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Long Beach LGBTQ Center’s Porter Gilberg must be fired, letter says

Porter Gilberg

Porter Gilberg, executive director of the Long Beach LGBTQ Center, waves to the crowd during the Long Beach Pride Parade on May 20, 2018. Photo: Thomas R. Cordova for Q Voice News.

LONG BEACH — Porter Gilberg, executive director of the Long Beach LGBTQ Center, should be fired for creating a “traumatizing and hostile work environment…(that has) included misogyny toward, tokenism, and harassment of Black and non-Black women and femmes of color,” according to an open letter from 14 people who say they are former Long Beach LGBTQ Center employees.

According to the letter, the former employees have sent the Center’s board of directors a list of more than 60 specific incidents of alleged abusive behavior by Gilberg.

The letter also includes a list of accountability measures for the Center board to implement as well as recommendations that address “underlying institutional problems that allowed such abuses to continue unimpeded.”

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More than 1,300 people sign petition

More than 1,300 people have signed an online petition, attached to the letter, supporting Gilberg’s removal as executive director. 

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Many of these incidents have been previously reported to Center leadership, including the board of directors, but haven’t received substantive responses to redress the allegations or prevent future incidents, according to the letter.

Gilberg’s excessive usage of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements further silences former employees and prevents them from seeking appropriate recourse, according to the letter.

The letter states that the former employees are “deeply invested in the Center as a safe space…and demand transformational change within the Center to reflect a strong commitment to anti-racism, accountability, and justice for The Center’s staff, clients, and community.”

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Gilberg could not be reached for comment.

Stella Ursa, the Center’s board president, released a statement on social media Friday that read in part, “…we are taking the time to carefully review what we have been provided. We will provide our community with an update once we have thoroughly reviewed all the information.”

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‘Hostile work environment’

In recent weeks, Gilberg has been outspoken in the local Black Lives Matter movement in Long Beach. These incidents motivated the group to go public with their concerns, according to the letter.

“Gilberg’s purported support of this movement has made it clear to us that we can no longer remain silent about the traumatizing and hostile work environment created under his leadership, particularly for The Center’s Black employees,” according to the letter.

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Porter Gilberg tenure

Gilberg joined The Center as a volunteer in 2007 and was hired in 2010. After serving as operations manager and administrative director, Gilberg was appointed by the board in 2014 as executive director.

According to the Center website, Gilberg has helped grow the Center’s budget to more than $2 million and the staff to more than 30 people.

But according to the letter, Gilberg’s tenure is marked by a culture of intimidation and fear, which has resulted in large turnover of staff, particularly Black employees.

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Many staff members have witnessed Gilberg yell and shame their colleagues. They also have seen Gilberg openly belittle and criticize anyone working less than 50 hours a week, the letter said.

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The letter lists six accountability measures to implement within three months.

  • End Porter Gilberg’s contract as executive director of The Long Beach LGBTQ Center.
  • Ensure Gilberg is not offered an alternative role at the Center
  • Form a hiring committee with staff members and community members served by the Center’s programs to recruit and hire an executive director, with a focus on Black, indigenous, people of color.
  • Hire a third-party human resources agency.
  • Open a formal investigation of all previous terminations and resignations under Gilberg’s leadership.
  • Investigate Gilberg’s usage of non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality agreements for all non-HIPAA related actions of employees and terminate all previously recorded NDAs and confidentiality agreements.

The letter also includes guidelines to address the Center’s “underlying institutional problems that allowed such abuses to continue unimpeded.”

  • Implement and publicize a process, including a written response to any formal complaints, of how the Board of Directors reviews and investigates staff concerns.
  • Require board of directors to review employee exit interviews so the Board can provide feedback to the former employee’s supervisor.
  • Conduct bi-yearly reviews of the executive director through anonymous input from all Center employees that are overseen by the board.
  • Establish a stakeholder advisory council representative of the Long Beach community to ensure accountability for the Center’s commitment to anti-racism, inclusivness, and social justice.
  • Contract with a third-party expert on diversity and inclusion, selected by the stakeholder advisory council, to conduct a bi-annual cultural assessment. Recommendations should be public.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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