NATIONAL | winter 2003
Did right-wing pressure influence the YWCA?
Just last issue, we reported the hiring of former NOW president Patricia Ireland as CEO of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Given that Ireland is openly pro-choice and bisexual, the religious right, not surprisingly, pitched a fit. But Ireland and the Y seemed to weather the squall, and she got busy promoting the Y’s mission to empower women and combat racism.
Until October 16, that is, when the Y’s board terminated her.
In a press release, Audrey Peeples, chair of the 22-member National Coordinating Board (NCB) of the YWCA, said, “We have the deepest admiration for Ms. Ireland’s dedication to women’s issues and social justice, but the YWCA has proved to be the wrong platform for her to advocate for these issues.”
Photo by Mark Abraham
Peeples added, in an “action report” e-mailed October 27 to YWCA colleagues, that the decision “was not taken lightly. We all have a deep commitment to advocacy, and Patricia is an expert in this arena. However, the job description encompasses much more than that. The NCB worked diligently to share the YWCA culture of partnership, communication and shared values.
“I can also assure you,” Peeples continued, “that this will not affect the positions the YWCA has taken through convention action over the years in support of a woman’s right to choose, acceptance of the diversity of life styles and our right to speak out on the issues affecting women’s lives.”
Despite Peebles telling The New York Times that “Patricia knows why she was terminated,” Ireland felt mystified by the YWCA’s action. “They did not ever say what the cause was,” she reports of the board meeting in which she was first asked to resign, but refused. “I was so stunned, I didn’t ask.”
Ireland can only speculate about what soured the relationship after little more than five months. She guesses that her enthusiasm for feminist advocacy—despite the YWCA’s professed dedication to issues such as domestic violence—might have “raised disquiet in some quarters,” and right-wing opprobrium might have “set this relationship off on a somewhat difficult course.”
Ireland says the board also may have feared future funding losses triggered by Ireland’s presence. The YWCA couldn’t help but be concerned when the right-wing Traditional Values Coalition asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to review $114 million in grants to local Y’s, and Ireland suggests that some on the YW board may have worried whether ongoing conservative pressure would subvert an upcoming $30 million campaign to raise corporate and foundation funds for global YWCA activities.
There appears to have been tension between Ireland and the National Coordinating Board over authority issues and “performance specifications,” perhaps leading to a power struggle in addition to an ideological schism.
“They wanted a lot of input in general,” she says of the board. “They brought me in from the outside, but then that made them nervous. There was a concern that I brought with me my own ‘brand.’ My perception, though—incorrectly in retrospect—was that we were working these things out.”
Since Ireland believes she was fired without reference to any of the five “causes” specified in her three-year employment contract, Ireland has instructed her lawyer to seek a “hopefully amicable” financial settlement with the organization. She remains fully supportive of the Y’s work, especially at the local level, where “wonderful women are doing some of the most important and difficult work I can imagine,” she says.
Meanwhile, Dorris Daniel-Parkes, former director of Human Resources and Administration for the YWCA, is serving as interim director while the Y again searches for a new CEO.