National Stonewall Democrats is officially “on hiatus,” Executive Director Jerame Davis said in an exclusive interview with Dallas Voice on Monday.
The organization suspended operations on Jan. 1 but plans a relaunch for 2014.
“A lot of decisions are being made,” Davis told the Voice. “It’s likely our office will be closed for most of this year.”
Davis continues to work as an unpaid volunteer and will use the current office in Washington, D.C., at least through the end of the month.
Local and state chapters will continue to operate normally. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said his group’s regular monthly meeting is Jan 15. He described the Stonewall as very grassroots, operating from the bottom up, and said locally nothing will change.
In an email to members in early December, Davis warned the organization was facing a $30,000 deficit and might be forced to close if the money was not raised.
Davis became executive director of National Stonewall Democrats in December 2011 and inherited the organization’s debt.
“We’ve never raised enough money out of dues alone to keep the organization going,” he said.
Most memberships come from the local Stonewall organizations. When a member pays dues to the local group, $10 is passed along to national.
Davis said some groups are not passing along membership money.
“Texas has always been very good about paying their dues,” he said. “No complaints about any of our Texas clubs.”
But Davis said the national organization made decent progress toward closing the budget gap but December — right after an election and before Christmas — was the worst time for a political organization to raise money. Most donations made at that time of year go to tax-deductible nonprofits. Donations to Stonewall are not deductible because it is a political, not charitable, group.
Reflecting on the past year, Davis said part of the problem was just how much money the presidential election sucked out of the pockets of donors. In addition, the Tammy Baldwin for Senate campaign siphoned funds from around the country.
“A lot of our donors had a lot of other options,” he said.
Davis said he knew things were going to come to a head at the end of the year and sent the email in early December as a last effort to keep the doors open.
“We hoped an angel would step in,” he said. “That didn’t happen.”
In a year-end phone call to chapters, Davis encouraged them to continue sending dues to national. He said he understood it was paying into a hole and couldn’t require it.
“But it [the deficit] was money spent in service to them,” Davis said.
Looking to the future, Davis stressed the organization is not dead.
“We have a plan to make a comeback,” he said. “This is a rebuilding year.”
He said a new board would be elected to direct that comeback. He called this a good rebuilding year because there will be no congressional elections and few statewide elections.
“I’ve agreed to serve as a volunteer advisor to get through the transition,” he said.
Davis said Stonewall has done best in Republican areas. For example, Texas is among the few states that have created statewide a caucus in addition to the local clubs. On the other hand, heavily Democratic Chicago has no Stonewall chapter.
He said LGBT Democrats in Texas would remain well served with the state and local chapters, but 23 states have no local Stonewall clubs.
“One thing we didn’t do well was sell ourselves,” Davis said.
He said Stonewall does many things it never issues press releases about. If the group were gone or while it’s on hiatus, he said, no one will do those things.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” he said.
And he hopes that will be a good thing for the organization’s reboot.
“The Republican Party has made it so easy for LGBT people to not be Republican, we’re not seen as important,” he said.
But he said an active national Stonewall would serve to counter Log Cabin Republicans in the current Chuck Hagel confirmation debate. Log Cabin took out full-page ads opposing Hagel’s nomination. He noted how interesting it was that organization was suddenly disqualifying a nominee on his past positions on LGBT rights when just a few months ago it endorsed Mitt Romney.
Davis said to look for a board to be elected soon to guide the reboot and to look for a relaunch by next year.