The executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont has stepped down from the post after just five months on the job. Susan Hartman resigned effective Monday, according to Rex Butt, the nonprofit’s interim executive director.
“Susan was aware that it wasn’t working, and she had the guts to say, ‘You know, I’m not the person to continue,’” Butt said. “So she said it’s time for us to make a change.”
Hartman moved to Vermont from Fayetteville, Ark. She started the job May 1 and replaced Kim Fountain, who left the Pride Center in September 2016 after five years on the job.
Hartman could not be reached for comment Thursday, and Butt said she was out of town on a previously scheduled vacation. But in an interview with Vermont Public Radio in May, Hartman said she’d worked in nonprofits since she was 18.
“I wanted to take some of the things I’ve learned, the skills I’ve developed, and put it to good use in my own LGBTQ family,” she told VPR. “And the Pride Center is doing really good work and again just had that draw, had that kind of soul that I was drawn to.”
Hartman started her job at a particularly chaotic time for the Pride Center. The gay rights organization found itself embroiled in controversy earlier this year when local business owner Craig McGaughan announced plans to open a Winooski bar named Mister Sister.
Some members of Vermont’s LGBTQ community spoke out against the name, calling it a transphobic slur. The Pride Center initially decided against taking a position. That decision led two board members to resign because they felt the organization should have come out against the name. The Pride Center instead held a “trans town hall” for the community to discuss the issue. Eventually, the group denounced the name.
“If I said it had no impact here, that would be an absolute lie,” Butt said. “It has had impact; we lost board members over it. Having all that in the public eye and having the vitriol is very divisive. And the most important thing we can do is to establish our unity and our sense of a strong, stalwart community.”
Hartman was in town interviewing for the position as the turmoil erupted in late February and early March, according to Butt. She accepted the position but ultimately realized she wasn’t the right fit several months into the gig.
There were “no hard feelings,” said Butt, who declined to get into specifics about the departure. Hartman brought her concerns to the board for a “professional” and “supportive” session that ended with her resignation.
“It was just, we need to part ways and better that we do it sooner rather than later,” he said.
“We were lucky to have her,” Butt added. “She’s a seasoned, very skilled nonprofit leader. Despite everyone operating with good faith and with the best of intentions, sometimes things just don’t work out.”
The board turned to Butt, who moved to Burlington in 2016 from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and immediately started volunteering at the center. He’d recently retired after 25 years teaching at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York.
Butt served on the Pride Center’s board for two months before he was named interim executive director on Monday, a position he said he’ll hold until next June. By that point, a nationwide search for a permanent director will be under way, Butt said.
Butt admitted it’s strange to have a “white, cisgender, hetero dude” as the Pride Center’s executive director. But he said the board had faith in his passion and commitment to the cause as an LGBT ally. He served for several years on the board of directors at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center after one of his children came out as transgender in 2002.
At that time, Butt said, he immersed himself in learning more about the community and eventually wrote a book titled Now What? For Families With Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Children.
He’ll now turn his attention to getting the Pride Center through the tumult rooted in the last several months, he said.
“We do far too much compelling, vital work to let this stop us,” Butt said. “And there is far more work to be done.”