Q & A about Donald & Cathay's Firings at GLAAD

Q & A:

Are you speaking out to press for a better severance deal with GLAAD?

GLAAD approached us, told us that they were unhappy with our work, and said that they were prepared to discuss the terms of departure. They rescinded their initial offer on October 6th and made it clear to us that further discussions would not take place. Our commitment to speak out about the circumstances surrounding our dismissal has only made GLAAD more adamant about denying us compensation.

Why does GLAAD say that you both resigned?

Because having already fired the other senior person of color, GLAAD/LA Latina activist Nancy Perez, GLAAD does not want to take responsibility for firing us as well. So GLAAD directed former News Director Eddie Borges to tell us to leave. Now GLAAD is in the paradoxical situation of having to maintain that they wanted us to stay with the organization even as they engage in innuendo and outright personal attacks on us and the work we did during our three and a half years as directors at GLAAD.

Exactly what did Borges say?

During our first meeting with former GLAAD News Director Eddie Borges, he conveyed the GLAAD Board's dissatisfaction with our work and our priorities. He then outlined the supervisory relationship we would be working under if we did not leave. This included demoting both of us to performing duties as his assistant and such draconian supervisory measures as hour-by-hour timelines with hourly check-ins, and unplugging our FAx machine and computers so that we were unable to print documents from our computers without first saving files on disk for his review.

When Donald asked what would happen if this was not a supervisory relationship we could live with, Borges immediately replied that GLAAD was prepared to negotiate a severance agreement with us. He wanted and expected us to leave and told us that he was surprised that we weren't already looking for other work. To reinforce his intentions he immediately began to harass us in the work environment and make unreasonable demands. This included telephoning us seven or eight times a day to add more tasks and threatening us if we weren't able to complete them within 24hrs. We were told by Borges that he was in continual contact with the board and that he had been recruited by a board member to play precisely this role.

Under these circumstances we approached GLAAD board co-chair Peggy Brady. She told us that the terms of our leaving would be dealt with by GLAAD's attorney. Two days later we received a phone call from Chad Johnson, an attorney from the DC based firm of Skadden & Arps.

Why are you seeking compensation?

We did not seek compensation. It was offered to us, during our first meetings with former GLAAD News Director Eddie Borges. He conveyed GLAAD's willingness to discuss a severance package with us, specifying that it would be commensurate with our position and our tenure with the organization. The day after we spoke with Peggy Brady, Borges thanked us for "giving him the opportunity to make a fresh start". This is outlined in a memo we sent to GLAAD board chairs Peggy Brady and David Huebner on September 28th. GLAAD's response has alternately been to deny that Borges made this offer or to deny that he was authorized to make this offer. Now they deny that Borges ever worked for the organization.

Why haven't you sought reinstatement?

After we explained that we had not resigned, that we had only responded to GLAAD's request that we leave, GLAAD's lawyer Chad Johnson, quickly asserted that there was no turning back and that we had to proceed with negotiations or leave without compensation. We did not want to have lawyers involved. However, GLAAD would only deal with us through their lawyer, who tried to intimidate us and threaten us with legal jargon we did not fully understand. It became obvious that we needed to have a lawyer too.

Didn't GLAAD finally offer you a severance package?

After denying that they had asked us to leave, GLAAD offered us precisely what they offered former administrative assistant Priyamvada Sinha, a recent college graduate who had been with GLAAD for less than a year. This was done on the pretext that we had resigned and that we therefore were not entitled to any compensation. When we tried to question this, GLAAD rescinded their original offer and refused to continue the discussions. We were called at our homes and told our "resignation" had been accepted and that the locks had been changed on the New York office on October 18th.

Didn't Donald receive a severance package?

Because Donald was under contract, GLAAD was legally obligated to pay his salary and health insurance through November 1995. We have both been living on the amount GLAAD was contractually required to give Donald. However, this sum in no way constitutes a severance package.

Isn't it true that GLAAD's budget doesn't allow for them to provide severance for former employees?

Former GLAAD staffers Vidalina "Cookie" Miranda, David Hill, Lee Werbel, Ellen Carton, Priyamvada Sinha and Nancy Perez received severance packages from GLAAD, regardless of the conditions under which they left the organization. In fact, with the possible exception of Eddie Borges -- whose financial arrangements with GLAAD have never been made public -- every employee who has left GLAAD since we began working there has been compensated.

GLAAD's budget has tripled since we started working for the organization in 1992. GLAAD was able to spend upwards of $30,000 on the Executive Director search and now employs William Waybourn and his company Widmeyer to manage GLAAD. We are sure that modest severance packages for us would not hurt the organization. If anything, new employees will be hired for our positions at starting salaries, which will save GLAAD money.

