Concord LGBTQ center may close, interim ED says

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 8, 2023
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Rainbow Community Center interim Executive Director Jonathan Lee, Ph.D., feeds his baby as his older child looks on. Photo: Courtesy Jonathan Lee, Ph.D.<br><br><br>
Rainbow Community Center interim Executive Director Jonathan Lee, Ph.D., feeds his baby as his older child looks on. Photo: Courtesy Jonathan Lee, Ph.D.

The Rainbow Community Center in Concord is trying to raise $1 million by the end of next June in order to keep its doors open. The fiscal hole comes as Contra Costa County's only LGBTQ center undergoes a sudden leadership shakeup.

It marks the fourth top leader the nonprofit service provider has brought on since last October, when then-executive director Kiku Johnson departed after nearly three years running the center. Dorann "Dodi" Zotigh, a longtime board member, took over as interim executive director.

She stepped down in August after the center hired Christian Aguirre, an eight-year veteran of the center, as its new executive director, as the Bay Area Reporter reported at the time. Aguirre, a 31-year-old gay man, had been the agency's adult and family program director, overseeing programs relating to older adults, HIV and sexually transmitted infection prevention, the food pantry, and volunteers.

But two months later, on October 9, the center announced Jonathan Lee, Ph.D., as its new interim executive director. He had been the center's board president since July, succeeding Robyn Kuslits.

In a recent interview Lee told the B.A.R. that Aguirre "left for his personal reasons."

Reached for comment by the B.A.R., Aguirre said "since I'm not working there [the center] I don't feel comfortable sharing anything additional just because it's personal information."

Lee, a 47-year-old gay Asian American man, is a professor in the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University. He lives in the East Bay with his husband and two children.

For the moment, Lee is working double duty as a professor and as the center's interim leader, he told the B.A.R.

"I'm grading away late at night and early in the morning when my boys are asleep," he said, adding that he felt confident enough to take up the nonprofit role in addition to his teaching capacity because it's a common practice for ethnic studies professors at San Francisco State to work at agencies benefiting their communities.

"There's a lot of professors in the college of ethnic studies who became executive directors of nonprofits," he said, adding he hasn't ruled out competing for the permanent position.

"It's crazy but I manage because my work at SF State is flexible and remote at the moment," he continued.

Lee said he is "excited" at the chance to lead the center — nonetheless, in addition to the rapid leadership change, it's also facing a financial hole, he told the B.A.R.

Budget deficit

"The center got into this," he said of the shortfall. "We compete with big national LGBTQIA organizations that get most of the funding. For us, it was leadership that was not, you know, more mindful of budget constraints. That's changing now, with our efforts to reduce spending and trying to rein in and be mindful."

The center's most recent Internal Revenue Service Form 990 shows that in Fiscal Year 2021-22, it brought in $1,624,379 and spent $1,771,901 — a deficit of $147,522.

Lee issued an online statement explaining the need for fundraising.

"On October 9, 2023, I stepped into my role as Interim Executive Director of Rainbow Community Center, mindful of our economic challenges, yet focused on stabilizing Rainbow so we can continue providing essential services to our community and to continue saving LGBTQIA+ lives," he stated.

"Like many American families, we are struggling to increase revenue sufficiently to cover our costs, and are unfortunately having to reduce and eliminate some of our personnel and services to make ends meet," he added. "Sadly, at present course, Rainbow's future is uncertain, and without bold help from our community, could drastically downsize or possibly even close our doors."

The center sent up a donation webpage with a $500,000 goal. As of midday Tuesday, only $73 had been raised.

But when asked about the fundraising goal, Lee said, "basically if we could raise a million dollars by the end of June 2024 we would be able to eliminate all of our debt and have a balanced budget going forward. That's a huge, monumental task."

More recently, the center has already made some tough choices, cutting personnel and services, Lee said.

"One of the services we had to eliminate was the food pantry," Lee said. "During the pandemic we went to mobile food pantries and when we eliminated that we now refer people to local food banks."

Lee said anything not covered by government grants was on the chopping block; the center's largest grant is from the county, $850,000 related to public health, he said.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the Concord City Council did not provide any funding to the center earlier this year when it doled out $7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to nonprofits. The center, which had applied for $270,604, was not among 22 groups selected.

Gay Contra Costa County Supervisor Ken Carlson, a previous president of Rainbow's board and the only out member of the Board of Supervisors, had told the B.A.R. in the summer that he hoped the county would step up where the Concord City Council hadn't.

When asked about if the county would do so now, Carlson said, "I'm going to be really sensitive to Rainbow because I love them — but it's really operational internally."

"They do have several county contracts and it's a matter of staying on top of that and billing those contracts to keep things going," Carlson said. "They're all reimbursable — medical, mental health service agreements, services they provide on behalf of the county, and they need to stay on top of the billing to do the reimbursements."

Rainbow is essential to the Contra Costa County community, Carlson said, and needs to stay afloat.

"They need to find stability within the organization," he said. "We cannot afford to lose Rainbow — granted we live in a world of DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] but we also live in a very divisive world where segments of populations including the LGBTQ community are under attack, and who better to serve the community than members of the community? So we can't afford in any way, shape, or form to lose Rainbow and we have to see to it they stay with us."

He said that as county supervisor he will do "whatever it takes" to see to it Rainbow survives.

In response to Carlson's remarks, Lee stated, "in the past, that has happened, but it is being addressed and corrected. We had an unexpected resignation of our billing specialist last summer and had a difficult time rehiring since that position is only for 10 hours a week. We hired someone new and we're waiting for her to be trained on the county's billing platforms and she will be doing work to catch up and get up to date."

When asked how much money the center lost, Lee stated, "We didn't lose any money from it. We're just getting it later than expected. We need to back bill for clients who used our clinical therapist services."

Soiree aiming for $100K

Some help may be on the way via the Golden Gate Business Association, which is collaborating with the center to raise $100,000 with a free holiday gala on Saturday, December 3, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Fluid 510 at 1544 Broadway in downtown Oakland. The event will feature Queera Nightly and DJ Nut-N-Nice.

A November 6 news release announcing the soiree describes the center as being in "a dire financial crisis."

"Enjoy food, entertainment, community and light-heartedness, while also raising funds for an indispensable cause," the release states. "Both live and silent auctions will feature fine art by local LGBTQ+ artists, gifts, products, and services from LGBTQ business owners and crafts people. Financial donations, via Give Lively, will be accepted also."

Those interested in tickets, donating to the auction, or donating cash directly can go to Eventbrite>.

The center's place in the community can't be understated, Lee said.

"When I was on the board, almost on a weekly basis someone told me how the center has changed someone in their life, or saved them," he said. "Hearing stuff like that motivates me to do my best to keep Rainbow sustained financially, and stable."

Lee, who has been volunteering for the center for three years mostly in a fundraising capacity, stated his salary is $99,000 annually. Aguirre's salary was not disclosed to the B.A.R.

The center's most recent IRS Form 990 shows Johnson made $95,281 in reported compensation in Fiscal Year 2021-22.

For more information about Rainbow Community Center, go to

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