Open Letter to GLAAD!

December 10, 1995

TO: All Concerned Community Members
FROM: Cathay Che & Donald Suggs

We would like to begin by apologizing for our delay in making the following information available to you. Until recently we simply have not had the resources to distribute these documents more widely. Thanks to generous donations from several concerned community members and the proceeds of a benefit sponsored by the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA-NYC) and the Transexual Menace, we now have the resources to post our materials on-line and to mail them out to community members.

We are sorry that our long association with GLAAD has ended on such bitter terms. However, we have been consoled by the tremendous support we have received. Having expressed concerns about our well-being, lesbian, gay, people of color, bisexual, and transgender activists and leaders are clear about the need to focus on the larger issues GLAAD's actions have raised. This is a viewpoint that we share.

In a cynical attempt to avoid addressing the larger issues of diversity and inclusion, GLAAD has begun to attack us personally. Some of GLAAD's assertions and allegations have been so inflammatory and dishonest that we feel the need to clarify the circumstances surrounding our departure and to answer questions the situation has raised about our motives. However, it is our hope that the information we provide will clear up any confusion and place the emphasis where it belongs -- on making GLAAD accountable for serving our community in its diversity.


Historically, GLAAD has primarily represented the interests of wealthy, gay white men. Under the leadership of former GLAAD Executive Director Ellen Carton (1991 - 1995), the organization made significant strides towards inclusion. This included maintaining three people of color as senior staff members and developing outreach programs and events for lesbian, people of color, bisexual, transgender, and other grassroots community organizations. During Carton's tenure, GLAAD also began to provide media training and technical assistance to all of these communities under a program founded by Donald and current Field Director Donna Red Wing.

This programming made GLAAD more accessible to lesbian, people of color, bisexual, and transgender communities. However, it angered many of GLAAD's traditional gay white male supporters, who perceived that GLAAD's resources were being focused on issues that didn't concern them. Steve Miller, a former board member, has attacked the organization's commitment to diversity in a Christopher Street cover story and numerous New York Native columns. Even arch-conservative John Leo attacked GLAAD's staff in a column in US News & World Report.

Since we were hired in 1992, it has been an explicit part of our job descriptions to help GLAAD fulfill its commitment to diversity. We have been both praised and attacked for that work outside the organization, but always supported by GLAAD management. Under the new GLAAD administration, we were attacked inside the organization simply for trying to maintain the work we have always done.


Following the national merger of all GLAAD chapters, the new national board of GLAAD spent a year and upwards of 30K conducting a search for GLAAD's new director. In an unprecedented move, GLAAD hired Windows, a subsidiary of Widmeyer, a large Washington-based corporation, to manage GLAAD and named Windows head and former Victory Fund Executive Director, William Waybourn, as GLAAD's managing director. A commitment to diversity and inclusion is not Waybourn's strength, which is something that even GLAAD board members have admitted to us privately. Hiring him was a sign that GLAAD has new priorities. Thus the goal of making the organization more inclusive has taken a backseat to making the organization more "mainstream" and more powerful.

This tension between a more inclusive, grass roots approach to activism and a more corporate, "professional" approach is not unique to GLAAD. However, it has become more pronounced as a result of GLAAD's inability to maintain diverse leadership at the board level, making "mainstream" synonymous with "privileged" and "white". Indeed, the executive committee, which is the decision-making body of the board, is composed entirely of wealthy white professionals, their spouses, and individuals of independent means, who want an organization in their own image. Without board support, any people of color, bisexual or transgender staff cannot implement or maintain programs to serve diverse communities effectively.


When William Waybourn came to GLAAD in July, 1995, he immediately isolated, alienated and ignored GLAAD's three senior, people of color staffers. On August 3rd (less than a month after he started), Waybourn fired Latina activist and GLAAD/LA Program Coordinator Nancy Perez. We were forbidden to discuss her dismissal with her or even among ourselves. After our dismissal, we learned that the manner in which Nancy was fired was so outrageous that a founder of GLAAD/LA had agreed to serve as her lawyer. However, even then it was clear that Waybourn had an agenda, and that that agenda did not include us.

Still, we looked for ways to work within the framework he had begun to establish. When he devised a survey to determine GLAAD's direction, we provided an inclusive list of community activists and leaders who have been affiliated with the organization to be included in the survey. We set-up bisexual and transgender caucuses and proposed establishing a people of color task force.

In response, Waybourn presented us with a GLAAD blueprint that diminished our roles and laid out no strategy for specifically addressing diverse communities. Again, he put off our concerns, telling us that they would be addressed as soon as the board had approved the general direction he wanted to take the organization. However, after the September national GLAAD board meeting, Waybourn announced that he had hired former journalist Eddie Borges as National News Director of GLAAD, and stated that Borges would address our concerns.

