Terminated: Commercial Closet's Executive Director 

By Ross von Metzke

Originally published on Advocate.com November 12 2008 12:00 AM ET

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.

Michael WILKE Commercial Closet x100 | Advocate.com 

“The
intention was to see how the relationship would evolve given
CCA’s situation, given GLAAD’s
situation, and then really the burden was on the CCA
board," Giuliano explains. "They needed to dissolve as
an organization at some point before any legal transfer of
assets could take place.”

Wilke says he
never heard back from Giuliano despite repeated attempts to
make contact.

He says that
despite being told by his board of directors that
he’d be allowed to see the official release
announcing the merger before it was sent to the press,
his first look at the announcement was in the Ad Age
article.

Advocate.com was
the first LGBT news outlet to report the merger. Ad
Age
reported that Wilke had been terminated.

“His
employment with Commercial Closet was terminated for
financial reasons,” Blackwood says. “He
was not willing to share the books with the board
treasurer. He was not willing to add the treasurer to the
bank account so that there was some accountability. He
was directed by board resolution to do both. He said
he would, and then he changed his mind and said he
would not. Because we are required by [New York] state law
to transfer a debt-free organization to GLAAD, we had
to have access to the books.

“In an
effort to control the expenses of the organization, we made
the decision to eliminate the most costly item on our
annual expenses -- the executive director’s
salary.”

The editorial
director has also been placed on part-time employment,
Blackwood says.

Wilke says in the
days leading up to his trip abroad, his relationship
with the board had grown increasingly strained.

“We were
in tense times because of how they wanted things to progress
between me and them," he says. "They were focused very
much on financial matters. We basically were talking
about the frequency with which I should be reporting
the updates of our finances. They began to say they
needed greater control over everything. They continued to
try and force my hand, in a number of ways.”

Wilke says that
when the board originally proposed exploring a merger
with GLAAD, he was hesitant. After meeting with staff
members at GLAAD and finding out the nonprofit had a
five-year plan, including marketing and advertising
efforts to support the new joint venture, he says he came
around to the idea.

 Michael WILKE Commercial Closet x100 | Advocate.com

Still, Wilke says
his initial hesitation to enter into a conversation
with GLAAD was because “Commercial Closet is my baby.
I’d prefer to see it thrive as an independent
organization.”

But according to
the books, Blackwood says CCA’s deficit was growing
by the week.

As for whether
Wilke has a future with GLAAD’s new advertising media
program, he says that at this point “there
doesn’t seem to be an opportunity for a
dialogue.”

Giuliano said
that if there were to be an opportunity to again work
together, “that’s a discussion we’d
have with Mike Wilke, not The Advocate.