!” wrote Steve Shellabarger, who helped start Stonewall and other local LGBTQ groups.

In Facebook posts sharing the news, friends used adjectives such as “brave,” “dedicated” and “tireless.”

Those who have dogged Rothan in recent months—at one Stonewall event, protesters handed out “Wanted” posters with her photo—welcomed the news but called for further change in Columbus’ LGBTQ leadership.

Wriply Bennet, one of three activists convicted last month in Franklin County Municipal Court of charges stemming from the Pride protest, called Rothan’s departure “just the beginning.”

“We can’t have people who have no loyalty to the community they serve making decisions for the community…we can’t have people who don’t worry about the well being of the qtpoc community in their city,” she said.

“This is only the beginning, but to make things right and get us in the path to truly healing and building in this community, all the Stonewall Board needs to step down, because it wasn’t just Karla who actively ignored and silenced this community, who actively prosecuted four black Trans and queer folk, who dismissed our cries for help for years and turned a blind eye to our physical, verbal and social abuse.”

Since the arrests of Bennet, Ashley Braxton, Kendall Denton and Deandre Miles (Miles has yet to be tried on more serious charges), activists have called for Rothan’s resignation and for Stonewall to urge Columbus authorities to drop charges against the protesters. Stonewall’s program coordinator and much of its Pride planning committee resigned in protest, and other top staff left. 

“You can’t live in the world we do now and continue to say, ‘I didn’t know’ with all the information at your fingertips, we know that that was a lie. Stepping down is only the right thing to do,” Bennet said.

The Black Pride 4 and other protesters say they wanted to call attention to police violence, the murders of trans women, and the marginalization of LGBTQ people of color. 

Organizers of BQIC, Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus, said via Facebook that the LGBTQ community in Columbus has much work to do to make the city inclusive for black queer and trans people.

BQIC also called for Stonewall board members to resign and said they want the next Stonewall Columbus Director to be a queer/trans/intersex person of color. 

Rothan’s entire letter is as follows: 

Dear Friends:

Eleven years ago, I was given the opportunity and immense responsibility to lead Stonewall Columbus. Although I was always a big fan and supporter of the organization, I was not the most likely candidate to lead it. I came from an arts and public relations background and I never really saw myself going down this path, but what a beautiful journey it has been.  I always wanted to have a job that helped to enrich the lives of others and make a difference. You all can probably imagine that today is a day of mixed emotions for me as I announce my retirement as your director. It has truly been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve this organization.

We have had so much success together! We rebuilt an organization teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and brought it back to viability, hosted a Pride Festival and March that has grown to become the largest in the Midwest, touched and changed the lives of so many with our nationally-recognized programs and created deep long-lasting connections with other nonprofit social service organizations around our city that are dedicated to providing care for those in need.

Over the coming weeks, I will be working with the Board of Trustees to develop the parameters and roles where I can best serve Stonewall during this transition, including fundraising and development efforts, and the construction and opening of our new center.  During my transition, the Board of Trustees will actively be conducting a nationwide search for the next generation of leadership for Stonewall Columbus. I will work with the Board of Trustees to determine the best transition plan for this to occur by the end of this year.

I am ready to serve our community in new and different ways and will deeply miss this amazing organization and its countless volunteers, participants, allies, supporters, and staff. I am so proud of our passionate efforts and I am confident that our hard work will benefit many generations to come. It has truly been an honor to serve Stonewall Columbus and I look forward to a successful year for all of us.

With Deepest Gratitude,
Karla

 


Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com