I recently left an organization that I was very proud to be a part of. People have asked why I left, so I am sharing the Formal Complaint I wrote before I left. Some details have been redacted for legal purposes.
Dear Board of Directors,
I have been a _________ [Organization] member since 2011. I was on the Board of Directors for __________ [Organization] from October 2015 until October 2017. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of __________ [Organization] for many years – up until this past July when I experienced unfair treatment at the hands of Managing Artistic Director _________ [Person's name]. I resigned from the Board of Directors on October 2, 2017, as a direct result of this unfair treatment. I am hereby filing a formal complaint against Ms. ________ [Person's name].
Complaint 1: That the Managing Artistic Director falsely accused me of the charge of promoting hate speech, despite the fact that I have never once spoke or wrote the words in question (see Detail 1), never agreed with the words in question, nor do the words in question even meet the criteria to be defined as hate speech by any authority on the matter.
Complaint 2: That the Managing Artistic Director threatened to try to remove me from the Board of _________ [Organization] because of the aforementioned false accusation.
Complaint 3: That the Managing Artistic Director threatened to deny me access to programs that I helped create within the organization, solely on the basis of the aforementioned false accusation.
Complaint 4: That the Managing Artistic Director of an Arts Organization attempted to censor anyone’s artistic expression, without cause, solely because it contradicted her own personal opinion.
Complaint 5: That the Managing Artistic Director made several disparaging comments and decisions about me that seemed connected to the aforementioned false accusation.
Complaint 6: That the Managing Artistic Director body-shamed me.
Complaint 7: That the Managing Artistic Director disability-shamed me.
Detail 1: On July 15, 2017, Ms. Stephanie Porfert (my cousin) posted some comments about a sensitive subject matter on my personal Facebook page. She stated that she believed “abortion was evil”, and she gave reasons why she believed this way (See below for screenshots). I replied that I disagreed with her, but that I respected her right to her opinion. On July 17, 2017, Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] entered into an argument with my family member on my Facebook page. This is not unusual on my page, as I have friends and family from every political, religious, ethnic, gender, transgender, sexual preference, and geographical backgrounds all cohabitating on my small little corner of the internet. Sometimes this diversity leads to debates or argument, but I try to always encourage civility, even while disagreeing.
Detail 2: On July 17, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director] contacted me via private message and demanded that I remove my family member’s comments from my page. (See below for screenshots). I felt that Ms. _______’s demand crossed a line, as she is neither my boss nor does she have any authority over my personal Facebook page. I stated that I believe in fair and open dialogue, and that I was sorry she was upset, but that I would not remove the comment. Ms. ______ accused me of not complying solely because I am a “white male”. Ironically, all three people in this discussion were white, and the demand that she placed on me was to silence a woman. In my opinion, a man silencing a woman over any issue – but especially over a women’s health issue – would be far more misogynistic than allowing her to speak.
Ms. _______ then claimed that I was “representing hate on my page”, and stated that she would delete me as a friend and report me to Facebook for promoting hate speech. (Click here for the definitions of “hate speech” by Facebook, the American Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union – all of which contradict Ms. ______’s [Managing Artistic Director] definition of “hate speech”). I truly was upset to be responsible in any way for upsetting Ms. ______, whom I respected. After all, Ms. ______ and I are aligned politically on most issues, including this one. Our only disagreement seemed to be about Facebook etiquette, and about how we interact with people with whom we disagree. I am strongly opposed to silencing anyone, unless they make threatening or belligerent statements. I have deleted and will continue to delete comments on my page that are threatening and/or verbally abusive, but I did not (and still do not) feel that Ms. Porfert’s comments qualified as either.
Detail 3: Later that day, I worried that this disagreement might impact our working relationship at _______ [Organization]. I reached out to Ms. ______ and requested that we meet face-to-face to discuss this issue, as opposed to hashing out our disagreements over Facebook messenger. I even suggested we ask someone else to mediate our discussion (perhaps _________ [Organization] Board President _______ [Board President's name]) if she didn’t feel comfortable meeting one-on-one. I did not receive a reply until July 21 (4 days later), when Mr. _____ [Board President] wrote to us both and agreed to set up a mediation.
Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] and I met with Mr. ______ [Board President] on July 26 at 12pm. I had hoped for a productive dialogue, in which Ms. ______ would voice her concerns, I would voice mine, and we would ultimately both recognize a mutual respect and desire to work with one another. I was mistaken. During the next hour and a half, I was accused no less than 6 times of “promoting hate speech” on my page. As opposed to two colleagues listening and discussing a serious issue with one another, this meeting became an interrogation session in which numerous allegations were hurled at me without justification.
I have strong, deeply held beliefs about freedom of speech, but my beliefs were declared invalid in the face of the alleged “hate speech” of Ms. Porfert (my cousin). Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] threatened to bring these accusations before the Board of ________ [Organization] in order to have me removed, under the premise that if people saw all this “hate” on my page, they might somehow mistake my cousin’s comments as an official policy position from _______ [Organization]. She then stated that she felt very uncomfortable with me working with a _____ [Organization] mentorship student, even though I was the one who helped create the mentorship program and sought out numerous enrollees.
