Tuesday, October 19

An Open Letter to Executive Leadership at Equitas Health from the Queer Partnership for Black Liberation

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(Editor’s note: Equitas Health is an advertiser on the website of The Buckeye Flame. Go here for the evolving timeline of statements and demands with regards to the Columbus Dispatch piece “Former employees say they witnessed a culture of discrimination at Equitas Health,” written by Erica Thompson and published on October 5th.  )

The Queer Partnership for Black Liberation (QBPL) is writing to you in solidarity with Black folx, Indigenous folx and People of Color (BIPOC) who are previous and current employees in your organization. The article in The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday, October 5th was merely a small summary of the experiences of BIPOC individuals in your organization. Unfortunately, this conversation is not new to Equitas on several levels.  We know that the organization has pursued anti-racist and anti-oppressive efforts recently, especially since the racial and social justice uprisings across the country in the summer of 2020.  We are here to discuss the ways many of these actions have been experienced as performative at best, and what it would actually look like to address the historical and current pervasive ideology of White Supremacy within Equitas Health.. 

As we (LGBTQ+ community) come to awareness; all organizations, non-profit to for profit, have been socialized into White Supremacy.  It is the premise of our founding principles in America. Race is the prism through which all other differences are cast. Often in spaces, even with other marginalized communities, race does not stay front and center. It is often quickly dismissed for other topics of diversity dimensions, as we are seeing here with Equitas.

This article highlighted two separate realities that we want to be clear on naming:

  1. Racism is present in individual and collective experiences for BIPOC employees as outlined in the article and across the organization in summary through experiences such as: microaggressions, othering, ceilings when it comes to advancement opportunities for BIPOC employees, avoidance by White staff members to engage in race conversations, retaliation against employees who spoke up, disrespect, degradation, dehumanizing, dismissal, discrediting, and even demonizing of BIPOC employees and silencing of White Allies who brought this up.  
  2. Anti-Blackness is extremely prevalent in this space.  Anti-Blackness is a global concept that denotes Blackness and the darkness of your skin with your level of value and worth.  Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased takes us through studies on this globally.  How this shows up in America is much deeper than internationally due to the long-standing history of slavery and the evolution of Jim Crow Laws into systemic racism.  Even new Americans (from Africa even) come into America and make sure that they do not act like or become identified as Black. America treats Black folks as if this is the worst thing you could be in terms of race.  

Both deep seated racism and anti-Blackness are at work at Equitas, in Columbus organizations, and nationally.  

In these cases, we are often asked, ‘so what do you want us to do?’.  Although we will give clear next steps, we want to make sure that you hear this: Your former and current BIPOC employees have told you exactly what they would need to feel affirmed, included, and to experience belonging.  We are not giving new instructions to your Executive Leadership team. It will be your choice at this moment in time if you actually proceed with the deep individual and collective work that is required to continue to unpack and unlearn how White Supremacy is socialized into us from birth and lives in all of us. Below are recommendations, inclusive of demands established by current and former employees, to begin the work towards restoration and transformation at Equitas:

  1. Public acknowledgement and apology to former and current BIPOC staff. Be specific in your apology naming things that have occurred (microaggressions, racist and anti-Black situations, othering, disrespect, degradation, dehumanizing, ceilings in management, etc.).  
  2. Acknowledge that you have work to do and express your commitment to being anti-racist and pro-Black.  Make this acknowledgement and apology and have individuals at the C-Suite level sign on as they commit and agree.  *If this step is not taken and taken seriously, please do not attempt any other steps expecting BIPOC buy-in.  Without this step first and foremost, the other steps on their own are as performative as the previous work done in the organization around anti-racism and anti-oppressive spaces.*
  3. Do not retaliate, in any way, against your former and current BIPOC employees or allies.
  4. Equity audit for conditions of employment for BIPOC employees and termination policies and enactment for marginalized staff.
  5. Equity audit and curation of a plan to address racial inequities and disparities in representation in leadership.
  6. Create a strategic plan to address racial inequity in the organization with short term (1-2 years), mid-term (3-5 years), and long term (6-10years).
  7. Engage in Transformative Justice, Restorative Justice and Community Accountability with the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC Columbus Community.
  8. The immediate resource allocation and job description creation for a Chief People and Culture officer to oversee critical areas like Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion
  9. Increase staff representation to reflect the communities we serve with a commitment to increase BIPOC representation over the next 3-5 years. Additionally, actively invest in staff retention efforts. 
  10. Capacity continues to be a crucial issue that impacts the equity work of the organization. Resource allocation to build out diversity and inclusion department – team of one Director and 4 staff
  11. Resource allocation to build out HR team – employee relations roles and exit interview/retention work in collaboration with D&I
  12. Equitas Health requires new energy, vision and commitment to enter the next phase of its evolution. Equitas Health desperately needs a new CEO – for increased transparency and intentional representation, we encourage a national search with priority given to BIPOC candidates 
  13. To increase transparency and rebuild trust, we request semi-annual progress reports to be delivered to the staff and community for the next three years
  14. The board is in desperate need of renewed energy and diversification that represents the communities we seek to serve. We request new board leadership to hold the new CEO accountable for the trajectory of the organization. We request a 3-5 year comprehensive board diversification and member cultivation program be created by the end of 2022, which includes a goal of 50% BIPOC membership on the board before year five. 
  15. Equity across the organization is imperative. Ensuring that employees are compensated equitably is essential to employee retention and advancement. We request a compensation equity audit and adjustments made before fiscal year 2023 begins, so much needed salary adjustments are made

We are aware that it is unlikely that we will see the eradication of racism in our lifetimes. The Queer Partnership for Black Liberation is committed to Transformative Justice Principles, Restorative Justice and Community Accountability.

Equitas has a social responsibility to create safe(r) spaces for all people, honoring the humanity of every life, and centering marginalized experiences and needs (especially in health care). It is disappointing to hear how many attempts have been made to have this conversation and move towards effective change,  with those attempts having been dismissed or not sustained. 

We believe there is an opportunity here to acknowledge all of the harm, offer repair, commit to the long term work that is repair, and follow through with that repair. Equitas’ aggressive growth strategy has positioned it as the best funded and often only LGBTQIA+ affirming healthcare space and is therefore essential to  BIPOC LGBTQIA+ health and health experiences in Columbus and Ohio. Ideally, these would be positive, affirming, and inclusive for all BIPOC patients and staff. We are here to collaborate and be a part of this process as QPBL is committed to repair and racial healing.  Please let us know if that collaboration is invited. 

Signed,
The Queer Partnership for Black Liberation 🔥 

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The Buckeye Flame welcomes guest commentary from LGBTQ+ Ohioans in support of our mission to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging LGBTQ+ Ohio content that chronicles our triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in these pieces belong solely to the author of that individual piece, and not necessarily to the The Buckeye Flame.

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4 Comments

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