Shake-up at SMYAL

Questions follow departure of director, loss of funding

During her yearlong tenure as the executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), Tasha Hill was never one to talk candidly about the organization or herself. Even when speaking to Metro Weekly upon taking on the leadership role in late April of 2007, about her personal life as a lesbian, Hill seemed cautious and answered questions via speaker phone with the organization’s communications director nearby.

Shying away from the personal, Hill preferred talking about the work she hoped to undertake at SMYAL, an organization that works to promote healthy and productive lives for GLBT youth. Hill veered away from the personal experiences of the girl from Michigan who would, in adulthood, find herself leading Inside/Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs, Colo., before coming to SMYAL.

That reticence may explain Hill’s quiet departure from SMYAL, officially announced in a May 21 press release as the result of a ”medical condition.” Still, Hill’s departure without a more detailed explanation has led to much speculation about her resignation.

Shortly after the announcement, the Washington Blade excerpted what it reported to be an internal SMYAL e-mail written by Hill on May 13, and anonymously leaked to the paper. The Blade quoted Hill as writing: ”Events in recent weeks, especially some decisions made by the board, have led me to the discovery that SMYAL is no longer the right place for me.”

Todd Peterson, president of SMYAL’s board of directors, insists Hill left for ”medical reasons,” and says he cannot comment on the validity of the e-mail leaked to the Blade.

As of Tuesday, May 27, Andrew Barnett, acting executive director of the organization since Hill’s medical-leave departure in March, who also serves as SMYAL’s director of operations and communications, says he forwarded e-mails from Metro Weekly to Hill, requesting an interview. Hill has not responded.

Adding weight to questions regarding Hill’s resignation is discontinuation of four grants to SMYAL, which provided the organization with a total of about $130,000. Barnett and Peterson made that information public almost immediately after announcing SMYAL’s search to find a new executive director.

The grants that were discontinued include a ”restricted grant” of about $70,000 from the state of Maryland, says Barnett, given to SMYAL in an effort to help raise HIV-prevention awareness at public schools in Maryland.

”Unfortunately, we weren’t performing the requirements of the grant and that’s why we negotiated the discontinuation,” says Barnett.

Peterson says as a result of ending that grant, SMYAL will no longer provide weekly HIV-prevention programs in Maryland public schools.

”But our core programs that we offer at the after-school Youth Center [on Capitol Hill] will continue,” he says. Those include support groups, HIV-prevention programming and social activities.

”As we move forward, we’re committed to addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth in Maryland and Virginia and elsewhere, when we can effectively do so.”

After ending the Maryland grant, Barnett says a team of board members who examined why SMYAL was not meeting grant requirements explored other SMYAL grants in an effort to assess ”strengths and weaknesses.” That resulted in the discontinuation of three D.C. grants: a $15,000 grant from Break the Cycle, a $25,000 grant from the D.C. Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC), and a $20,000 grant from Sasha Bruce Youthwork.

When asked about SMYAL’s inability to maintain the funding, Peterson said, ”We’re in the process of analyzing our programs and our grants, so we’re not really going to go into answering those types of questions until we finish our assessment.”

Peterson says the discontinuation of the three D.C. grants will not impact SMYAL’s services.

For more information about SMYAL, visit www.smyal.org.

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