She also questioned my fitness to be a college professor, since I “allow hate speech” on my page. The irony is that my students come from every political, social, religious, ethnic and so on, backgrounds, and many of my students are actually pro-life, as well as many that are pro-choice. In all of my classes, we spend a great deal of time listening to one another and discussing complex issues with respect and consideration. Open dialogue and free sharing of ideas is something I encourage in all of my classrooms as well as on Facebook. In this meeting, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] stated, “I wonder how your student’s parents, or even your dean would feel if they knew you had so much hate on your page”? I interpreted that statement as a threat – as though she intended to contact my dean. Not that I had anything to hide, but the prospect of having to defend myself in this manner was appalling. Earlier in the conversation, she asked if my Facebook page had any privacy settings. It did not, as I had never run into a problem like this before. (Consider that – in 14 years of having a Facebook account, I had never run into a problem like this before). Based in part on this perceived threat, I agreed to add privacy settings to my page.
Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] stated that she would accept that compromise. I compromised in agreeing to add privacy settings to my Facebook page. She compromised in agreeing to lay off the incendiary charges. I commented to Mr. ______ [Board President] after the meeting: “That was brutal. If she ever talks to me like that again, I’m leaving the Board.”
Detail 4: On August 20, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director], myself, and several others met with the _________ [Organization] mentorship students, and the meeting was overall very successful. During that meeting, however, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] spoke at considerable length for the need for students to stay off their mentor’s Facebook pages. I actually agreed with her on this topic, but then she repeated this statement over and over and over again. By the fourth time she repeated it, it felt like a personal attack on me.
Detail 5: On September 21, 2017, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] chose to demote me from Executive Director to Program Director for the 24-Hour Plays. This decision was made without consulting me or the rest of the Board. (See below for screenshot) Two years prior, I was the co-Executive Director of the event, and it went very smoothly. I was originally brought on to reprise my role. There was no reason to demote me, other than what I perceive to be personal vengeance. Because of the previous conflict I’d had with her, I was hesitant to begin a new argument.
Detail 6: On September 22, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director] and I entered into a seemingly routine disagreement on protocol for the 24-Hour Play Festival. Earlier in the planning stages, the committee voted on how we should divide up the actors. The committee voted unanimously to allow Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] and Ms. ________ [another Board member] to divide the actors’ headshots into 12 separate packets, with a careful eye to diversity regarding age, race, gender, and so on. I was a proud supporter of this proposal. However, I requested at that time that we allow the playwrights to randomly select the packets so that no one could claim favoritism, or have any hurt feelings. The committee voted (at my insistence) to allow playwrights to randomly select their packets. For approximately two months, that was the designated plan – until September 22, when Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] stated, in an email thread, “I think we should hand them their packet. One less thing to do.”
I replied with: “I strongly disagree. If we pre-plan and they find out it was pre-planned, there may be some bitterness if they end up with a cast they don't like. Especially if someone else ends up with a great cast. The randomness protects us from accusations of favoritism.”
Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] replied in an email to the entire 24-hour play committee by accusing me of not respecting or understanding diversity. (See below for screenshot). I made no claims about diversity in my comment, and have been a proud supporter of the plan to pre-fill each packet with a diverse cast from the beginning. My concern in this instance was only in regards to the vote we had already taken, which was to allow playwrights to randomly select their packet. I felt that Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] was now unilaterally changing the rules that we had already voted on.
I believed that her accusation about my lack of respect for diversity to be so off-base, and so incredibly distasteful in light of her previous unfair charges against me, that I wrote a resignation letter to Mr. _______ [Board President] the very next day (See below for screenshot). I agreed to work through the 24-hour festival, but then resign immediately after.
I then clarified in an email to the 24-Hour Play committee that I had full respect for diversity, and was only concerned about the randomness of the packets. Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] remained silent for two full days. At 2:14pm on September 24, I submitted a resignation letter to Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] stating how hurt I was that she would continue to accuse me of such things without cause. (See below for screenshot). I again stated my intentions to resign immediately after the 24-hour play festival.
Detail 7: At 10:07pm on September 24, 2017, Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] finally acknowledged that she had made an error in her assumption. She did not apologize for her accusation, but she thanked me for clarifying my position. (See below for screenshot) I accepted this error. I accept that a mistake had been made. However, I felt (and still feel) that she would not have made the same mistake if my comments had been made by any other person on that committee. I believe she accused me of not respecting diversity because she already believed I did not respect diversity (which is simply false, and I believe rooted in a false understanding of the events on July 15).
