[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Gwen Fry resigned Nov. 25 as president of Integrity USA – the nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy within The Episcopal Church – as the organization’s volunteer board faces members’ accusations of mismanagement and lack of transparency.
Fry, in a letter posted on Integrity’s new website, cited “a great deal of change in my personal life,” including severe medical issues in her family and a cross-country move. Fry was elected to a three-year term in June 2018, but late that year she went on medical leave, which Integrity didn’t announce until July 2019. She did not return to her work as president until September 2019.
“As you can imagine, it has been a stressful time,” Fry wrote. “None of this was happening, or even a remote possibility, when my name was put forward for nomination to be elected president of Integrity USA. After prayerfully discerning where I am in life, I have decided that it is important to focus on my family, which is why I’m resigning as president of Integrity USA.”
In an interview with Episcopal News Service, Fry said her resignation had nothing to do with the criticism she and the board have faced in recent months.
“Family is the most important, and if I’m spending so much time focusing on that, it really wouldn’t be fair to the Integrity organization moving forward,” Fry said. “So it was a very difficult decision to make. But I have all the faith in the world in the current new board that’s in place, and I look forward to great things coming out of that.”
Fry’s term has been marked by a string of board resignations, most recently secretary Lindsey Harts on Oct. 20, and the board has filled all those vacancies with appointees who will serve until the next regular election in 2021, in accordance with Integrity’s bylaws. Fry’s departure leaves Kay Smith Riggle, vice president for local affairs, as the only remaining elected board member.
The process for electing a new president highlights some of the arguments over the interpretation and application of Integrity’s bylaws that have played out on its Facebook group. The bylaws specify that if the presidency becomes vacant, a new president is elected to serve until the next regular election by the Stakeholders’ Council, which is composed of provincial coordinators, past presidents, members of the board, representatives of organizations designated by the board as “allied organizations,” and the executive director, if there is one.
Under the bylaws, the Stakeholders’ Council “shall meet at least once each calendar year” and its members must elect a chair and a vice chair. However, neither of those has happened under the current administration. Instead, on Nov. 15, Fry announced on Facebook that the board had appointed Bruce Garner, a former two-term president, as “interim Stakeholders’ Council chairperson.” The validity of that appointment has been disputed by some Integrity members, who have pointed out that the bylaws do not allow the board to make an appointment to fill a vacancy in that position. That responsibility falls to the vice chair of the Stakeholders’ Council, which is vacant because those elections were never held.
In a post on Integrity’s website, Garner outlined the process for electing a new president of Integrity. The Stakeholders’ Council is accepting nominations through the end of this year; nominators and nominees must be Integrity members in good standing. A list of candidates will be released by Jan. 3, 2020, and Integrity will then host a videoconference town-hall meeting with the candidates. Ballots will be issued in late January, and the new president will take office Feb. 1.
The board is currently reaching out to the members of the Stakeholders’ Council, said the Rev. Frederick Clarkson, treasurer of Integrity.
Clarkson told ENS he is “sorry to see Gwen resign” but understands her decision, and he stressed the importance of showing respect in difficult circumstances. “Each person is made in the image of God and is of infinite value. We have a tendency to forget that, and we get caught up in distractions that will ultimately come to nothing.”
Reactions to Fry’s resignation among those associated with Integrity have been mixed. The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, a former board member, told ENS she wished “to congratulate Gwen for making the courageous decision to step down” but added that “the leadership of the remaining board does not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, a former president of Integrity, said the organization “has been struggling to find its voice in a new paradigm of advocacy for LGTBQ Episcopalians.”
“The institutional structure that served its work in the past is not designed to meet the challenges of either the present or the future. And so it’s time for new vision and new leadership,” Russell told ENS.
Fry told ENS that she and the volunteer board “did the best we could” in responding to members’ concerns.
“With me and anybody in a leadership position, they’re the lightning rod for the organization. So it stands to reason that those issues would be directed my way,” she said.
Despite the questions raised by members about how Integrity should – or even whether it can – continue, Fry said she believes it is still needed and must go on.
“Unless and until every parish in The Episcopal Church is open and affirming to the LGBTQIA community, there’s always work to do,” Fry said.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.