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Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Integrity is dead.

Integrity is dead.

I’m talking about the organization, IntegrityUSA. I’m also talking about the value, the character, of integrity which animated the creation of this once noble and highly esteemed organization.

The compromise of one has led to the death of the other.

For those of you who may not know, IntegrityUSA is an independent justice organization of Episcopalians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and their parents, family, and friends, which is widely credited with the advocacy efforts that secured the most significant victories for LGBTQ Episcopalians, including official support for access to the sacramental rites of holy orders and marriage.

Many people believe that IntegrityUSA was founded by Louie Crew Clay. That is not exactly accurate. In 1974, while teaching in San Francisco, he and his husband Ernest Clay were excited to attend services at Grace Cathedral and become members.

Thinking that he and Ernest had moved through ‘The Cotton Curtain’ in their home in rural Georgia to arrive at the ‘gayest city in America,’ he called the cathedral to ask if they could help him connect with other gay Episcopalians. 

As Louie told the story, he was put on hold and transferred from person after person who asked him to repeat his question; he could then hear them laughing ‘derisively’.

Louie’s response was to envision the creation of a newsletter that would become a forum for gay and lesbian Episcopalians to connect, organize, express themselves and support each other. He called his publication Integrity because he felt that was what had been taken from LGBTQ people who were compelled to hide the fullness of their humanity from God in the church. The first Integrity newsletter was published in 1974.

Louie understood himself as a writer and his gifts as an evangelist. He never intended to found an organization. Indeed, he never worked in any official capacity with Integrity. 

His writing and evangelism did inspire others to do so and they organized into a handful of chapters and gathered, 200 strong, for a national convention in 1975. Ellen Barrett and Jim Wickliff served as founding co-Presidents.

By 2011, there were 58 chapters and about 2,000 members. At this writing, Integrity has refused to report (if it actually knows) the number of members and chapters currently in existence.  

Integrity has been an active presence at General Conventions since 1977, helping draft resolutions and gathering support for their resolutions as well as the other members of The Consultation, a consortium of justice organizations in The Episcopal Church. The Triennial Integrity Eucharist has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of General Convention, attracting several thousand people in attendance.

IntegrityUSA became a respected voice – in print media and then in social media, as well as in local, state, national and international churches, courts and legislative bodies – for equal civil rights, working collaboratively with other religious and secular organizations. 

There was never any doubt in anyone’s mind that Integrity was a Christian justice organization in The Episcopal Church.

That is, until recently.

Over the past decade, organizational instability, incompetent leadership, and fiscal mismanagement have been growing concerns. Financial questions have remained unanswered for several years. According to IRS filings, the total income for 2011 was reported at $767,123. Income declined steadily after that: Income for 2012: $225,830; 2013: $153,591; 2014: $98,016. In 2015, Integrity reported $134,029 in net assets and just $54,574 in revenue, but $225,225 in expenses. 

As of October 17, 2019, the current (appointed, not elected) treasurer of Integrity reported that Integrity has "about $53,000 on hand," $30,000 of which was a bequest which is reportedly earmarked to assist local chapters after a census has been completed. (Treasurers Report October, 2019, can be found here.)

Members have repeatedly asked for an accounting of what happened to the almost $400,000 that was spent in two years. Presidents Caro Hall (2011-2014), Matt Haines (2014-2015), Bruce Garner (2015-2018) and Gwen Fry (2018- November, 2019) have never provided direct answers to those requests. 

It should also be noted that 2015 was the last year Integrity filed a full return to the IRS.

It should also be noted that one of Integrity's members discovered that the board neglected to file Integrity's report with the IRS of the State of Illinois in 2018 so the incorporated status was involuntarily dissolved. It has been reported by the current treasurer that the appropriate report has been filed and Integrity's status has been re-instated.

In June of 2018, Gwen Fry was elected President of Integrity and announced at General Convention that Integrity’s name had been changed to The Episcopal Rainbow. This was done without any input from the members or a process that involved the inclusion of various perspectives as one would expect from a justice organization. This would be the first but not the last manifestation of this ham-fisted style of leadership. 

It should also be noted that no legal action has ever been taken to officially change the incorporated name of Integrity.

Shortly after that election, all members of the board, save for the VP of local affairs, resigned.   
Sometime after that, the President went on medical leave. 

None of this was ever made known to the members until July of 2019 and that was only after repeated questions from members about the absence of the President or a statement from Integrity during PRIDE month (June).

