Metro Weekly

Stein Club Point/Counterpoint: Jeri Hughes

The challenging slate of new members aren't bad people, but they damaged reputations and Stein's credibility

The Dec. 19 meeting was called in response to irregularities that occurred during the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s Dec. 3 officer election.

Individuals who had either no previous or a minimal involvement with the organization had created a slate to take over the executive committee. This in and of itself was highly irregular and had never occurred throughout the history of the club. This irregularity was exacerbated by the fact that this slate won the election by a narrow margin, relying solely on votes from members who had also recently joined with the apparent singular motive of stacking the election. This was further exacerbated because many of the addresses provided by these new members could not be validated. There was even further controversy because many of the same new members had joined the club at a reduced rate reserved for seniors, students and individuals suffering financial hardship. The number of members who joined claiming hardship was unprecedented, and many who were claiming hardship provided employment information reflecting positions that would indicate comfortable if not affluent circumstance.

Because of all of the irregularities, formal complaints were brought to the club by members who requested a meeting to confront the stated issues. I was one of those members; former Stein Club President Mario Acosta-Vélez was the other. The existing executive committee responded to these concerns by calling for a meeting with the sole and stated purpose of bringing the matter before the members.

Several highly respected members of the club objected to the meeting under the assumption that the meeting in and of itself violated the bylaws. They stated that the executive committee had failed to provide the required time for notice. This was represented to be inaccurate as a misinterpretation of the stated bylaws. However, due to the controversy it was agreed that no formal action would be taken and the meeting was to serve as a forum for all interested parties to express their opinions and concerns. This satisfied those members who questioned the time for notice.

The meeting was called to order, and rules of the day were agreed upon. This was easier said than done. All told, there were about 70 individuals who attended. Many of these individuals made considerable objections to any suggestion put forth by the existing ”lame-duck” executive committee.

The formal complaints that were provided in writing were to be read. Unfortunately, these complaints had to be cut off and abbreviated to accommodate the two-minute rule that had been agreed upon as a rule of the day. Acosta-Vélez was unable to attend, and much of his impassioned plea for an equitable resolution went unheard. Acosta-Vélez was especially offended by the inference that the Stein club was an ”elitist” organization and did not welcome young people and/or people of color. Much of the substance was removed or omitted. I provided an extremely cut-down version of my own complaint verbally.

A couple of the new members made comments concerning the unwelcoming atmosphere of the club and the members. Essentially, they mirrored statements which President-elect Garcia had provided to the local press prior to the meeting. He stated, ”These new members are young people, people of color, and people from low-income backgrounds who were otherwise not engaged in Stein’s activities. … We should be having a special meeting celebrating these new members, and finding ways to engage them.”

One of the young women who vocalized this opinion was noticeably pale, and conspicuously Caucasian. And none of the new members were all that young. None of them included, for instance, the young people from the Wanda Alston House, who have previously accompanied me to club meetings.

This inference of elitism is extremely offensive and demands a response. The Gertrude Stein Club is, and always has been, extremely welcoming to any and all individuals who show an interest in the club’s activities. There is no demand or need for a high income. The Alston House youngsters were provided with an open invitation with free admission to the latest Stein Club event, the annual award ceremonies. Three of the members of the lame-duck executive board are African-American, two are women and one male. Another is a Native-American transsexual male. And the treasurer is Caucasian male.

Please understand that I seriously oppose representing these individuals by these racial and gender-specific terms. I don’t think of them in the terms stated. They are individuals, people I respect, and they have names. It is, unfortunately, necessary to display the patent absurdity of any inference that the club is anything but inclusive and diverse. This absurdity only validates that President-elect Garcia, and the new members who supported his election, know nothing of the Gertrude Stein Club other than what they delude themselves into believing. I can only question why, if they truly believe this absurdity, that they would choose to join the club and aspire to lead a group of unwelcoming and elitist bigots. Another question was presented by one of the members, Cartwright Moore, who asked the newly elected slate to provide an explanation of their intentions. Were they building their résumés? What did they hope to do for the club? What was their agenda? His questions conspicuously went without an answer or even the courtesy of a reply.

Former Stein Club President Kurt Vorndran offered a resolution that would address irregularities attached to officer elections. It was voted to be postponed by the membership. It would appear that no one wanted to be a part of the old unwelcoming Stein Club crowd who questioned the ethics of the most recent election.

People spoke out; they provided opinions on the legality of the election and the adherence to club bylaws. The provision of incorrect addresses had never been an issue. The income status of members had never been previously validated or questioned. All of these statements were true and went without challenge. It was a feel-good moment. The members decided to uphold the election as it stood. Our newest members were now to be our leaders, and comprise our executive committee. The conspicuous irregularity of the election was to be ignored, and the Stein Club would be a welcoming and inclusive organization. Only two members failed to affirm, and one objected. Me. I had to object. The Dec. 3 election still remains, at least to me, an injustice and a terrible farce.

I want to finish by saying that I intend to remain a member of the club, as long as they will have me. I may not be popular, but I respect the club and all of the members, including our newly elected leaders and their supporters. I do not believe that they are bad people. I do believe they acted rashly, that their actions have damaged the club’s credibility, and hurt some good people. But the club is not the executive committee – it is the mission, and all of the members. So, what’s one farcical election when it is weighed against the passion of so many talented individuals dedicated to equality? Not so much. I have too much to do to give it another moment’s thought. I am done with this. Let’s get to work.

Jeri Hughes is a District resident who promotes LGBT equality.