Scott Hamilton (not that Scott Hamilton) grew up in Oklahoma never thinking he would return.
"I lived in New York for 24 years; it was just not in my thinking at all ever to come back here," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said that several things brought him back to Oklahoma. His husband wanted to return to this part of the country, and in the summer of 2009, he saw an advertisement for the executive director position at the Cimarron Alliance Foundation.
Hamilton arrived in Oklahoma the day after Thanksgiving and started in his new position in December. On Jan. 1, the Cimarron Alliance Foundation opened its first office in Oklahoma City. Hamilton said the effort to raise funds to hire an executive director and open an office had slowed the group's programming.
"One of the things that concerned me was that I was hearing early on, was that a perception issue faced Cimarron, and that was that the organization was built around and designed for affluent, white gay men," said Hamilton.
"I had a sense from the board that this was something they were struggling with, too: How do we demonstrate that that's not the case?" he said.
Mark Beutler, now a member of Cimarron's board, had heard the same thing.
"Historically, I've always thought the group did great work," he said. "In recent years, I've thought they got away from their original goals."
Hamilton recruited Beutler and others to join the organization's board, and they crafted a 12-month strategic vision for the organization, which was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in 1997.
"I give a great deal of respect and support to my board, because they had the vision that no matter how bad the economy is, the work that Cimarron was doing was so critical that they were not going to let the bad economy stand in the way of their plans," Hamilton said.
Step one was to change the group's public image.
"As late as March of this year, I talked to someone who said, 'I can't afford to be a member,'" he said. "I explained there was no cost to be a part of Cimarron."
One of the Cimarron Alliance Foundation's new programs, titled LGBT 411, consisted of a series of informational presentations and workshops geared toward specific segments of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied community, on a wide range of topics from the U.S. Census, to coming out at work, domestic violence and adoption issues.
"We are here to serve everyone," Hamilton said. "We are here to represent every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescent, adult and senior in the state of Oklahoma, and we will do that with programming that speaks to individuals and to the whole community."
The group also has aimed to become an important voice in the media on behalf of Oklahoma's LGBT community.
"We need a strong voice out there to speak up and say, 'These are not our core values in Oklahoma,'" Beutler said. "Hate and prejudice are not Oklahoma values. That's what we're all about."
The foundation recently hosted a "Pride in Art" event featuring art by local LGBT artists that drew more than 700 attendees, as well as an Interfaith Pride Memorial Service with Epworth United Methodist Church. The foundation also will continue its support of Stop Hate in the Hallways, an annual, statewide anti-bullying conference that gathers lawmakers and educators.
"Everything that Cimarron does is related to education so that eventually we might affect fairness and justice for everyone," Hamilton said.
"That vision is lofty anywhere, but it's especially lofty in Oklahoma. But I think if we don't shoot for that, and do it on a regular, consistent basis, then we're letting down the very people we're charged with serving." "Nathan Gunter
photo Scott Hamilton. Photo/Shannon Cornman