The President announced her return to her position in September of 2019 as well as the appointment of replacement board members, none of whom were known by the membership. 
Amidst protests, complaints, and turmoil in the membership, Ms. Fry then resigned on November 25, 2019.

Instability, incompetence, lack of transparency, outright duplicity and mendacity and an autocratic, ham-fisted leadership style have been the hallmarks of the present board. An “internal audit” was ordered by the board and was completed by two (appointed, not elected) board members who did not provide so much as a balance sheet and pronounced – and I quote directly - “no discernible irregularities were discovered”. 

No answers were provided concerning previous financial irregularities. It should be noted that neither of these two board members is a CPA or have other discernible credentials to conduct a financial audit. However, it has been reported that a man named John Lennox, MBA, a contract diocesan auditor with the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, had reviewed the 2019 internal audit and pronounced it "accurate and well-documented".

Comparing that 2019 internal audit with the independent audit filed in 2015 by Smith, Sullivan & Brown is very revealing in terms of what it does and does not document. 

Indeed, there is no comparison between the audit of 2015 and 2019. Perhaps this is why Integrity's bylaws call for an audit by a CPA and not MBA. While this board likes to talk about bylaws, they only adhere to their interpretation of the bylaws. Sometimes, they even make some up (more on this later.).

A member of Integrity, a corporate attorney, has filed a request for “books and records,” so that he might try to make some sense about the financial questions that have remained unanswered. This request is within the purview of organizational members. The board, specifically the treasurer, ignored that request. 

Several months later, that member was informed by the treasurer, that he was not, in fact, a member. He was thanked for his financial contribution to the organization but told that it was not considered payment for his membership dues.

I am not making this up.  

It needs to be asked: What are they afraid of?  
**Bylaws are interpreted according to the particular perspective of the board members, typically the treasurer, who, for example, has declined to make known the names of the members of the Stakeholder’s Council because, he says, the bylaws do not allow it.

That is not true. The **bylaws state that the names of members may not be shared with those who are not members. Which makes sense. There is no reason not to share the names of the members of the Stakeholder’s Council with other members of Integrity. 

But, the treasurer stuck to his interpretation, despite several challenges from several members and did what incompetence always does: He created a form. Incompetent bureaucracies LOVE forms. It's a pathetic power move, just to demonstrate who really has the power. Got a question? We got a form for you to fill out. If it's really insignificant, in triplicate. And, will need to be notarized. 
This particular form was to provide the board with permission to share a member’s name with other members. Which the bylaws already allowed. 

See also: I am not making this up.

The names of the members of the Stakeholder’s Council is important information for members to have because, according to the bylaws, in the absence of an elected President, it is the members of the Stakeholder’s Council who elect the new President. Without providing that information to members, the board can hold an election in the same way it conducted the internal audit and then report that there were “no discernible irregularities” in the election process. No one would know the difference.

Before I continue, I want to I remind you that IntegrityUSA is a Christian justice organization in The Episcopal Church.

There have been four members who have been silenced on Integrity’s FB page. Some have been blocked, others have been muted and/or their FB membership on that page rescinded. The reason? Their comments were deemed to be in violation of the FB rules. And those rules are to be ‘kind’. 

If comments are arbitrarily deemed to be ‘unkind’ they are removed and silenced. If a post is considered to be ‘unkind’ it dies in the moderation graveyard without reason, much less an apology. As near as anyone can figure, it is ‘unkind’ to speak the truth or to ask an uncomfortable question, or to say something with which the Moderator of the Day (who is anonymous) disagrees. 

So much for justice. 

Silencing dissenting voices is the behavior common to the oppressor. It is not the way the oppressed interact with each other.

Unless, of course, the oppressed have internalized their oppression and have become the oppressor.

Another example of this can be found in the exchanges between one member of Integrity and the illicitly appointed chair of the Stakeholder's Council who used homophobic slurs ("pissy old queens and bitter old dykes") to describe some of those Integrity members who have raised questions and concerns. 

His behavior and language were excused by the board as being "generational".(Note: At the very end of this blog post, I have provided the exchange and the letter written by President Fry to document this. It is a study in internalized oppression.)

Perhaps one of the most outlandish examples of privilege was seen when the illicitly appointed Interim Chair of the Stakeholder’s Council announced that, as a “parliamentarian with over 20 years of experience,” it was his position that Robert’sRules of Order allowed the board to create bylaws for special circumstances. 

