Campus Pride terminates founder for alleged fraud

The executive director of the nation’s most prominent LGBTQ+ higher education nonprofit, Campus Pride, has been terminated due to allegations of embezzlement. Now the board members that ousted the director are searching for a way to keep the organization’s programming alive, which may involve merging with another nonprofit.

QnotesCarolinas, a Charlotte, N.C.–based LGBTQ+ news organization, first reported the news, saying that documents detailing the termination of Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer were left at the counter of a store in the same building as its office.  

Christopher Bylone, who joined the Campus Pride board as vice chair and treasurer in September, confirmed in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that Windmeyer had been fired for allegedly misappropriating more than $100,000 of the nonprofit’s funds. Windmeyer, who uses both they/them and he/him pronouns, agreed to refund the money to the organization they helped start more than two decades ago.

Inside Higher Ed reached out to Windmeyer for comment via text and phone but received no response.

Bylone said the first step he took as treasurer was to try to understand the organization’s finances through meetings with Windmeyer, who was Campus Pride’s only full-time employee.

“I did not come into this thinking there were problems; I just wanted to understand, what was the financial health of the organization? Where were we spending our money and were we spending our money in strategic ways?” he said. “One of the questions coming in was: How are we going to ensure Campus Pride lives past Shane? Because at some point Shane was going to want to retire … so what was the seven- to 10-year plan?”

But during that time, red flags began to emerge, Bylone said; in his meetings with Windmeyer, he requested access to the nonprofit’s bank account and QuickBooks accounting software but was initially denied. He eventually got access to the bank account in early November and QuickBooks after Windmeyer’s eventual termination.

Another sign that something was amiss came during Campus Pride’s virtual board meeting in November, Bylone said. After he presented the following year’s budget, which he and Windmeyer developed, the six-person board—most of whom were relatively new—questioned the large sum that was allocated for office space, phone service and Wi-Fi. The organization operated out of Windmeyer’s home and compensated them for its use, Bylone said, but board members were unsure whether the amount of compensation was appropriate.

Once Bylone was given access to Campus Pride’s bank account, he said he noticed a discrepancy: the organization had spent $250 at a local LGBTQ+ bingo event that he and Windmeyer each attended individually—Windmeyer was there in their drag persona, Buff Faye—but that Campus Pride was unaffiliated with.

On Nov. 17, the board contacted Windmeyer via email to tell them it was beginning a financial review, suspending expenditures except those members approved and requesting Windmeyer turn over full access to the Campus Pride bank account, Bylone said. That evening, Windmeyer responded, admitting that they had made what they characterized as bookkeeping errors; in a subsequent email, they laid out in a spreadsheet the funds they had misappropriated, which totaled $100,000, Bylone recounted. Because the organization ultimately could not afford to hire a forensic auditor, Bylone said, the board requested Windmeyer repay the $100,000 rather than investigate whether additional funds had gone missing in previous years.

The state of North Carolina appears to be pursuing criminal charges against Windmeyer for fraud—although not for the embezzlement alleged by the board. Rather, Windmeyer has been charged with neglecting to secure workers’ compensation insurance, a violation of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, according to a criminal summons accessed through the state’s online judicial records portal.

A summons for Windmeyer was issued on Jan. 4, six days after the QnotesCarolinas article was published. Their court date is set for Jan. 24, according to the document.

Moving Forward

The future of Campus Pride remains unclear.

The organization was started by Windmeyer and two co-founders in 2001 and is now best known for its Campus Pride Index, which catalogs the most and least LGBTQ+-friendly colleges across the country. The rankings are based on metrics ranging from whether an institution offers health insurance that covers gender confirmation surgeries to whether it subscribes to any academic journals that focus on LGBTQ+ issues.

The CPI has inspired some institutions that received low rankings to improve their LGBTQ+ friendliness; Western Kentucky University, which once had a two-out-of-five-star rating, said in 2021 that it had raised its score to four and a half stars after setting a goal in its strategic plan to reach a five-star rating by the 2027–28 academic year. Similarly, in 2022, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania lauded a jump from three stars to four and a half by reopening its Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, establishing new LGBTQ+-specific housing and growing its women’s, gender and sexuality studies program, among other things.

“This is giving us a framework to continue to work and to continue to make really positive changes. I look forward to working with other departments and our students to go even further and raise Lafayette College into a 5-Star Campus for our LGBTQIA+ community,” Thomas Lee, then the college’s assistant director of intercultural development for gender and sexuality programs, said at the time.

Bylone and the other board members are currently investigating how to maintain Campus Pride’s programming—including the CPI, a career prep platform called Career Connect and Camp Pride, a summer leadership academy for LGBTQ+ college students, which Bylone, coincidentally, helped launch in 2007 when he worked as a student affairs professional.

That might mean joining forces with another nonprofit, he said.

“We are in active discussions with other national nonprofit organizations on a potential merger. I can’t share those organizations at the moment because we are under [nondisclosure agreements],” he said. “We need to figure out, how are we going to best ensure that the programmatic work of Campus Pride continues? We are not sure if we can continue as a stand-alone organization.”

That decision will hopefully be made in the coming weeks, Bylone said. The Campus Pride board isn’t currently looking for a new leader to replace Windmeyer but will do so if members decide to remain a stand-alone organization.

Regardless of what happens to Windmeyer and Campus Pride, Bylone is hopeful that the higher education community will not lose faith in the nonprofit.

“Even though there was mismanagement of funds by Shane, the work is still of value. That’s why we terminated him: because we did not want to allow the work to get further tainted. The index is important. The leadership camp is important. We needed to do what we needed to do to ensure the organization would live on in some fashion,” he said. “I urge our higher education partners to stand with us through this difficult time and know that on the other end of this, the work of Campus Pride is going to be even stronger.”

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