Brought to you by the NELA transition team and the members of the transparency and accountability working group
Last year, some serious incidents happened. When those incidents and issues around them were brought before the board, the board responded poorly. Due to the specific handling of a few critical issues, several NELA board members resigned immediately thereafter. Accounts of what happened and the board’s reaction, exploded on Fetlife and many concerned community members realized they needed to get involved and take a stand.
The volunteers currently working are not elected, are not board members, and therefore do not speak for NELA officially. Nonetheless, the members of the Transparency and Accountability Working Group wanted to update the community with the progress that has been made. If you would like to participate, please do! We encourage you to show up to the meetings (the next Reboot meeting will be on Tuesday, March 27th at the Non-Profit Center in Boston) and add your voice.
Who is currently running NELA, and why?
In order to preserve NELA’s status as a 501(c)3 corporation, there must be a board of directors, consisting of at least three persons (a president, secretary, and treasurer). To see NELA through Fetish Fair Fleamarket #50 and to transition the corporation to a new board of directors, three retired board members (Cecilia Tan, Scott Erickson, and Vivienne Kramer) volunteered to help, and were elected to the board of directors as one of the last acts of the 2017 NELA board. The interim board stepped up with the intention of getting the organization through FFF50 and to find motivated community members to be the new board. No one from the 2017 NELA board of directors is working for the organization in any decision-making capacity.
Who’s involved with the NELA reboot effort?
A group of about 30 volunteers is working online and attending meetings. Currently, there are seven working groups (WG) where the volunteers discuss changes and plans for the organization. The goal for these groups is to become committees reporting to the new board members. Board members will be chosen based on the Transition Team’s approval, which includes an application, interview process, and working in concert with the appropriate WG members’ input. Once applicants are approved, the interim board will appoint the replacements. The following is a list of our current working groups:
- Consent Violation Policies
- Outreach & Diversity
- Pride Committee
- Prospective Board Members
- Survivor Support and Advocacy
- Transparency and Accountability
The new board member applicants understand that they will need to be accessible to our community as leaders of NELA and to help foster trust in our beloved NELA community. If you would like to have a say in the new board, now is the time! We know how hard it is to find important information, and are working to rebuild our website and our backend systems. This is a dynamic and complex situation, and those working groups and committees may change over time. They are looking at many different ways to keep associates informed about the changes occurring with NELA, and to put more checks and balances in place. While nothing is concrete yet, we really want to hear from YOU, our associates, friends, and extended family!
What is being done regarding these recent incidents?
Reports of consent violations were received and we realized other reported incidents were ignored for years, while still others were mis-handled. Neither is acceptable and changes will be made to help prepare the organization for future reports.
Many problems are systemic within NELA and we are addressing that by discussing changes to NELA’s bylaws, enforcing term limits, and creating working committees to name a few of the important changes being made. NELA has a dedicated “associate relations” board role but this board spot has been unfilled since 2014, since no-one has applied, except for the 88-day tenure of one Member-at-Large in 2017.
These proposals will be presented to the new board for approval before they can be implemented. We understand that immediate changes are preferable to many; but that is not within the current scope of our power. The working group members are engaged in active debate about the best way to implement meaningful change. We acknowledge that similar discussions are being held in kink communities throughout the country. Our hope is to have these changes ready to go once the new board is in place. Our goal is to have a new board by April. In the meantime we are doing our best to be forces for positive growth and change within NELA.
We are aware that there have been reports of consent violations given to individual board members that were not shared with the rest of the board. For some reports, there are no official written records! This is completely unacceptable.
We are working on a proposal that any reports of consent violations brought to the attention of the board _must be addressed_. Reports should never be ignored and the survivor should always be acknowledged, supported, and heard.
The incidents that led to the board dissolution were not handled satisfactorily. Those of us working on the transition share in in the sorrow, frustration, and anger at how previous board members mishandled these disclosures. We are not okay with what happened and are working to change the culture and communication within NELA. This is a complicated process and we are in no desire to rush it, but please know that we are aware of the mistakes that happened, and it will be one of the first things that is addressed once we have a new board.
None of us are okay with adults, especially former NELA leadership, grooming minors who trusted them. We find it unacceptable that board members knew about it and did nothing to address it. Inaction was not an acceptable response and we apologize for action not being taken. We will express that through our actions, not just words.
Those of us in the Transparency & Accountability Working Group promise that we will do everything we can to ensure that inaction over reported issues such as these does not happen again. We are proposing checks and balances regarding reports of consent violations or abuse to NELA in order improve how we respond as an organization. The onus is on NELA to act based on a reported incident, not the person who has reported it to NELA.
Some volunteers have training from Boston Area Rape Crisis Center so that future incidents are handled in a more timely, compassionate, supportive, and ethical manner. NELA should be a leader in this area and that is what we are striving to do moving forward.
I’m still skeptical….
That’s an understandable response. Transparency and accountability have been woefully inadequate. The trust that was put into NELA was broken repeatedly, and we are working to rebuild that trust through our ongoing actions. We get not everyone will agree with our choices and that we must be willing to respond to constructive criticism properly. Part of how we can help improve NELA is by hearing from many different perspectives. We appreciate folks holding us accountable for following NELA’s mission statement of, “NELA is an organization dedicated to making a safer place in the world for all leather/fetish/sm people through education, advocacy, and charitable giving.” If you want to join us in working to reshape NELA we have many different ways you can choose to do that from volunteering to being on the board. If you wish not to or want to hold off on that we understand. Thank you for taking the time to read our statement.