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May 14, 2018; WHNT

An LGBTQ support organization in Alabama has suddenly closed. The eight-year-old organization is caught up in a combination of political controversy and financial problems, which may have contributed to its sudden disappearance. Then there is the ouster of the founder as CEO, which happened in January. Meanwhile the Huntsville office was reported to be behind on taxes and their grants were suspended. They have said they will try to reorganize.

A statement on Governor Kay Ivey’s website reads,

All federal grant programs ADECA administers require ongoing monitoring for compliance. In March of this year, ADECA began planning an on-site compliance monitoring visit to the Huntsville office of Free2Be. During the desk review process that precedes routine monitoring, it was discovered that the organization has an outstanding federal debt with the IRS for payroll taxes. The agency was placed on high risk status on March 29, 2018, and the agency’s ability to draw grant funds was suspended. ADECA continues to monitor the agency and will be making a monitoring and financial audit visit on May 21, 2018.

The statement the Huntsville chapter released reads,

Dear community: the directors of Free2Be have informed us that the organization is shutting down and that all chapters, including ours, must suspend operation immediately. In the short time that Free2Be-Mobile existed, we provided free counseling and case management to victims of violence, organized support groups and event nights for LGBTQ youth, and created LGBTQ awareness presentations for the workplace and the classroom. Based on our client load and the frequent messages we received from local youth, we believe that Free2Be Mobile’s services are uniquely important to the community. That’s why we are currently weighing our options and deciding how best to reorganize and get back to serving victimized and LGBTQ populations. We hope for your support during our time of transition.

There may be more at play here than unpaid payroll taxes, which always puts an organization at risk. Free2Be was also under political attack.

An evangelist from Birmingham named Scott Dawson, who is running for governor, accused Governor Ivey of giving taxpayer money to Free2Be, a charge that she denies. The ADECA funds are mandated by the federal government and funded by fines and forfeitures. The statement on Ivey’s website says, “In 2013, Alabama was notified that at least 10 percent of the grant dollars given to the state under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) must be given to agencies that provide services to underserved populations…[Free2Be] was the only organization seeking the grant.”

Ivey told, “I certainly don’t agree with the agenda or the values of that organization.”

Alex Smith, executive director of Equality Alabama, said in a statement, “Our community deserves a champion in the governor’s mansion, not another bully,” and that Ivey has been “no friend” to the LGBTQ community.

Was Free2Be bullied into closing, or was there another explanation? Where are the public officials standing up for the rights of their LGBTQ constituents?

Finally, we want to take this moment to remind you that nonprofit financial guru Kate Barr calls the nonpayment of payroll taxes the worst financial decision a nonprofit can make…ever.—Erin Rubin and Ruth McCambridge