Detail 8: On September 27, 2017, the Board of Directors met for our final discussion on the 24-Hour Play Festival before the event. In that discussion, I stated that I would be there to help playwrights wherever needed. Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] replied, in front of the entire Board, that “what I see you best suited for, Dan, is making sure the lids are on the food, and making sure that no one gets lost.” I am a playwright with 20+ years of experience in the field, over 400 productions around the world, I have a Master’s Degree in Dramatic Writing, and I teach playwriting for a living. In addition, I was one of the only people on the committee with any experience running a 24-hour play festival. I can see no other way to interpret her comment except as an intentional insult.
To be very clear, I am happy to get my hands dirty and do whatever needs doing. Indeed, for nearly two hours after the event, I cleaned garbage pails and carried boxes wherever they needed to go. But where I am “best suited” in an event on playwriting is most certainly not in putting the lids on the food. I will do that if needed, but I am beyond capable of more.
Detail 9: On Saturday, September 30, the day of the 24 Hour Play Festival, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] finally (6 days later) acknowledged my resignation email, and she apologized for hurting my feelings. (See below for screenshot) It was a well-written apology, and seemed to be a heartfelt sentiment. The only part that concerned me was this sentence: “It’s not personal, and never has been.” I can assure everyone reading this complaint that the discussion about my Facebook page certainly felt personal, and it was very difficult for me to believe that sentence. This point aside, I appreciated the apology and told her as much. I expressed my desire to have a fun evening working with one another.
Unfortunately, things did not improve.
Detail 9: That same day, the committee met at 12pm to go over the plans for the 24-Hour Play Festival. We took a tour of the facilities and saw the costumes. I asked the question, “Do we have enough costumes for actors of different sizes?” Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] looked at me from head to toe and said, “MOST actors are skinny, so no. I think these will be fine.” As a larger sized actor myself, I found this horribly offensive. Luckily, Ms. _____ [another Board Member] corrected her by saying, “No no no, we have plenty of actors of different sizes. A very diverse group.” And sure enough, there were at least three actors at the event my size or larger.
Detail 10: As the evening wore on, the tension between us got worse. It was a stressful event, especially as the night progressed and no one was sleeping. Regardless, I watched Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] thank every volunteer and every committee member there – except for me. I don’t recall a single “thank you” the entire 24 hours we worked together. Not one “good job”, nothing. Despite the fact that she just told me Saturday morning that none of this was “personal”. At best, I feel this was a missed opportunity to set our differences aside and for her to truly be a great leader for the organization. At worst, I feel this was just another intentional slight against me.
Detail 11: Instead of the slightest positive acknowledgment that evening, Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] provided me with a number of eye rolls, loud sighs, and a raised voice to let me know she was irritated with me for most of the event. At one point, she asked me to print something. I printed it, put it at her desk, and she yelled at me for not printing it. I said, “It’s right there!” On several occasions, she apparently asked me something, but I didn’t hear her, and she started throwing her hands around like she was furious. I wear hearing aids. I am completely deaf in one ear, but my hearing aids do a nice job of helping me – except sometimes in noisy rooms, and then my hearing aids don’t always know what to focus on – the loud printer, the person speaking, or the dog barking across the street. All someone has to do is tap me on the shoulder and repeat themselves, and I’m happy to do almost anything the person asks. Ms. ______’s impatience with my hearing loss began to feel very offensive by about the 18th hour.
Although I had not slept in over 24 hours, I could still barely sleep when I arrived home from the event as I was so frustrated with the way I’d been treated. I spent that night composing my official resignation letter from the Board. The next day, October 2nd, I proofread my letter and sent it in. (See screenshot below).
Conclusion: My original intention was to stay private about this abuse, so as not to upset the organization, and you will see me state as much in two of the attachments. However, after I resigned, I spoke to several of my colleagues who advised me to at least document my concerns with the Board, so as to protect others in case this behavior repeats itself.
It is not my intention to have Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] fired or unjustly punished. I believe she brings quite a lot of good to the organization. I also find her to be a strong person with strong beliefs, and I think that’s needed in our society today. However, I too am a strong person with strong beliefs, and her lack of respect for me in this regard is troublesome. There is no room in an organization like _____ [Organization] for body shaming, disability shaming, or intolerance towards other opinions or beliefs that contradict our own. Ms. ____’s outspokenness about issues such as diversity and inclusiveness are indeed assets to the organization, but such claims towards inclusiveness become hypocritical if an arbitrary boundary is placed when it comes to personal beliefs.
I also wish to state very clearly that had Ms. Porfert’s comments actually qualified as hate speech, I would have removed the comments on my own, and Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] and I would never have had this conversation. The fact that Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] chose to accuse me of such a serious charge as “promoting hate speech” without actually researching the definition of “hate speech” is a serious problem. The fact that she threatened to abuse her authority as Managing Artistic Director in order to have me removed from the Board, or potentially fired from my day job, is an even bigger problem.
It is my hope that these complaints may be used as a learning tool to help the organization move forward. Until and unless it does, I can no longer consider myself proud to be a member.