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Commercial Closet merges without executive director
by Charlsie Dewey

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Last month, Commercial Closet Association ( CCA ) announced that it would integrate its programs and operations with those of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) . The statement also relayed, 'As part of the transition, founding executive director Mike Wilke ( pictured ) is leaving the organization.' That left many wondering what happened to Wilke.

Wilke founded CCA in 2001 in an effort to 'work with advertising professionals to advocate for inclusive images of LGBT people in advertising,' and, over the years, CCA has compiled an archive of over 4,000 LGBT-themed advertisements on its Web site, which have been utilized by advertising and marketing professionals.

Wilke was terminated from the CCA Nov. 4, after months of mounting tension between himself and board members, and the organization's need to transfer a debt-free organization to GLAAD. Wilke said, 'It is a pretty complicated situation. It is partly the result of tension between CCA's board and me that increased as the year wore on.'

Stephanie Blackwood, vice president of the CCA board, explained, 'It was a decision that was based on the fact that Mike was not willing to comply with the requirements that the board had to undergo in order to move towards the merger with GLAAD. ... We had a series of requirements to meet and Mike became unwilling to comply. ... There are actual requirements of the attorney general's office for the merging of non-profits.'

Blackwood said one of the most important requirements was turning over a debt-free organization, but that Wilke repeatedly would not cooperate in turning the books over to the treasurer, leaving the board without a concrete idea of CCA's financial situation. According to Blackwood, requests for cooperation began in the summer and continued to the point of Wilke's termination.

Wilke had expected to raise needed funds through a fundraiser scheduled for Dec. 4, which the board decided to cancel.

Blackwood said the current economic downturn played a large part in the decision to cancel the fundraiser and the need to terminate Wilke: 'We looked at the potential outcome and what we saw was, in the best of all scenarios, we were going to make a modest amount of money and we were going to invest a lot of time and spend a lot of money, so, we made the decision to eliminate our biggest cost on a monthly basis—the executive director's salary—and we reduced the editorial director to half-time.'

The termination was a surprise to Wilke, who, from the beginning, had expected that he would be part of GLAAD's new Advertising Media Program. 'GLAAD had originally offered me a job to lead the advertising program in 2009, but then they withdrew the offer, it seems, or changed their mind. They haven't clarified exactly what they're doing,' he said.

As part of the merger, Wilke and his employee had moved into GLAAD's office several months ago, and Wilke said he had been creating a program plan and a budget for 2009.

When asked to comment on the situation between Wilke and the CCA and whether there is still an opportunity for Wilke at GLAAD, Neil Giuliano, president of GLAAD, responded, 'We believe it is best that those conversations take place within professional personnel practices.'

With the dissolution of CCA scheduled for Dec. 31 and the launch of GLAAD's new Advertising Media Program set to follow, Wilke is concerned for the future of CCA's work.

CCA board members, however, expect that the merger will lead to much success in impacting the advertising industry. 'When GLAAD speaks out about a media situation that does not accurately and fairly portray LGBT people the media listen, and what follows the initial conversation about the need for correction is usually training about how to do it better,' Blackwood said. 'That's the access and the capacity that CCA will achieve in this relationship.'

At this time, no decisions have been made by GLAAD regarding staff, and Giuliano said, 'GLAAD's Advertising Media Program has not officially launched and we are still in the process of deciding on specific components of [ that ] program.'

The original statement regarding the merger reported, 'The newly integrated GLAAD Advertising Media Program will monitor advertising worldwide and continue to expand CCA's unique online archive of more than 4,000 corporate, brand, nonprofit, and political ads, all evaluated based on their inclusion of LGBT themes and portrayals. The Advertising Media Program will also build on CCA's education and training programs and LGBT-inclusive advertising best practices for Fortune 500 corporations, leading advertising agencies and universities.'

Undeniably, Wilke's work has been important to the LGBT community, and CCA board members expect that the Advertising Media Program will attempt to better reach the advertising industry and have a positive impact on inclusive and fair representations of the LGBT community. The question of Wilke's role still remains.

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