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New York’s Primary Gay Group Hires New Executive Director

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Mar 6, 2012

The Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the principal LGBT advocacy organization and lobby group in New York State (and City), recently announced that it has parted ways with its most recent executive director, Ross Levi.

The organization's two boards, which consists of nearly 36 members, came to the decision yesterday. The boards' leaders, Louis A. Bradbury and Marla Hassner, told Gay City News that Levi would be "stepping down" on April 6.

"We greatly appreciate Ross's twelve years with the organization. He has been part of the Pride Agenda's major legislative victories, culminating in the momentous marriage win last year," Bradbury said in a statement. "We wish Ross the very best in his future endeavors."

"We are focused on our top priorities of passing a statewide transgender non-discrimination law, standing by those elected officials who stood by us in the marriage victory, and making sure that the health and human service needs of our community are met," Hassner added. "The boards immediately will begin a search for a new executive director to lead the Pride Agenda into the future." The statement also said that ESPA's current deputy executive director, Lynn Faria, will be replacing Levi.

Two anonymous board members told New York weekly Gay City News that many people involved with ESPA were dissatisfied with Levi's leadership in regards to the marriage fight in New York last year. Board members were also disappointed with Levi's performance during the the post-marriage equality agenda, as he was not meeting fundraising goals.

On March 6, Levi released a statement about leaving ESPA. "From the Hate Crimes Law and SONDA [Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act], to the Dignity for All Students Act and marriage equality, and with over 60 other governmental achievements in between, I am extremely proud of my 12-year tenure with the Pride Agenda, and the work I did as executive director," he said.

"I am pleased that because of the successes I helped the organization achieve in 2011, including record-setting special events and fundraising income that well exceeded our budget, the Pride Agenda has the capacity to continue serving as the strong statewide LGBT organization that New York needs," he added. "I am hopeful about its future successes, and look forward to pursuing the next chapter of my professional life."

According to the two board members, after New York recognized same-sex marriage last summer Levi had trouble deciding what the organization should focus on and often butted heads with the board. One board member said that Levi wanted to become involved in Washington issues.

Levi worked with ESPA for more than 12 years and was named executive director on May 22, 2010. The day before Levi was announced as executive director, Brian Ellner suddenly withdrew his name from consideration. Ellner has gone on to become a principal marriage-equality advocate and a player in the state's becoming the largest prize in the gay-marriage sweepstakes last June.

In Jan. 2010, ESPA's executive director, Alan Van Capelle, left the organization nearly two months after a failed attempt to have the New York State Senate recognize marriage equality.


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