Thursday, July 09, 2009

Iraqi LGBT Accountant Ends Dialogue;

How to Get Answers?

The effort by Iraqi LGBT and its accountant to not share any info on their finances continues. Late last night this email, in response to some simple questions posed to the accountant, hit my in box:
Subject: RE: Questions re: Iraqi-LGBT and charity status

Hi Michael,

I have been asked by the CEO of Iraqi LGBT not to communicate with you anymore. Can I therefore suggest that you direct your questions directly to him?

Warmest regards.
Hmmm. So, my questions are to go to Ali Hili, the CEO, who hasn't replied to any of my emails in the past few weeks? And Josh will follow Hili's orders, and no longer dialogue with me.

Doesn't sound to me in the least, not after a month of runaround emails from Hili, that Iraqi LGBT and its agents will do a thing to clear up the matter of zero accountability.

They're apparently only interested in soliciting funds from around the world that are supposed to directly benefit gay Iraqis in Baghdad, never providing a basic summary or independently verified accounting of the funds, and cutting off all exchanges with activists who want answers.

Is this situation acceptable to you, or anyone in the global gay advocacy community?

One American journalist, Ann Rostow of San Francisco's Bay Times, had a look at what I've posted on this matter, and made some excellent observations in today's paper:

Reading Petrelis’s hectoring email string, posted on his blog, one first feels some sympathy for the beleaguered activist at the receiving end of Michael’s incessant demands for details. In the end, however, one starts to wonder why the hell Hili can’t get it together to send even a minimal report, particularly since Petrelis and other Bay Area activists raised some money for the cause themselves at a May 17 event ...

“Michael,” writes Hili on June 18, “your pushiness has gone too far. This is why i don’t want to give you any information because of your aggressive approach. Until you decide to change your approach i don’t believe i can communicate with you.”

Subsequently, Petrelis is informed that an accountant is working on a report, but that said accountant is busy with other things and that the report will take time. Another email says the accountant is waiting for some special software. Communication stops in late June, but not before Hili sends Petrelis an invitation to one of those scam photo sharing web sites, presumably an unrelated event ...

I don’t know how much money this group has raised, and certainly Congressman Polis’s donation, while generous, is not an exorbitant sum. Hili was under no obligation to provide a spreadsheet.

He could have just told Petrelis that he had raised, let’s say $100,000, spent $30K on securing safe houses, $20K on food and supplies, $15K on communications, or whatever!

But by providing no information whatsoever, the casual observer conjures up pictures of gay activists meeting over dinner and drinks at the Cinnamon Club and letting Polis and San Francisco pick up the tab. I’m sure this isn’t the case, but why not provide a little basic information, particularly if you are still soliciting funds, as is the case?

The plight of Iraqi gay men is one of the most blood chilling situations on the planet for our community, a story of torture, terror and courage in a war-torn climate where LGBT Iraq is evidently one of the few groups trying to protect gay citizens from violent death at the hands of religious fanatics.

Hili’s group deserves our emotional and financial support, which makes his cooperation with Petrelis all the more essential.

A big shout out to Ann Rostow for accurately summarizing the story up to now.

I'm not sure how to get a few basic answers out of Iraqi LGBT, but I'm not letting go of the issue simply because a representative of the group clams up.

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