Borges' first move was to alert us that the board was unhappy with the direction we had taken GLAAD and that the organization was prepared to discuss the terms of our departure. If we did not depart, he intended to make our work environment intolerable. To illustrate this point, Borges immediately began to threaten us and make unreasonable demands upon us.

This included insisting that Borges' newly hired administrative assistant call Donald at his home while he was ill. She was instructed to tell Donald that he was being thrown out of his office and that if he didn't come in and remove his belongings, they would be discarded. Cathay was pulled aside and threatened by Borges and became so frightened of him, that she and Donald arranged their schedules to ensure that she would not be there alone with him.

Under these circumstances, we went to see GLAAD Board Co-chair Peggy Brady at her office on September 26th and expressed our willingness to begin discussing the terms of our departure. She told us that these discussions would not be handled by her, but by a lawyer who had been retained to represent the organization.

When we were contacted by the lawyer, Chad Johnson of the world renowned firm Skadden & Arps, he claimed that we had resigned and that we therefore were not entitled to compensation. He indicated that under the circumstances, GLAAD was only prepared to give us the same terms that it had given to former administrative assistant Priyamvada Sinha, who was given an end date in late August, the second person of color to leave GLAAD under Waybourn's tenure.

In addition, Johnson told us that GLAAD was not willing to give us any severance at all unless we signed a non-negotiable release that would include a "confidentiality" clause. We indicated our willingness to work with GLAAD to effect a smooth transition, but made it clear that we were not willing to ignore or misrepresent our experiences at GLAAD. Under these circumstances we felt that we needed legal counsel and engaged community activist and lawyer Paul O' Dwyer. GLAAD subsequently refused to provide us a copy of the agreement we would be asked to sign and a week later, on October 6th, the organization broke off communications with us entirely.

On October 16th, the day that Borges was scheduled to begin working in the office full-time, we received a memo telling us that he had decided "not to accept GLAAD's offer of employment." We had at that time been under Borges' supervision for two weeks. Borges departure came one week after our lawyer had called Johnson to warn him that we would be forced to consider legal action if Borges continued to threaten and harass us.

The announcement that Borges was leaving the organization also came three days after Borges, along with other employees in GLAAD's New York office, signed a seventy-five page Employees Procedure Manual, which includes a silence clause that subjects GLAAD employees to possible legal action if they discuss their experiences at GLAAD, "regardless of the status of [their] employment with GLAAD".

On October 17th, Nancy Perez and lawyer Carol Anderson, settled with GLAAD out of court. Her agreement prohibits her from speaking about her experiences with GLAAD or from contacting us. On October 18th, we were terminated by Waybourn without notice or severance packages. Because we declined to sign a silence clause, we became the only former senior employees of GLAAD who have left since Waybourn's arrival who can speak openly about our experiences at the organization.

We were fired because we questioned the organization's commitment to diversity and because we resisted Waybourn's attempts to dismiss these concerns. GLAAD tried to buy our silence. When we refused, they cited our discussions about compensation in an attempt to discredit us, discussions they initiated and then quickly ended over two months ago. Finally, GLAAD claims that we said compensation would ensure the "goodwill" of the communities we served. This betrays Waybourn's ignorance about these communities.

Anyone who has done grass-roots work knows that lesbians, people of color, bisexuals, and transgender persons do not blindly follow anyone's lead. We made our case and they believed us, partly because of the respect and trust they have in us, partly because their own experiences with Waybourn and the new GLAAD. This is why these groups have acted both with us and independently of us.

GLAAD's refusal to give us a severance package was not because the total sum was outrageous. The modest amount we discussed could not possibly be worth the negative publicity the organization has received. GLAAD cut off their discussions with us because they felt that to give us any severance package would legitimize our criticism of Waybourn and the organization.

We believe that GLAAD should have compensated us because it dismissed us after three and a half years and because it is something that the organization offered to do. However, we have put our professional reputations and our futures within this movement on the line because we feel we have a responsibility to be open about what is happening at GLAAD. At the same time, we have encouraged individuals and groups to remain with the organization even as they fight to make it more responsive. Angry as we are about the way we have been treated, we feel that the information we can provide will ensure that diverse community members continue to have access to GLAAD's resources. This has been our response to all the volunteers who approached us after our dismissal and asked us if they should leave the organization.

We will be on-line soon to answer any remaining questions personally.

Yours in struggle,

Donald Suggs
Cathay Che

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