Stonewall Columbus, a nonprofit organization and community center founded in 1981 to “fight for tolerance, acceptance and basic human rights” for the local LGBTQ+ community, Board of Trustees has announced the installation of Densil R. Porteous (he/him) as its next Executive Director effective January 1, 2021.
“We are thrilled to name Densil Porteous as our next executive director,” shared Gerry Rodriguez (he/him), President of Stonewall’s Board of Trustees. “For the last several months Densil has worked tirelessly to support the Board and staff through what continues as a prolonged period of uncertainty for our community and amid a season of transition within the organization; all the while working to find ways to keep Stonewall moving forward to meet the changing and growing needs of our community. Densil brings years of experience to the position both professionally and personally.”
Porteous is a nonprofit consultant with extensive engagement as a volunteer and leader, at local and national levels, with more than 20 years primarily working with organizations focused on issues of equity and access like Advocates for Youth (former Board Secretary), Human Rights Campaign (Board of Directors; former national Board of Governors), Equitas Health (former Board Vice-Chair), the Legacy Fund of the Columbus Foundation, and Create Columbus Commission (Chair). Densil has also had a notable career in education administration encompassing a mixture of admissions and enrollment management; strategic marketing and communications; and development/advancement at Kenyon College, Stanford University, Drew School, and Columbus Colleges of Art & Design.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Porteous about this new role, racial justice in Columbus, and how Stonewall Columbus has navigated the pandemic.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s a big role and I want to do the right thing with it. But I’m excited for and looking forward to all the opportunities.
Will you approach the work any differently on January 1st when you are no longer “Interim”?
Honestly, I might be a little bit more vocal. In the interim role, you feel like you’re keeping the seat warm and making sure the organization is headed in the right direction. You don’t want to put too much of your stamp on the organization. For me it was understanding that the organization needed to be headed in a different direction.
But now I can be a little louder about the things we should be doing and the injustices I see happening in the community, highlighting moments of accountability.
Outside of that no, nothing else will change, As the team will tell you, I’ll still be the be the guy picking up boxes, moving things around the building, picking up trash, cleaning out the dumpster. That’s the kind of person I am. I want people to understand that—like the Hillary quote—I’m in it to win it. I’m not sitting up in the corner office delegating and telling people what to do. It is a team approach here and it has been like that since I started. I think people appreciate that because it shows an investment. I’m invested.
I want to dive right into racial justice and Stonewall Columbus. Where does the organization currently stand with the Columbus community and where does it need to go?
That’s a good question. We’re living into ourselves and living the way we should be living, which is affirming and understanding a desire fundamentally for inclusion and diversity, for equity and accountability.
Earlier this summer, I released a new program for the organization called an “Idea Statement” that focuses on inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability, affirming that these are top values for us in the way we do all the work that we do. As I often say, I think we’re just doing the right thing, whatever that may be. That’s how we’re going to move forward.
I think organizational leadership may have misstepped in the past. But the Board’s work now is intentionally to ensure that we are reaffirming our mission of uplifting the entire community so that we all thrive. Hopefully the community has been seeing that over the last several months, and hopefully they will see that in the future.
Talk to us about Stonewall Columbus’ work during the pandemic. How have you been navigating?
It’s been a challenge. For us, our biggest fundraiser annually is Pride and that enables us to connect our staff members to the resources and programs that we have so we can share that with our community. Not having Pride really did put a huge dent in the organization’s budget and ability to execute programs. Earlier this year, we had hoped to bring on a program director and a development person, but we weren’t able to do that with the uncertainty with funds.
So we rethought what the budget looks like. We tightened up our pocketbooks and our purses. And we’re being really intentional about how we partner and uplift the work with other organizations. We were able to do a virtual Pride, which was low budget for us, but had a high return with regard to reaching people not only in Columbus, but also in the wider region. We partnered with Lambda Literary and their LitFest to push that content to our community in October. We were lucky enough to partner with Equitas Health and LGBTQ Health Initiative to do a couple of voter registration pushes. So we’ve been thinking about how we can stay present and engaged in the community even though we can’t have our building open as we would normally do.
When I started in June, I thought it was important to show forward momentum by applying for grants and we received a couple of them that will enable us to safely start programs for the community in the next quarter. That will include a Center Connections program where individuals can check out laptops while they’re in the building. So if someone needs access to a laptop or doesn’t have digital access at home, they’re be able to do that here.
We’ve also transformed our first floor, the primary space of the building, with spaced out tables so that people can come and sit down at a table and take a break from their workspace. We were able to receive a grant to put up dividers around some of those tables to keep those people safe and distant as well.
These last couple of months have had a lot of positive things for us in terms of really plugging back into the community and finding smart ways to do things virtually, even as we’re strategizing about how we can fully open up our doors when it is safe to do so.
Finally, what do you want people to know that they might not know about Stonewall Columbus?
We’re an organization that’s been around for 39 years. Next year we step into our 40th year. Stonewall Columbus has truly been at the heart of helping the forward momentum for the LGBTQ community in central Ohio and across the region. I think that’s what I want people to know and really understand: just as a representative of what the community looks like and can come together and be when we truly think about the unity of our purpose and hold each other accountability, increase our visibility, and uplift our community.