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Nearly 50 Mazzoni Center staffers walk out to protest firing of diversity director

"No one has any faith in this place," said one of the staffers who protested the diversity director's firing.

Staffers listen outside the Mazzoni Center as Kay Martinez (center, blue and yellow shirt) speaks hours after being fired Monday.
Staffers listen outside the Mazzoni Center as Kay Martinez (center, blue and yellow shirt) speaks hours after being fired Monday.Read moreMichael Boren

Dozens of staffers at the Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia's largest LGBT health-care provider, walked out Monday afternoon to protest the firing of the organization's director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Kay Martinez, 32, a queer transgender person of color, described being dismissed without explanation and accused Mazzoni's CEO, a straight Latina woman, of trying to silence staffers of color. The firing was the latest controversy at the center, which has faced accusations of racial hostility and sexual harassment in recent years.

"I have felt like since day one that my position has been targeted, that I have been targeted," Martinez said in an interview before the protest, which drew nearly 50 people outside Mazzoni's headquarters near 13th and Bainbridge Streets. "I have not been able to fully do the job that was written."

The job description — created by transgender employees and staffers of color — included working with Mazzoni's human resources office to address disparities in staffers' performance reviews, compensation and advancement opportunities, Martinez said. The position was proposed during the tenure of Mazzoni's former interim CEO, Stephen Glassman, who left the center after it hired current chief executive Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino in March.

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Martinez, who was hired in April, recalled telling Gonzalez Sciarrino about transgender staffers of color who felt they were underpaid and undervalued. Gonzalez Sciarrino replied that that was not Martinez's concern, according to Martinez.

The fact that Gonzalez Sciarrino is straight, rather than a member of the LGBT community, contributes to her lack of understanding, Martinez said.

"For her to make so many queer and trans staff of color feel sidelined, feel targeted, feel unwelcome, is a significant problem for an ally in this world," Martinez said.

A Mazzoni spokesman declined to comment Monday, saying, "This is a confidential personnel matter."

Among those who showed up to support Martinez was Amber Hikes, Philadelphia's LGBT affairs director. Others at the protest called for leadership changes at Mazzoni.

"No one has any faith in this place, and it's a vital resource to the community, so they need to," said Airen McClure, who is white and has worked in Mazzoni's legal services department for a year but is soon quitting.

Martinez received a letter of termination Monday morning from Mazzoni, which cited unprofessional conduct but offered few other details.

Martinez said the center may be acting in connection with a staff meeting Thursday in which a queer black staffer tried to speak about morale and Gonzalez Sciarrino cut the employee off, telling everyone to "disperse."

That night, Martinez and several other staffers created shirts that read "Disperse." They wore the shirts Friday, when they gathered in a common space in the center to hear the staffer's full speech.

Gonzalez Sciarrino emailed staff Monday about Martinez's departure.

This isn't the first time Mazzoni staffers have walked out. They also protested last year to call for then-CEO Nurit Shein to step down. Shein was accused of failing to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct involving Mazzoni's former medical director, Robert Winn, who resigned.

Shein — who was soon forced out — was also accused of fostering a racially hostile environment at the center. Black employees described being singled out for disciplinary action and facing retaliation for filing complaints.

This year, when Gonzalez Sciarrino was hired, critics said Mazzoni had failed to be transparent about the hiring process.

In May, Glassman, the former interim CEO, was also accused of sexually harassing employees during his tenure, which lasted nearly nine months. Gonzalez Sciarrino called the allegations "deeply disturbing" and hired a third party to investigate. Glassman has called the allegations "entirely false."