Scroll To Top

Terminated: Commercial Closet's Executive Director 

Terminated: Commercial Closet's Executive Director 


Since early this year, Commercial Closet Association has been in negotiations with GLAAD to dissolve into one advertising media program overseen by the larger nonprofit. But CCA founder Michael Wilke says he was supposed to join GLAAD in this new joint venture. Then on Monday, CCA's board announced the merger -- and Wilke's termination...which Wilke says took him completely by surprise. The board says that's hard to believe and that Wilke was told he'd been terminated November 4.

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 "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.

"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. 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.

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."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Ross von Metzke