A Wider Bridge announces leadership change

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday May 17, 2017
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A Wider Bridge announced its founder and leader will step down next year.

Arthur Slepian conceived the LGBT Jewish organization in 2010 following the tragic shooting at the LGBT community center in Tel Aviv in 2009. He guided the group from its embryonic stages into an international organization.

Deputy director Tyler "Tye" Gregory, a 28-year-old gay man who joined A Wider Bridge in 2014, will take over leadership of the organization January 15, the group's board announced in a news release last month.

Slepian, a 62-year-old gay man, will step into an auxiliary role as board president of A Wider Bridge, and will continue to work in San Francisco, the two men told the B.A.R.

"I think that the organization is now ready for new leadership," said Slepian, who was positive about the change for himself personally and for the organization. "I think sometimes organizations can get too personally identified with the founder, so I think that it's healthy when leadership can be transitioned to the next generation, so to speak.

"I'm really happy that this organization that was just an idea on a piece of paper seven years ago is now something that can sustain itself," he added.

By the time Slepian officially steps down next year he will have led the organization for eight years.

Gregory will continue to work out of A Wider Bridge's New York office.

"Tye is an amazing young man. I think that he's going to do great," said Slepian, who praised Gregory for his "passion" and for being a "skilled organizational leader.

"I think the organization is very well positioned to succeed under his leadership," he added.

Gregory said the transition is exciting.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," he said. "I feel like there are exciting opportunities ahead and it's a great time. The time is right for this transition."


Paving a path

Board Chair Bruce Maxwell called the leadership transition "truly a momentous one for A Wider Bridge" and in the release praised Slepian for his "vision and courage to create the organization."

"On behalf of our entire board, I want to say first, how grateful we are to Arthur for having had the vision and courage to create the organization, and for the skill and passion with which he has shepherded its growth over the past seven years," Maxwell said. "His work has enriched the lives of so many of us, Jews and non-Jews, LGBTQ or allies, both here in the U.S. and in Israel."

For nearly a decade, Slepian has built A Wider Bridge into an international organization connecting North American and Israeli LGBT Jews and non-Jews. Gregory and Slepian said its budget is nearly $700,000. A Wider Bridge currently has five full-time staff working in offices in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Three part-time staff work at its offices in Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Tel Aviv.

It's unclear what Gregory's salary will be as his contract is still under negotiation, he said. Slepian told the Bay Area Reporter, "We don't disclose that."

The organization didn�t report a salary for Slepian on its IRS Form 990.

The organization has 10 board members, including Slepian, and six advisory board members representing five cities across the U.S.

During his tenure, Slepian has sought to forge a deeper understanding between LGBT North Americans and Israelis through annual educational trips to Israel, bringing leaders of Israeli LGBT organizations on speaking tours of the United States, and hosting an LGBT leadership conference during Tel Aviv Pride in 2015. The goal, he said, was to create a dialogue and build a relationship between the two queer communities where they could learn from each other and create philanthropic opportunities.

However, it wasn't always easy. A Wider Bridge continues to be accused by LGBT Palestinian activists and people who are against Israel's ongoing conflict with Palestine of so-called pink washing, touting Israel's LGBT-friendliness at the expense of the country's atrocities against Palestine.

"We've had our share of pushback from people who only want a certain aspect of Israel to be talked about and only want a particular kind of political perspective in the center of the conversation," said Slepian, who has maintained the organization's focus on "building relationships between people and not advocating for a particular point of view."

Gregory added that LGBT activists can engage Israel with "shared values as progressive activists" and "people who care about social justice" without "abandoning what we care about and believe in."

However, the two men believe the movement to boycott Israel is unhealthy and have attempted to take another approach to the situation by engaging LGBT Palestinian activists and traveling to Gaza and the West Bank with U.S. LGBT leaders during the organization's educational trips, said Gregory.

"It's a lot harder to hate us once you know us," said Gregory, equating the situation to LGBT people's struggle to come out. "The same thing is true when you go to Israel and the West Bank. You meet Israelis and Palestinians. You find that they are both compelling people and you want to engage with all of them. You refuse to choose between one person's life and another."

Slepian is proud of what he's accomplished by creating a platform for the Israeli and Palestinian LGBT communities to share their stories with U.S. LGBT activists and philanthropists. He's equally as proud of introducing Israel to U.S. LGBT Jewish and non-Jewish leaders.

"We have actually taken our name seriously as we've made it a wider bridge on both sides," said Slepian. "Many people have told us that our work has been transformative for them, particularly people who have come on our trips and really gotten to see Israel for themselves."

Gregory and Slepian spoke about how LGBT activists traveled to Israel the day after Donald Trump won the election.

Israeli LGBT activists shared their stories with the U.S. LGBT activists about how they've continued their work under a conservative government. Their stories gave the U.S. LGBT activists hope and inspired them, they said.

Gregory and Slepian are working on ways for A Wider Bridge to delve deeper into lesser-known Israeli LGBT communities and connect them with U.S. LGBT leaders who are experts on the issues they are tackling, they said.

In November, for the first time, the organization is partnering with San Francisco-based Olivia Travel to lead a women-only educational trip to Israel that will focus on lesbian and feminist issues.

The trip, which is sold out, according to Slepian, is in addition to A Wider Bridge's annual education trip to Israel during Tel Aviv Pride.

The organization is also working on an LGBT people of color trip to Israel next year to explore LGBT rights and issues surrounding immigration and race that affect those communities in Israel and the U.S., Gregory added.

The goal is to give A Wider Bridge's guests "the most authentic experience possible when we introduce them to Israel and the activism that is happening over there," he said.

Gregory said he plans to continue the organization's tradition of bringing LGBT Israeli activists on educational and philanthropic tours of the U.S. four times a year.


Equality in Israel and for Israel

The organization is already moving toward its future with this transition and its new tag line, "Equality in Israel and Equality for Israel."

Gregory and Slepian share a vision of A Wider Bridge taking on more active direct advocacy and philanthropic roles and expanding the organization's presence in Israel by working with partners on the ground and by expanding to other regions in the U.S., they said.

"We want to make sure that those relationships are there either in time of opportunity or tragedy or anything in between," said Gregory.

Gregory pointed out that A Wider Bridge's goal is to be able to respond in a quick and supportive way to incidents such as the death of Shira Banki and the stabbing of five others at Jerusalem Pride in 2015. It also wants to aid with ongoing LGBT rights battles in Israel, such as marriage equality, that have been fought and won in the U.S.

"We want Israel to be a place that really is a strong place for LGBT equality and we also want Israel to be treated fairly in the global LGBT community," said Slepian, who expects Gregory to put his own stamp on A Wider Bridge with his vision in the future.

"I think that it's going to be a very exciting time for the future of A Wider Bridge," said Slepian.

For more information, visit www.awiderbridge.org .