CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A local social justice organization has had its federal tax-exempt status reinstated by the Internal Revenue Service less than one month after news first broke about the loss and the closure of the group’s landmark LGBTQ legal center.
The Freedom Center for Social Justice said in an in-depth, three-page press release Sunday evening that it’s tax-exempt status had been reinstated on Oct. 9. The group’s status had been revoked by the IRS earlier this year for its failure to file annual non-profit tax filings for three years in a row.
The Freedom Center’s tax-exempt status was revoked on May 15, 2014, according to records from the IRS. The revocation was publicly posted by the IRS on Aug. 11, 2014, and the group said it became aware of the revocation in late August.
But news of the revocation wasn’t reported until last month, when the center announced it would also be closing its LGBTQ Law Center.
That news came as a shock to community members and even law center employees Sarah Demarest and Kelly Durden. Demarest said last month that she and Durden were “blindsided” with the news of the closure.
The group said Sunday it was “wrongly advised previously that we did not need to submit anything to the IRS” from 2010-2012.
The group and its leaders, including founder Bishop Tonyia Rawls, have also said the law center’s closure was prompted less by the IRS revocation and more by funding shortfalls and challenges. Last month, the group said its “desire to carry a program like this was not sustainable, particularly since more than 85% of our services were offered free of charge.”
The group reiterated its funding challenges on Sunday, stating: “This devastating blow came at the end of August and led to us exploring ways to continue offering legal service to the community, but facing the reality that the more than $140,000 it takes to operate it and its growing need exceeded our capacity.”
The law center will remain closed for now, though the group said it will “continue to provide legal support through a referral network.”
The group also thanked community members for their recent support.
“We thank the Charlotte community and its leaders for the incredible outpouring of support offered to us during these difficult past few months,” the Freedom Center’s release reads. “We also thank our current and future funders who did not run when things got tough but worked as partners with us. We are so grateful!”
The group also said it is entering a five-year strategic plan toward sustainable growth.
The Freedom Center for Social Justice was founded by Bishop Tonyia Rawls in 2007 to offer tutoring and career development to low-income youth in East Charlotte. In 2010, it filed for its tax-exempt status and expanded its work, including its annual Transgender Faith in Color Conference. In 2013, it founded the LGBTQ Law Center.
The center’s three-page press release — too long to reprint here in its entirety — also shares the group’s several successes, including its partnerships and programs in collaboration with a variety of organizations regionally and nationally.
“We also experienced great success in the social and spiritual justice arena with other local and national partners,” the release reads. “These relationships have helped to impact culture in the South and in other areas.”
In addition to its strategic planning process, the center said it will continue to work to provide other services and projects, including employment services scheduled for the fall and job readiness training for transgender youth through partnerships with Time Out Youth, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network and The Powerhouse Project. Additionally, the group said its Transgender Faith and Action Network will host next year a retreat for transgender people of faith in the South.