LANSING – At 66, Penny Gardner has done a lot. She has organized the lesbian community, served as a gubernatorial appointee, and completed her doctorate. Now she is heading up the Lansing Association for Human Rights at a time the organization is looking for a new direction.
She said the group is suffering from a “dirth of leadership,” and the group has limped along the last year with half of the 16 board members the organization’s bylaws require. Two weeks ago at the organization’s annual membership meeting, the group discussed dissolving.
“When LAHR was feeling a dirth of leadership it was sad for me and there was no way I was going to let that happen. Even if it meant maintaining with four board members,” she said in an interview.
The move, she said, was to energize the base.
“It was perhaps a shock value thing,” she said of the organizations announcement it would discuss dissolving.
“What were we to do? Several of us on the board knew then we would not let it go. Perhaps we should have communicated that as well. We wanted to keep it going even if it was for the newsletter and the hotline.”
And now the organization is back, with some new faces and some old timers. Gardner said she is looking for people of all nationalities, classes, races and genders to join the board.
“The ideal new board member would have a project, an interest, would want to work closely with another board member,” she said.
She also said it was time LAHR challenged the perceptions in the community that the organization is a “white boys club.”
“It is absolutely our perception as white people, and the perception of people of color as well. We all have good friends who are people of color and we need to invite those friends to be involved.”
Over the next year, Gardner hopes other board members will step up and write articles in the newsletter and she hopes that by the end of her term the Gay Lesbian Hotline will be more readily used as a resource in the community. The hotline has seen declining call numbers in recent years. In addition, Gardner said she wants to see the organization spread out its presence in the community by sponsoring more events — from theatre productions to speaking engagements to other events.
And that is one of the ways Gardner was first introduced to the organization. Years ago she stood before LAHR and asked the group to donate money to help send MSU students to Creating Change. Not only did LAHR pony up the cash to help pay for flights, but one board member donated her frequent flier miles to help defray the costs.
“That is what I remember about LAHR as an organization, it was here to help. I want to make sure that continues,” said Gardner.