Dec. 3, 2020 1:47 pm

Executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates resigns after accusations of racism, workplace abuse

After the resignation, the director of a peer reproductive rights nonprofit calls on the PPPA board to ensure that the organization's internal operations reflect its externally-expressed values.

Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives was widespread after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as this photo from Chicago attests. But PPPA staffers allege they had to push their executive director into making any statement at all.

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash)

Update: A paragraph containing outdated information was cut from between the sixth and seventh paragraphs of the story. (December 3 at 3:12 p.m.)
Last week, the entire staff of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates signed an open letter asking that the organization’s executive director, Emily Callen, resign. The workers alleged that Callen was “fiscally irresponsible, used racist, transphobic, classist language, and language which perpetuates stigma against abortion.”

According to Signe Espinoza, PPPA’s policy director, the staff sent the letter to the board, before going public with it on November 25.

The letter alleges that, among other things, during her nine-month tenure as director Callen:

  • repeatedly used stigmatizing language about abortion, and continually de-prioritized abortion in public facing work
  • refused to hold contractors accountable for repeatedly misgendering trans and non-binary staff and using racist terms like “illegals” to refer to undocumented immigrants
  • belittled and dismissed the only woman of color on senior staff for bringing up issues of racism in the organization
  • sympathized with, and gave credence to, a white supremacist who was threatening a staff member and their family, including two young Black children, in the wake of the Philly Uprising
  • took over a week to agree to put out a statement in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives after the murder of George Floyd, and then only did so after the organizing staff demanded it.

Additionally, the open letter alleges that Callen, along with the organization’s board chair, Dayle Steinberg, failed to hold another board member accountable for “openly racist [comments] during board meetings and in one-on-one settings with staff.”

“The board took days to respond and responded over the weekend with talking points about their commitment to DEI work,” Espinoza told Generocity via email on November 30, “and saying that they will work with senior leadership to launch an examination about the claims in the letter.”

According Espinoza, “hundreds of donors, elected officials, partner organizations, patients, and volunteers” signed the letter after it was made public. Elicia Gonzales, the executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund, was one of those who signed it. “We 110% are in solidarity with the workers organizing to bring justice to the organization,” she told Generocity.

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On November 30, PPPA’s board chair posted a statement to the organization’s website. In it Steinberg said that the board of directors “will work closely with the senior leadership team to immediately launch a deep examination of the issues raised in the November 25 open letter.”

In addition, according to the statement, the board committed to take the following actions:

  • Invest resources in long-term anti-racist training for the board of directors, executive director and the senior leadership team;
  • Conduct an audit of all external and internal communications materials and establish an internal committee for review; and
  • Review the hiring practices and ongoing training for staff.

The Daily Beast reported that Callen had offered her resignation to the board on Tuesday, Dec. 1, after the news organization reported on the open letter and the allegations.

In a statement after Callen’s departure was reported, Gonzales said the resignation was “the first step toward accountability, and with sustained action in recognition of the harm caused to staff and people of color, can lead to healing and transformation in service of rooting out a culture of white dominance.”

“WMF recognizes our existence as an abortion fund is in direct response to systemic racism and bodily oppression. We call on PPPA to similarly recognize that it is both a product of, and response to, racist and violent systems, and its internal operations should meet its external values,” Gonzales said.

“With Callen’s resignation, the PPPA Board now has a chance to demonstrate, through actions, how they will honor their stated commitment to dismantling structures that disproportionately harm the health and lives of Black and brown individuals,” she added.


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