One of Chicago's last transgender organizations is staring down a dissolution proposal after a controversial move by the group's president.
Carol Rodgers, Chicago Gender Society (CGS) president, put forth the measure to disband at the group's Feb. 12 meeting. Rodgers said her intent is to create a new organization out of the old.
The move came just days after another transgender organization, Illinois Gender Advocates (IGA), voted to dissolve. It also followed an announcement late last year that CGS was cancelling its annual Be-All Conference due to waning attendance and funds.
But CGS members say they are not giving up on the current organization.
"I don't think she has any support for it at all," said Katie Thomas, who has long been part of CGS.
Just moments before introducing the measure, Rodgers headed off an impeachment attempt. Members cited conflicts between Rodgers and other leaders that led to the recall election, just two months ahead of board elections. The vote to retain Rodgers was seen as a vote of confidence in her.
"She turned right around and virtually stabbed everyone with this [dissolution] proposal," said Thomas.
Rodgers said her intention was to create an organization that could outlast the current one.
"We need a different purpose," she said. "The real emphasis is on revitalizing it and putting in a more up-to-date structure."
Where Rodgers and members agree is on the source of the problem: CGS membership is diminishing. Other transgender groups that tend to serve middle-aged and senior trans women face the same problem. IGA, which focused on policy and organizing efforts, dissolved for lack of membership in early February.
CGS differs from IGA in that its function has been primarily social. Many of its members transitioned late in life and found support and friendships through the group. For some, it has been the only place where they could safely present as their identified gender. And its Be-All Conference attracted transgender people from around the country, making it one of the largest of its kind in the country.
According to Thomas, CGS had around 200 members at its height. That number has since dwindled to less than half of that. Thomas thinks that as transgender people have made strides in acceptance, fewer people rely on the group.
Still, members estimate that the group is between 60-90 people, a larger number than many other groups of its kind. When IGA dissolved, there were just a handful of people present to vote on the measure. CGS continues to serve a number of people.
Rodgers believes that moving CGS towards a social service model will allow it to grow.
"There's still a need out there that I think the new organization can fulfill," she said.
Rodgers would like to continue the social function of the group, but she also wants to raise money for advocacy efforts. And she wants the group to provide social services, although she is not certain about what that might looks like. She said a dissolution of the group is necessary to make the changes, as she believes the current bylaws are restrictive.
But many members disagree.
In an email exchange between CGS members obtained by Windy City Times, members expressed fury over the proposal and questioned why the organization's president would want to kill the pre-existing organization rather than leaving to start her own.
Rodgers said she knows that she may not have the support she needs to dissolve CGS and re-form.
"If the desire of the group is to turn this down and continue as they are, then so be it," she said.
One longtime member, who asked not to be named, said that desire is likely.
"It won't pass," she said. But, she added, that doesn't mean that CGS will survive unhindered.
"I think this is just the ugly final throes of the organization," she said.
For now, however, Thomas said members are committed to keeping the group alive.
"Even as it has shrunk, we still want to keep doing it," she said.
Members are expected to vote on the dissolution proposal March 12.