The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) suffered a stunning setback Wednesday, with dozens of local leaders abandoning the organization. The controversy has been brewing since last month, but reached a tipping point in just the last few days.
Over the course of the last week, Inman has had numerous on- and off-the-record conversations with NAGLREP members about the controversy. It’s a complicated situation, but the following is a look at key moments in what many now-former NAGLREP stalwarts believe is effectively the end of the organization as it has long existed.
As Inman previously reported, the controversy began when Berger posted comments on Facebook that were critical of officials’ coronavirus response, among other things. Both Robert Peterson and Gene Brake — two agents and then-NAGLREP members — were concerned about the comments, raised questions on Facebook and eventually saw their questions deleted. Berger later removed them from both the Facebook group and NAGLREP’s website as well.
Berger did not deny deleting comments and members on Facebook, and throughout the controversy has said Peterson and others bullied him. He eventually posted screen shots of conversations he had with Peterson, which he said proves the bullying took place. The tone of those conversations is antagonistic, and Anthony Hitt — the head of Peterson’s brokerage Engel & Völkers — eventually criticized the tenor of both men’s comments.
Peterson has told Inman he was intentionally aggressive because he wanted answers to his questions, and that the full conversations have not been publicly posted. Berger, meanwhile, has been steadfast in his argument that the issue boils down to bullying — a characterization that virtually everyone else who spoke with Inman disagreed with. Hitt himself, while expressing displeasure with the way the conversation unfolded, defended Peterson’s right to ask questions.
In any case, the stakes gradually rose as more more people raised red flags about NAGLREP’s governance, and as Berger continued removing people and comments from the organization’s Facebook page.
Berger reiterated to Inman Wednesday that those against him were bullies, but also said that “I should have walked away from this the second I jumped into a Facebook quarrel weeks ago.”
Read Inman’s past coverage for more detailed background. But in sum the controversy comes down to questions about the nature of NAGLREP’s board of directors and by extension other issues such as finances, Berger’s apparent unilateral ability to kick people out of NAGLREP and its Facebook community, concerns over the censorship of questions about governance, and complaints of unprofessional behavior epitomized by Berger’s public comments.
As for that last point, Berger told Inman Wednesday that he was sorry for his comments.
“I apologize to any one who I might have let down by not speaking professionally,” he said.
The turning point
The breaking point in the crisis appears to have come Tuesday, when Berger and dozens of local chapter leaders convened a video conference call to hash out the situation. The call lasted more than an hour and a half and included Berger apologizing for his recent actions, saying that some of his comments were “a little off the wall.”
“I feel right now that I’ve disappointed people,” he said. “And I’m sorry. Okay. I’m truly sorry. And my apology is sincere.”
Berger also offered something of an explanation for his behavior, saying that he had been stressed lately, and that when he feels bullied and “threatened and paranoid and upset, depressed, I become someone I’m not.” At another point, he mentioned feeling like he has “this alter ego in me” and expressed the belief that he got “the short end of the stick” from bullying.
Berger additionally used the call to outline a plan that would see NAGLREP “take on a consultant to be the operations manager.” That person, Berger explained on the call, would also serve as a spokesperson.
“I don’t want to be the spokesperson for NAGLREP anymore,” Berger said. “It’s stressful. I’m not handling the burden well.”
Finally, in response to questions during the call, Berger divulged information about how NAGLREP’s finances function. He said that the organization has no employees, but rather hires consultants. Berger himself owns a consulting company that NAGLREP hires, he revealed, and he said his 2019 income after expenses “was approximately $200,000.”
He added that his income varies from year to year, and during 2018 it was in the range of $140,000 to $160,000.
Bob McCranie — a broker and now-former chapter leader in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — was on the call and told Inman Wednesday that Berger was “contrite” and saying the right things, “but not in a convincing way.”
McCranie was not alone in that assessment. Though the tone varied during the conference call, and many people praised Berger for his past work, participants also repeatedly asked for substantial changes to NAGLREP’s leadership — apparently to a greater extent than Berger was describing.
One of the first people to comment, for example, said that “moving forward with different leadership would be wise.”
And still another participant told Berger to “look a little deeper” and added that “our names and our reputations are on the line.”
“So if there is a going forward,” the participant, emphasizing the word “if,” said, “I don’t think it’s just a matter of the board making a retraction. I think that’s crisis PR. I think it’s managed from the outside.”
And when another participant pointedly asked Berger if he would be willing to step down as president altogether, Berger said he would not.
“No I am not willing to give up the president’s seat,” he said. “This is something that I built from the ground up.”
Berger also pushed back against the level of financial transparency chapter leaders seemed to want: At one point he was asked if he would make NAGLREP an “open book” and share 2019 financial information. Berger replied that he was “fine with being open” but wouldn’t commit to providing NAGLREP’s full financial filings.