Therefore, since the Stakeholder’s Council had been rendered essentially defunct and the election of members had been “postponed” (by this same person when he was President of Integrity, which was also not allowed in the bylaws), it was perfectly fine for the board to “appoint” him as interim Chair of the Stakeholder’s Council.*

This, of course, is fantasy. This has been confirmed by no less than three corporate lawyers and one corporate paralegal, all members of Integrity. That made no difference to the Board or the illicitly appointed interim chair of the Stakeholder’s Council. 

Facts don’t matter to the privileged who become arrogant and self-serving as they insulate themselves from the very people – the members of Integrity – they are supposed to serve. 

Indeed, a petition was circulated to amend the bylaws to make board meetings open to members. The bylaws state that amendments can be made by petition of 10% of the members. However, since the board refuses to reveal how many members there are on the books - and, apparently arbitrarily determines how to apply membership dues as "donations" or dues - it was thought but not known that the required threshold of signatories had been reached.

No matter. The board has ignored that petition.

If any of this style of leadership sounds even vaguely familiar, one need only look to the Oval Office in Washington, DC for comparison.

Puerto Rican activist Carlos Rodriguez is quoted as having said, “When we’re not hungry for justice it’s usually because we’re too full with privilege.”

There are many, many other examples of abuse of power and the priority of privilege over justice, each one more outrageous than the next. 

Documenting them all would only prove to be an exercise in overwhelming disbelief that that much incompetence, arrogance, duplicity, and mendacity could exist in the leadership of an organization named Integrity.

There are more important truths to tell, prime among them are these:  

Integrity is no longer hungry for justice. It is no longer a justice organization. 

Privilege has become more important than integrity. 

It is barely a shadow of its former self which is monstrously painful to those of us who have generously and joyfully given so much of our lives to an organization – a movement, a dream – which has accomplished so much for so many.

Integrity is dead. Of this, there is no doubt. 

As Christians, we are people who believe in resurrection. It is central to our faith. And yet, many of us are so afraid of death we live in denial, feeding our sense of privilege to numb the anxiety or shame or fear of admitting that Integrity is dead. The irony is that as long as we continue to deny death, we cannot participate in, much less celebrate, resurrection.

My fervent hope for Integrity is that there will be a fair, transparent election that will bring us competent and qualified leadership with a deep commitment to justice and inclusion, transparency and open process. 

I pray for leadership with a clear eye on the reality that the Integrity brand has been irreparably tarnished. 

I pray for leadership who will understand the desperate need for healing and reconciliation and pastoral care within the membership of Integrity.

I  pray for leadership who will understand his (and I have no doubt that the next President will be male – and, no doubt, Caucasian) role as a hospice chaplain to a national organization which has died while simultaneously working as a midwife to newly resurrected justice ministries at local levels.

I pray for leadership who understands that the best leadership style is to "get right in the middle and then get right out of the way" - gradually phasing out Integrity at a "national" level.

As long-time Episcopal leader and Civil Rights Activist, Ed Rodman, has so often said, leaders in justice movements know to "have their fingerprints on everything and their name on nothing."

I pray for leadership with enough integrity and strength of character to speak a hard word of truth: 

Integrity is dead.

Perhaps then, once truth is spoken, reality acknowledged, and healing and reconciliation begun, we may reclaim a sense of integrity and begin to continue Louie’s dream of new ways for LGBTQ people to return to wholeness and holiness of life in the church and in the world.

Integrity is dead.

Long live integrity! 


Note: The following news outlets have published stories on the current crisis of leadership in Integrity.

Episcopal News ServiceIntegrity president resigns amid mounting criticism


1.  Here are the results of the MEMBERSHIP SURVEY October 22, 2019.

2. Here is a copy of the Books and Records Demand

* Note that the last time Integrity financials were filed with the IRS was 2015. Note the term of the president who is presently the illicitly appointed chair of the Stakeholder's Council was 2015-2018.
**Link to the bylaws can be found at the bottom of this page.

*** There is a new Integrity Webpage: "Integrity Listens and Speaks" where one may kindly post questions or comments to a particular board member who will kindly respond.

