Since the beginning of 2008, Commercial Closet Association founder Michael Wilke says he and his board of directors have been in negotiations with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to form a joint advertising media program -- one that he would oversee in conjunction with GLAAD.
Negotiations for a January 2009 merger had been all but finalized, and in June, Wilke and his editorial director had moved into GLAAD’s New York offices.
On Monday, days after learning from his board of directors that the merger had gone through two months ahead of schedule, Wilke says he found out from an article on Advertising Age’s website that he would no longer be with the organization he saw blossom into a full-time venture almost eight years ago.
“There wasn’t supposed to be a shutdown,” Wilke told Advocate.com. “That was never planned. I know the board was very concerned about being in the black at the end of the year, so their solution was to cancel our big fund-raiser and to let me go.”
Stephanie Blackwood, who sits on CCA’s board as the vice president and previously served as the associate publisher of TheAdvocate in the mid 1990s, says the Ad Age article couldn't possibly have been the first Wilke learned of his termination. She says he was let go at a board meeting held on the fourth of November. Wilke had just returned from a 10-day trip to Russia -- a trip Blackwood says she and the rest of the board had to hear about through second party sources. Wilke left for Russia on October 24. While he was gone, Wilke says the board made the decision to dissolve CCA.
Blackwood says the board called an emergency meeting the day Wilke was due to leave the country to discuss financial problems and possible solutions. Wilke didn’t attend. Blackwood says that in Wilke's absence, the board had to move forward with further discussions, but agreed to meet with Wilke upon his return. By the time he got back, Blackwood says the board had already been forced to take "drastic action."
“When this came down…I contacted [GLAAD],” Wilke says. “In light of the decision by the board, I asked, ‘Does this change [my employment]?’ ”
He says Rashad Robinson, who will oversee the new venture (and to whom Wilke says he would have reported), had said he wasn’t certain about Wilke's status and directed him to talk to GLAAD president Neil Giuliano. Because of the attention surrounding Election Day, Wilke says, he knew he’d have to wait for a response.
But Giuliano says the decision to fire Wilke was the board's, not GLAAD’s. By moving Wilke and his coworker into the GLAAD offices, Giuliano says the intention was to get “Mike Wilke out of his living room and…give them an office, some overhead, and all the things that come with working in an office.”
As for Wilke sticking with the organization, Giuliano says that decision was ultimately up to CCA’s board.