Instead, he said he doesn’t “understand all this doubt” and added that “if everybody doesn’t trust me, then you know we really don’t have anything.”
“I work my ass off and I deserve to do well also so if someone doesn’t agree that I deserve to do well, then we may be mistaken,” he added. “Then we may not come to terms on that.”
When Inman asked Berger about this issue on Wednesday, he said he was not pushing back against the chapter leaders’ request for more transparency. He also said that if someone wants financial information, they can request it and the board of directors will decide how to respond.
But when Inman noted that as of Wednesday there is no board, suggesting Berger himself would be solely responsible for fielding requests, Berger would not say if he would provide a full financial accounting. He also said no one has ever made such a request, though Gene Brake sent an email to Inman Wednesday showing he had in fact requested detailed financial information that day.
Berger dismissed that request, saying Brake is no longer a member of NAGLREP.
Berger was also asked during the call if he could produce NAGLREP’s bylaws. The bylaws became a point of concern during the controversy when some of Berger’s critics discovered that no one, apparently including the board members listed on NAGLREP’s website, has actually seen them. Berger said during the call that “they’re somewhere in my closet” and “I have to dig them out.”
In addition to unanswered questions about bylaws and governance, some leaders on the call were also disturbed by Berger’s language. McCranie, for example, said he found remarks about “hooking up” at conferences and people having “hair on their balls” particularly offensive.
“This is supposed to be a meeting to bring us back together and he literally does things that are worse,” McCranie added.
After the call ended, the chapter leaders gathered for a follow up virtual meeting to discuss next steps. McCranie, who was also on that call, said people were not impressed.
“It was literally just this dumb struck group of people sitting around on Zoom asking what the hell was that,” he recalled.
That evening, the chapter leaders decided to send Berger a letter demanding he step down.
“Beyond all the allegations, your language, tone, and hasty actions have dismayed the membership,” the letter states. “These actions do not reflect the behavior of a respectable leader, and today, the chapter leaders respectfully expect that you resign as President of NAGLREP for the benefit of our beloved organization.”
Berger told Inman that he had a heads up that the letter was coming, but was still “disappointed” to get it.
Around the time the letter was going to Berger Wednesday, several leaders and NAGLREP members reached out to Inman to say that mass resignations were in the offing. Among them, Sean Frank — a now-former chapter leader in Orlando — told Inman in an email Wednesday night that “the organization is on the brink of collapse and that would set back LGBT housing equality by years.”
Frank’s fear of collapse came true Wednesday morning. In an emailed response to the chapter presidents’ letter, Berger said he would not step down, and instead offered instructions for the chapter leaders themselves to resign.
“If you prefer to resign as chapter president, then NAGLREP reserves the right to install a new president for it’s local chapter,” Berger also said in his response.
Berger additionally asked leaders who resign to “please immediately thereafter unfriend me on facebook because the toxicity of social media lately is what drove us to this dark place and I do not deserve the burden after all I have done to build our friendship.” And he warned against urging other NAGLREP members to abandon the organization.
“I can assure you this will only create dogma and recreate in your local community the same toxic feeling the bully brought to us,” he wrote. “Learn from my mistakes. I personally guarantee you will not make friends and influence people.”
Resignations soon followed.
It was not immediately clear what impacts the resignations were having on NAGLREP’s rank and file, but Houston-based broker Mike Copenhaver told Inman Wednesday evening that he was “seeing a mass exodus.”
Many of those resigning have characterized the resignations as the end of NAGLREP as it has long existed. Frank, for example, told Inman in an email Wednesday night that “the organization has imploded.”
“NAGLREP is done and there is no substitute to replace it,” he added. “It seems that the next conversation among the community will be how to replace it.”
However, Berger disagreed with that characterization and told Inman NAGLREP will carry on without those who left.
“This is one cloudy day,” Berger said. “It may rain for a couple of days. But the sun is going to shine again for NAGLREP.”
Berger further noted that NAGLREP is consumer facing and connects homeowners to LGBT real estate professionals — effectively making it a source of leads. As a result, as long as consumers continue to use it, he said, it will continue to be relevant.
“By no means will the effectiveness be diminished,” he added.
Berger additionally said that he has already had conversations with potential replacements for the chapter leaders, and is searching for a new board — though he would not say exactly how that board will be chosen. Berger also provided Inman with screen shots of text messages that appeared to come from NAGLREP members supporting him in the wake of the resignations. His point was that he still has “a lot of supporters.”
Either way though, numerous people have expressed disappointment with the way things have turned out.
“I’m devastated by it, he’s taken all of our work and trashed it,” McCranie said Wednesday, echoing a sentiment that was shared in a number of off-the-record conversations as well.
Another leader, who asked to remain anonymous, told Inman that NAGLREP has been a great organization in the past, but he hopes something new rises to take its place.
“Hopefully a new LGBTQ advocacy organization can can arise from this,” he said. “This is a crisis moment where we grow.”