**** Integrity's FB page:  

*****Integrity's old, sadly outdated Webpage can be found here:

Note: The board of Integrity has announced that "an official list of candidates for President of Integrity and Chair and Vice-Chair of the Stakeholder's Council will be issued and released by Friday, January 3, 2020. Integrity USA will host a live Zoom town hall meeting "shortly after the list of candidates is issued."  It will be an opportunity for members to see and hear from candidates running for president."

"Official ballots will be issued on Monday, January 20, 2020, and due back by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, January 25, 2020. The ballots submitted will be certified by Integrity USA’s outside auditor and results announced by Monday, January 27, 2020. Integrity USA’s new president, Stakeholders’ Council chair and Stakeholders’ Council vice-chair will take office on February 1, 2020 and serve through September 30, 2021."

Note: I was with Louie the day before he died (on the eve of Thanksgiving, 11.27.19). We briefly talked about the state of Integrity which brought him deep distress and anger and tears. I promised him that I would try to make things right. Making sure the truth is told and documented in this blog is part of my effort to keep my promise.

:::ADDENDUM NOTE::: I am deeply grateful to the Integrity member who provided this FB post regarding the board's decision concerning the homophobic slurs ("Pissy old queens" and "bitter old dykes") he used to describe Integrity members who expressed their concerns and frustrations with board leadership:

Statement by Integrity USA’s President Regarding Bruce Garner’s Private Facebook Comments – November 15, 2019

Dear Integrity friends,

The board met with Bruce Garner today after receiving inquiries about language he used in a private Facebook chat. The concerns surfaced after an individual posted screenshots of that private conversation in our Facebook group in reaction to our announcement that Bruce was appointed Integrity USA’s Interim Stakeholders’ Council Chairperson.

Historically, the use of certain words describing members of the LGBTQ community have evoked a variety of reactions. The reactions often vary by, and sometimes within, generations.

This is something the LGBTQ community has debated for many years. You may have seen that Bruce posted a response this afternoon in that Facebook discussion clarifying that his comments were made as a private individual and do not reflect the thoughts of anyone else or any organization.

We appreciate his clarification. Bruce Garner was appointed Interim Stakeholders’ Council Chairperson because of his many years of service and institutional knowledge of Integrity USA. This includes two terms as president.

Integrity USA’s board of directors believes he is an asset to the organization and will play an important role in shaping its future. Let’s not allow our personal differences divide us during a time when there is still so much work to be done. (Italization added for emphasis.)

Integrity USA envisions a church where people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions are welcomed and affirmed. Together, we can make that happen. 

 Gwen Fry Integrity USA President


Lee Ann Hoffman said...

Thank You for documenting the demise of an organization that has meant so much to me.... in the past.
I am sorry Louie lived to see this turmoil and lack of integrity in INTEGRITY USA.��

Buck Buckingham said...

This saga breaks my heart. It also reminds me of the achingly ironic fact that "Intergity House," the home of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, was built on stolen land for which a price something like five times the market value was paid. Every taxi driver in Nairobi can tell you this story as you drive past the gold mirrored edifice; I pray that intetnet "taxi drivers" don't have to endlessly tell a similar tale about Integrity USA.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth, thank you for shining a great big light on this whole wretched mess. As a long-time member of Integrity and a former board member and treasurer in the early 2000s, this breaks my heart, but truth must be told before healing can begin. Let us pray for the full truth to come out and that this much-loved organization may find healing and renewal of purpose in the new decade. Frank Dowd

The Rev Dr Ellen Marie Barrett (Sr Helena OSB) said...

Thank you for this, Madre. I have been saddened for a good while at what I knew to be the death-throes of Integrity (as well as integrity). I'm glad you are there to remind me that all our efforts have not been in vain and that we did do good work, indeed even heroic, work for truth, just, and integrity. The decline of recent years cannot diminish that history of courage and accomplishment.

The Rev Dr Ellen Marie Barrett (Sr Helena OSB) said...

Thank you for this, Madre. I have been saddened for a good while at what I knew to be the death-throes of Integrity (as well as integrity). I'm glad you are there to remind me that all our efforts have not been in vain and that we did do good work, indeed even heroic work for truth, justice, and integrity. The decline of recent years cannot diminish that history of courage and accomplishment.

Mac McLeod said...

We, Mac and Mary Adelia McLeod, sent a check to Integrity and never received a response. Sadly, we now now why.
Thank you Elizabeth.

The Rev. Mac McLeod
The Rt. Rev. Mary Adelia Rosamond McLeod