Outfest staff hit with total layoffs

Outfest Union Layoffs Programming

With apparently no advance warning, Outfest has laid off all remaining employees, including those people who were placed on mandatory, unpaid leave last month by the organization. Photo: Outfest

With apparently no advance warning, Outfest has laid off all remaining employees, including those people who were placed on mandatory, unpaid leave last month by the organization.

The nonprofit LGBTQ film festival terminated all of its programming in October, though the organization it would be temporary.

Also, in an Oct. 17 social media post from Queer Filmworkers United, a union of workers at Outfest, the group said it obtained an email that Outfest had sent to top donors, saying the organization was in “serious financial jeopardy” and needs to raise $750,000 to fix the problem.

The handful of Outfest employees who were trying to hold down the fort after numerous employees were let go last month were notified via a mass email from the board’s co presidents on Friday at 4:14 p.m. that they were laid off effective immediately, according to screenshots shared on social media by members of Queer Filmmakers United.

“Today, Friday October 27th – with less than two hours notice before the end of the work day – the Co-Presidents of the Outfest Board of Directors Nii-Quartelai Quartey and Bil Bertini permanently laid off all remaining staff at Outfest via a mass email,” Queer Filmmakers United said in an Instagram post.

“This includes the large number of staff members who, two weeks ago, were placed on involuntary, unpaid leaves of absence and were told that they would be returning to work this upcoming Monday, the 30th. Staff were suddenly locked out of their Outfest email accounts, and informed that their health care benefits would expire in four days.”

Kieran Medina, former educational programs manager posted a response to news of employees being laid off less than two hours before the end of the work day.

“Sit with that when you hear Outfest leadership say this decision was “tough” for them, when you hear them talk about how badly they feel. Their words are EMPTY. Remind them what compassion in action actually looks like and this… this ain’t it,” Medina said.

“Compassion means transparency, respect, care and honesty. None of those values were present today, over the past 2 months, or over the past 15 months I’ve been back as full time staff,” Medina said. “The lack of care for our livelihoods and our mental health are an indication of poor leadership (if you can even call it that).”

“Remember this when they try to blame our unionizing efforts,” Medina said. “Our union was a direct response to the lack of transparency we’ve been dealing with for months. We’ve been organizing for months, with the hope of getting a seat at the table and making Outfest a better workplace for all. Unfortunately, these are not the values of Outfest leadership and I’m no longer staying silent to the harm they’ve caused the organization, the staff, and me.”

A former Outfest board member, Alan Koenigsberg, replied to Medina’s post.

“I resigned my board seat publicly and in protest to the shockingly horrible leadership by the @outfest executive committee and their supporters,” Koenigsberg said. “I was terribly sad to leave a board and withdraw from an organization that I loved so much for the art, visibility and over 42 years of changing hearts and minds.”

Outfest board members could not be reached for comment.

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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