Did you agree to be silent about GLAAD's actions in exchange for compensation?

Absolutely not. It is GLAAD that plays the silence for money game, which is illustrated in their recent settlement with former employee, Latina activist, Nancy Perez. Though GLAAD claims her position was merely "restructured," this "restructuring" occurred after she had been fired. William issued a memo to staff stating that Nancy Perez had been terminated on August 3rd, and an additional memo stating that she was threatening legal action. Nancy was notified of her termination by Waybourn by phone. When Nancy demanded to know why she was being fired, she was told to gather her belongings and leave the premises immediately or be removed by the police. So outrageous were the circumstances under which she was terminated that she was able to secure Carol Anderson, a former founder of GLAAD/LA to be her lawyer. GLAAD settled with Nancy out of court a day before we were fired. As part of her agreement with GLAAD, she is prohibited from speaking out about her experiences and from speaking to us.

Why didn't GLAAD also settle with you?

When we were first contacted by GLAAD's lawyer, we were told that any severance agreement would be contingent on our signing a non-negotiable release which they refused to provide for us to review. We told them plainly that while we were willing to work with them to facilitate a smooth transition, we were not willing to sign an agreement that would require us to be silent or to misrepresent our experiences at GLAAD. Soon afterwards, they rescinded their offer and cut-off negotiations. Signing a "confidentiality" clause has subsequently become a requirement for employment with GLAAD.

Why didn't you raise these issues of diversity and inclusion before your dispute with GLAAD?

We did and always have. In fact, our history of addressing these issues with the national board of GLAAD dates from before the board was seated, when we joined with people of color on the former GLAAD/NY Board and people of color in major volunteer positions, in submitting a list of recommendations for recruiting and maintaining people of color at the board level. (These recommendations -- including the recommendation that the board drop its requirement that prospective board members contribute or raise $10,000 annually -- were never adopted.) At our dogged insistence, a transgender community leader -- Charles "Coco LaChine" Ching was included in GLAAD's first Images campaign. Charles is now the only transgender and active person of color on the GLAAD board.

Did poor performance play a role in your dismissal?

In the three and a half years that we worked at GLAAD, we received regular raises and increases in responsibilities. In 1993, Donald was named by Newsweek as one of the thirty most influential activist working in the lesbian and gay movement. In May, 1995, he was promoted to the position of Associate Director with a substantial pay increase. Cathay was staff point person for the two most recent, and most successful GLAAD Media Awards. She has served as an expert on lesbian and bisexual issues in outlets ranging from CNN to New York magazine. She is also a nationally syndicated writer on queer visibility in film.

We feel that our record speaks for itself. However, we invite you to reflect on your work experiences with us, and to talk to other community leaders with whom we have worked over the last few years, including former co-worker and current GLAAD Field Director Donna Red Wing.

In the Village Voice, Eddie Borges accuses you of trumping the race card.

In reality, it is GLAAD that has played the "race card" by dismissing every person on staff who has strong working relationships with people of color, bisexual, and transgender communities and then hiring a person of color with no community ties as News Director. This would have allowed them to say that they had a POC on staff without addressing the needs of POC communities. Recently, GLAAD played the race card again by issuing a divisive and widely criticized press release complaining that the Million Man March received more media coverage than the March on Washington. At the same time we encourage people to work with GLAAD to improve its record on inclusion, the community has a right to know what that record has been.

Hasn't the "new" GLAAD continued doing inclusive work?

Since William Waybourn took over as Managing Director, GLAAD has not initiated any new programming specifically targeting diverse communities. In fact, the first change he made in the New York office was to ask us to minimize bisexual and transgender content in GLAAD's weekly MediAlerts. He denied our request that he include the input of a cross section of activists and leaders from diverse communities in formulating the blueprint for "the new GLAAD." The blueprint will serve as the basis of a long-term strategic plan. Now that the organization's commitment to diversity is being questioned, he has wisely chosen to maintain some of the programming that was instituted and maintained by us and GLAAD volunteers before he began his administration.

What about Lesbian Central and Lesbians in Film and Television (LIFT)?

Lesbian Central and LIFT have received minimal support from GLAAD. Even this support -- a fraction of a percent of GLAAD's operating budget and limited staff time -- was questioned by Waybourn. This led the staff to write a letter of support, which was endorsed by Special Projects Director Morgan Gwenwald in addition to ourselves. Although these were two of the only programs aimed exclusively at lesbians, Lesbian Central head Jean Laberge and LIFT coordinator Mirav Ozeri, were not one of the two hundred individuals Waybourn interviewed about the direction GLAAD should be headed. This is despite the fact that Jean has been affiliated with the organization since its inception in 1985.

