Racist comments from council members. Referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegals”. Don’t take complaints from staff seriously.
It may sound like living in a cumbersome, backlogged corporate office, but workers say it’s like it in a Planned Parenthood branch in Pennsylvania.
This week, all the staff at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Pennsylvania signed an open letter asking CEO Emily Callen to step down over allegations of racism and mismanagement. More than 900 other people, including several state lawmakers, signed the document, which accuses Callen of repeating racist stereotypes and of “symbolizing and rejecting” patients of color. But so far the board is standing with it.
“The history of white supremacy in this organization is pretty scary, but now we live in it. And that’s exactly what we’re up against, ”said Ky Ciccone, a Pittsburgh pitch organizer. “This organization has a lot of work to do, and we’re really, really fighting to get that work done.”
The allegations come as part of a restructuring of the Harrisburg-based organization that would eliminate several positions, including one held by a black organizer, while making the role held by a white communications director permanent.
In an email to staff from The Daily Beast, Chairman of the Board Dayle Steinberg said the reorganization was the result of pandemic budget cuts and the loss of a major grant in 2019. she refused to cut her salary to six figures to make up for the losses.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the national organization called the allegations in the letter “concerning” and urged the group to lead a full organization. PPPA’s board of directors announced earlier this week that it will work closely with the management team to initiate a “thorough review” of the issues raised in the open letter.
“The Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates (PPPA) Board of Directors is committed to racial equity and an inclusive environment for all who work on behalf of our mission, and we take accusations of racism and unfairness seriously. PPPA staff, ”the board said. Callen declined to comment.
PPPA is the advocacy and outreach arm of Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania, which coordinates with 20 state clinics to raise public awareness of reproductive rights issues and advance its legislative agenda. The group has held rallies against the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and in support of every vote count in this month’s election. He also successfully campaigned for Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who has vetoed many anti-abortion bills passed by the legislature.
He has also, in the eyes of some reproductive rights defenders, made serious mistakes. This spring, Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania PAC chose to support Adam Ravenstahl, a state representative who only recently decided to vote for the right to abortion, rather than a female candidate who still had them. supported. Later in the cycle, the group sent a letter featuring a couple who said they “don’t support abortion personally,” shocking a number of employees.
But employees interviewed by The Daily Beast said the issues were even more pressing when it came to race issues. Several staff members said it took a week – and a letter from the entire organizing team – to convince Callen to even internally admit George Floyd’s death. Others recalled a conference call in which an entrepreneur called undocumented immigrants “illegal” and the executive director said nothing.
Signe Espinoza, PPPA’s policy director, said she was present at a meeting last month when someone referred to the controversial 1950s birth control trials in which doctors tested the experimental pill on women in Puerto Rico housing projects. Espinoza said an older member of the board had insinuated the incident didn’t matter because Puerto Ricans were not considered US citizens at the time. Espinoza, who is Puerto Rican, wrote a lengthy letter to Callen and Steinberg about the incident, and said several other staff had called for the male council member to be removed from office. She says the leaders promised to speak with the board member, but more than a month later, they still haven’t.
“Isn’t that the icing on the cake? You do all of these terrible things and you are going to be so dismissive.“
– Aspen christian
Other employees complained that Callen often failed to use gender-neutral language in official communications – words like “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant women” – even when repeatedly reminded. . Aspen Christian, the group’s digital organizer, said the inability to change her behavior, even when asked repeatedly, was the most frustrating part of Callen’s tenure.
“She doesn’t understand what responsibility is,” Christian said. “We gave her so many opportunities to admit that what she’s doing isn’t OK, and she just said, ‘Thank you for saying that.'”
“It’s kind of the icing on the cake, isn’t it?” she added. “You do all these terrible things and then you’re going to be so dismissive.
But staff members stressed that the problems don’t start and end with Callen. Several staff members accused the former executive director of making insensitive comments and noted that a black state field director left last year – shortly before Callen joined the organization – because of racism issues. The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, who was accused by employees this summer of creating a “dangerous” environment for employees of color, still sits on the organization’s board. At PPPA, a staff member said, “There is a culture of incompetent white ladies who fail to the top.”
The problems are not isolated in Pennsylvania either. Planned Parenthood of Greater New York fired its CEO this summer after staff members wrote several open letters accusing him of racist behavior. More than two dozen employees of Planned Parenthood affiliates and the abortion advocacy group NARAL later spoke to Buzzfeed News about what they said was a culture of racism in their workplaces, causing them prevented them from obtaining promotions or having their ideas heard. More broadly, the organization has struggled to take into account the history of founder Margaret Sanger’s participation in the eugenics movement.
In its statement, the PPPA board pledged to invest in anti-racism training for the board, the executive director and the management team. He is also committed to auditing all external and internal communications and reviewing and revising his hiring practices. The council is due to hold an emergency meeting to address the issue later Tuesday.
“Our country remains in the midst of a long overdue racial justice account – one that includes Planned Parenthood,” said Melanie Newman, senior vice president of communications at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We know that we cannot fight structural racism or white supremacy in this country without addressing our own, including the ways we have not sufficiently supported the staff who make our work possible or the policies that have. reinforced inequalities. ”
Staff members, meanwhile, said they will continue to organize until Callen is fired and the workers are given a seat at the table.
“I really think they thought it would go away after a few days because they basically don’t have respect for us,” said Christine O’Donovan-Zavada, regional field manager in central Pennsylvania. “Across the board, it’s the leaders who tell us, ‘This is the way it is.’
“We just want to have our say,” she added. “We want to be able to guide decision-making with an executive director who is truly committed to listening to us.”
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