By Susan Payne
In an in-person sustaining donor event last November, longtime Chief Executive Officer Lorri L. Jean for the Los Angeles LGBT Center introduced the man who would be succeeding her role in July: Joe Hollendoner.
Front-centered among more than 300 sustaining donors, Hollendoner told the group:
“Here I am today, standing on this Campus about to become the CEO of this iconic organization, and I am truly moved beyond words. It’s a pretty overwhelming thing coming into this organization and to be its new leader on the heels of its incredibly successful CEO like none other our movement has ever seen. There is no better organization for me to fulfill my life’s mission than the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”
Looking directly at Jean and Darrel Cummings, the Center’s chief of staff, Hollendoner said, ““I just want to guarantee you and Darrel that your baby is in good hands.”
In the Beginning
Hollendoner previously led San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAS) as CEO, spearheading the adoption of a new five-year strategic plan in 2019 that prioritized the expansion of health and social services and establishing racial justice as a fundamental principle to guide the organization’s growth, according to LGBT News Now.
SFAS’s revenue grew by 84% during his tenure while corporate and private donations to support the organization increasingly grew. Prior to his appointment with SFAS, Hollendoner served as the chief of staff and first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health, the third largest health department in the United States, LGBT New Now reported. From 2001 to 2012, he served in several roles at Howard Brown Health, the Midwest’s largest LGBT health organization, to then become its president and chief program officer.
Growing up in Chicago, Hollendoner had support from his family at the age of 16 coming out as gay, but had trouble at his all boy school within the suburbs.
During November’s sustaining donor event, Hollendoner shared publicly some of his experiences at the school: being cornered, punched and called anti-gay slurs. Hollendoner said he told the principal about it, to which the principal replied, “I’m going to pray for you.”
“I knew in that moment I had one of two choices: I could either sink into a further depression or I could go get the help I knew that I deserved,” Hollendoner said.
His life changed for the better when he found out about a nearby youth drop-in center for LGBT, similar to the LGBT Center in Los Angeles.
“The moment I walked through the doors, my life changed forever,” he remembered. “In that moment, I not only found my community, but I discovered a safe space where I could be my authentic self. It was at that group where I ultimately found my life’s mission which was to make sure that no member of the LGBT community ever went without the support that they deserve and that my life’s mission was going to be committed to the liberation of all LGBT people.”
In July of 2021, Hollendoner joined the Center with a temporary executive director title, working alongside Jean and Cummings, with nearly 25 years of LGBTQ movement leadership to accompany his new role.
From there, he began immersing himself in the culture and work at the Center. He volunteered at the youth shelter and Pride Pantry, spent time at the Trans Wellness Center, Mi Centro and Center South and Triangle Square.
“I’m so proud that the Center has been able to evolve and innovate its work during the pandemic to make sure that we’re responding to the ever-changing needs of our community,” he observes. “Not only is the demand high, what we are seeing from our clients and community members is that the needs they are experiencing are more dire and more complex than before the pandemic.”
With a team of other volunteers, Hollendoner personally delivered Thanksgiving meals to seniors — the team delivered a total of 900 meals that day, LGBT News Now reported.
“When I arrived on my first doorstep and knocked on the door, I was greeted immediately with a warm smile and words of gratitude towards the Center,” he shared that day. “To hear all the ways in which the Center had supported them, it just made me feel so much gratitude for the staff and volunteers of the Center and for our clients and the community that we serve.”
Visions and Priorities
Since starting as a temporary CEO, Hollendoner’s initial goals have been to address race and gender-based health disparities within the LGBTQ+ community through expansion of programming at existing Center community sites, according to LGBT News Now.
This includes expanding services at the Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program and at Mi Centro and hiring full time staff members, an initiative that was made possible through multiyear grant funding provided by Gilead Services.
“Within my first few months at the Center I met with staff serving on committees for both Audre Lorde and Mi Centro,” Hollendoner said. “The conversations in those two meetings were very similar; staff spoke of how proud they were of what had been accomplished but identified the need for a full-time manager to help truly fully the program’s vision. Hearing this feedback and recognizing the importance of these two programs, I left both meetings committed to securing funding to hiring these roles.”
In January, Hollendoner hired Gerald Garth as the Center’s first director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to work with Center leadership and staff on creating a racial equity plan that establishes actionable and measurable initiatives in every department, LGBT News Now reported.
That same month, Hollendoner led Wellness Wednesday virtual sessions for Center staff — nearly 800 spread out over 10 locations — when most were working remotely due to the Omnicron variant surge.
“As a social worker who spent most of my career in direct service, I know what it is like to be on the frontline and how challenging it can be,” he said. “Something that is important to me is that Center employees have the support they deserve to do often unimaginable work.”