Isn't the former GLAAD transgender receptionist who was let go appearing in GLAAD promotional materials?

Yes, at our urging. She contacted us after she was approached by GLAAD and told us point blank that she would not participate if we felt it would undermine our efforts to make GLAAD accountable to the transgender community. She also expressed concerns about GLAAD's motivation for approaching her. After all, why would GLAAD feature her in its promotional materials when they hadn't been willing to seriously consider her for a job? Still, we all agreed that it was important that a transgender person be included in the campaign which was why she agreed to participate.

She and the other members of GLAAD's Transgender Caucus have taken our recommendation that they continue to try to work with GLAAD at the same time as they continue to express their concerns about its actions and policies. These are outlined in the attached letter from the caucus to the board, which the former receptionist also signed.

Hasn't GLAAD promoted an Asian man in the Los Angeles office?

Yes. Loren Javier, an Asian-American gay man, is the sole person of color who has remained on staff. However, despite his promotion to a computer support position, Loren is responsible for sending out GLAAD's message not for shaping it. He has no history of activism in the people of color community and has only become involved in the discussion of these issues since our departure.

Didn't GLAAD hire a Latino as News Director?

Yes, Eddie Borges is Latino. However, as we pointed out to the board in several communications prior to his being hired, simply hiring a person of color does not mean that that person is willing or able to address the concerns of people of color communities. Eddie has no history of activism within the people of color community. Despite his claims to the contrary, he clearly stated in our first meetings with him that this work represented a "tangent" from the work that GLAAD needed to be doing.

Eddie's attitude was clear in his interactions with us. When we made suggestions about about how he could begin to build a relationship with community activists and leaders, he responded in a memo. He said that he wasn't concerned about the individuals we mentioned because in cases where he did not know them he "knew their bosses." Given his attitude and lack of experience, we feel that he was not brought in to address people of color concerns, but to address GLAAD's concern that the organization would be perceived as racist if fired all it senior staffers of color and did not hire at least one person of color to replace us.

On Friday, October 13th, Eddie called Donald at home to express his concern that we bear him no ill will and to tell us that he too was disenchanted with his experiences at GLAAD. On Monday, October 16th, we were informed that Borges had declined a job offer with GLAAD. Since then, GLAAD has denied that he ever worked there.

Hasn't a Spanish speaking journalist started to work for GLAAD?

Yes, Chiqui Cartagena is the acting News Media Director. As a former GLAAD/NY board member, Chiqui was always supportive of efforts to make GLAAD more inclusive. At a diversity training attempted by the former GLAAD/NY staff and board, the facilitators asked the whites and the people of color to form separate groups for an exercise. Because she identified herself as a white European woman, Chiqui got up to leave the room. However, the people of color present told her that given that she was Spanish speaking, a member of the Spanish language press community, and an ally of people of color, we wanted her to be in our group. This reflects the faith we and others have had in her and her work. We regard GLAAD's decision to hire her as a promising one. However, we remain concerned that this will not be possible unless there are also people of color to advocate for this kind of work at the board level.

Hasn't William Waybourn and the new GLAAD made a commitment to addressing diversity and inclusion since this controversy has gone public?

Waybourn gives a standard spiel where he assures people that a commitment to diversity remains as a part of the new GLAAD. However, he has made no specific promises of how this work will get done, particularly without the support of a committed and diverse national staff and board to support it. The programs he points to demonstrate GLAAD's commitment (Lesbian Central, the Bisexual & Transgender Caucuses, etc.) currently only exist in New York which is where we started them. Can GLAAD or will GLAAD start them in other national or chapter office areas?

Waybourn told us early in his tenure that he planned to outreach to people of color, bisexuals and transexuals "the same way we outreach to everyone else". On the surface this sounds like a statement of inclusion. In practice, it has meant that GLAAD's national offices will work with and encourage only those community members who are willing to sign on to the agenda of the new GLAAD.

Waybourn and the members of the executive committee have claimed that by questioning GLAAD's new direction we are trying to destroy the organization. This has become their pretext for attacking us and ignoring the issues we and other community members have raised. In reality, we are only trying to salvage what is left of an organization we were once proud to work for. It remains vitally important to fight for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of our community. It is a laudable mission and GLAAD would be a laudable organization if it were finally willing and able to adhere to it.

[QRD main page] Last updated: 08 January 1996 by Chuck Tarver