The new CEO and executive director of the LGBTQ Center of the Desert isn’t really all that new after all.
The Center announced today that Mike Thompson, who served as the Center’s CEO and executive director from 2014 until early 2021, is returning to the job. At a gathering for donors on May 23, Thompson said via Zoom that his first day back on the job would be Sunday, July 2.
Don Zuidema has been serving as the interim CEO of the center since Rob Wheeler stepped down in January.
“I have had the great honor of serving as interim CEO of this amazing organization during the last several months while the search committee took on the important task of finding a permanent CEO,” said Zuidema, according to a press release. “I could not be happier to welcome Mike Thompson back into this role. I know I join the staff and the board of directors in welcoming Mike back and for this exciting new chapter for the Center.”
Thompson, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, most recently has been the chief impact officer for CenterLink, an international network of LGBTQ centers. Before coming to Palm Springs in June 2014, his jobs included a stint as acting president and chief operating officer of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and four years as executive director of Equality Utah.
Thompson led the Center through its most successful period—and its most challenging. Under his leadership, the Center moved from the Sun Center to its own building at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive in 2016, and greatly expanded services in the eastern Coachella Valley. He also steered the Center through the pandemic, overseeing a move from in-person programs to virtual/distance efforts.
“We have said all along that our work has to be relationship-focused … and we’re constantly reminding each other that nobody’s more important than the person in front of us right now,” Thompson told the Independent in October 2020. “We made a format change in our weekly newsletter; we’re looking at that as an opportunity to engage people just by the questions that we’re asking. At one point early in the pandemic, we were asking people: Do they have access to food? If they said no, then we made sure that they became a client at our Food Bank if they could benefit from that. If they needed people to bring them food—if they couldn’t get to the grocery store for whatever reason—we would make sure that people could get it to them.
“The one question that we asked that broke my heart was: Do you have somebody to talk to everyday? The people who responded ‘no’—that auto-generated an email that said, ‘Would you like somebody to call you?’ So those people who then said ‘yes,’ I personally called. My shortest phone call was probably 25 minutes. They averaged 40 to 45 minutes.”
When Thompson announced his early 2021 departure, he said he and his partner, Ron Brady, were moving to Tulsa, Okla., to be closer to their families.
Updated May 24 with Thompson’s start date.