One of the state's leading advocacy organizations for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has new leadership: Susan Hartman is executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont as of May 1.
With 30 years of experience in nonprofit administration, Hartman relocated to Vermont from Fayetteville, Ark., to accept the leadership post.
"I am a native Arkansan – born and raised in Fayetteville, Ark. – and pretty much just stayed in that region," Hartman told Vermont Edition Monday. "I've been in the nonprofit world since I was 18. I started out at a crisis intervention center taking suicide prevention calls and just really never looked back. I just kept on serving the community and trying to make lives better for my family and friends and neighbors."
The appeal of Vermont and this position
"Vermont just seems to have this soul," Hartman said. "It's a little hard to explain, but it just seems like, simply put, a nice community. And other than the nature and the outdoor beauty, you all just seem like good people ... I just thought, 'You know, they're good folks and I want to be a part of that.'
Regarding what interested her about the role at the Pride Center, Hartman cited her years of nonprofit experience.
"I wanted to take some of the things I've learned, the skills I've developed, and put it to good use in my own LGBTQ family," Hartman explains. "And the Pride Center is doing really good work and again just had that draw, had that kind of soul that I was drawn to."
Local tension and discussion
A bar in Winooski recently rebranded as a gay bar with the name Mister Sister, and some people have said the name is a slur against trans women. The Pride Center initially took no position, which led to the resignation of two board members. The Pride Center then hosted a Trans Town Hall for the community to talk about the issue, and following that forum, issued a statement denouncing the bar's name.
While this issue predates Hartman's helm of the Pride Center, she did provide her take on this situation that she says she's been following:
"For me, you know, this is a scenario that's played itself out over and over again across the nation for decades. And to me it's an opportunity for us to open those lines of discussion. Our community, our LGBTQ community, is vastly diverse within our own world. We have people from all different life experiences, all different opportunities and expectations," said Hartman. "This sort of strife, I guess you could call it, has sort of gone on for quite a while."
Hartman told Vermont Edition that the controversy over Mister Sister can create an opportunity "to have real honest discussions, to speak to what's on our mind, what's on our heart, and for others to truly listen to that. It gives us an opportunity to continue to grow as a community and to continue to grow as a family. And that's what I hope will happen in this scenario."
Priorities as Pride Center director
"One of the things that I want to look at is the organization as a whole," Hartman said. "We have some incredible programming going on – the SafeSpace serving LGBTQ individuals who have experienced violence; we have a very robust health and wellness program, we have wonderful groups serving different populations in our community.
"But I'd like to look at the organization as a whole and ensure the stability and the sustainability of the Pride Center as an entity, as an organization. We are currently looking at the different revenue streams that we have coming in. We're heavily dependent on grants and that makes me a little nervous. So we want to look at how to strengthen our fund development program and how to diversify some of the different areas where our funding originates.
"Something else that I'm talking with the board about is the need for an updated strategic plan. I'm not sure when it is that we last sort of took pulse of our community, but we need to understand who is living in our community and what issues they face and what needs they have of the [Pride] Center, and then develop our map from all of that information."
Is a Pride Center still needed in 2017?
"You know, I think so," said Hartman. "I've heard that question in different parts of our country. 'Do we still need the Pride events? Do we still need Pride centers.' And the answer is 'yes.' The organization is still sort of the unifying organization within our community and will continue to be so for quite a few years."
Listen to the full interview from Vermont Edition above. Broadcast live on Monday, May 8, 2017 during the noon hour; rebroadcast during the 7 p.m. hour.