Facing criticism, Mazzoni Center defends hiring straight CEO

The Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia’s largest health-care provider for LGBT people — which forced out its longtime chief executive last year amid accusations that she fostered a hostile environment for people of color, and ignored sexual misconduct claims against a former medical director — is defending its hiring as a new CEO Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino, a straight Latina woman.

“We are disappointed members of the community — our community — chose to judge Lydia without first meeting her, based on their perceptions of her race, gender identity and orientation, and not her qualifications,” the center’s board of directors, which hired Sciarrino, said in a statement Thursday evening.

The Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, an activist group that called attention to racism at the center last year, has called for Sciarrino to resign, using the hashtag #ByeLydia. They say she’s not local and has no experience in HIV and transgender-related health.

“Why is a straight Latinx woman running an LGBTQ-specific health center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? She’s from Florida. Why?” asked Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founder of the collective and a former HIV prevention counselor at the center, in a Facebook video this week.

SIGN PETITION RE: MAZZONI CENTER❗️❗️#MazzoniPetition2#BYELYDIA#STANDWITHMAZZONIWORKERS#WECANLEADOURSELVES***AMPLIFY***

Posted by Black & Brown Workers Cooperative on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sciarrino comes from Whole Family Health Center in South Florida, where she was CEO.

“Whole Family … was an HIV/AIDS clinic before it became the larger organization,” Mazzoni’s board of directors said in its statement. “The majority of clinic patients were LGBTQ.”

A spokesman for Mazzoni, citing a confidentiality agreement with a firm that helped find candidates for the center’s CEO position, said Friday it could not discuss how many people were interviewed, including how many identified as LGBT or people of color.

In a statement last Friday announcing her hiring, Sciarrino said: “The advances made in the areas of race and gender equality are under fire and the LGBTQ community continues to face insurmountable challenges in every aspect of life. Mazzoni Center is sitting on the cusp of a new movement and I want to be a part of it.”

Mazzoni leaders have been scrambling to restore order since former CEO Nurit Shein and several board members left the agency last year. That shake-up followed allegations of sexual misconduct by former medical director Robert Winn, who also resigned.

Black employees at the center had also reported having been singled out for disciplinary action and having faced retaliation for filing complaints. As a result, Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations ordered the center to undergo anti-discrimination training. Another LGBT-related organization, Philadelphia FIGHT, and most bars in the city’s Gayborhood also had to undergo the training.

>> Read more: Tackling racism in the Gayborhood: City updates its progress