Former employees of AIDS Project Arizona say the agency's new director, Nova Lawson, who was hired in August 2003, is at best "misinformed" and at worst "homophobic," Phoenix's Echo Magazine reported. Garry Robinson, who is among nine staff members at the agency to quit or be fired since December, said one particular incident he witnessed causes him to believe that Lawson--who is heterosexual--is homophobic. After a male coworker gave a goodbye kiss to his partner in Lawson's presence, Robinson said Lawson became "livid" and told him to tell the man "if I see that again that I will fire him," he told Echo.
Other former staff members told the publication that Lawson has created an atmosphere of fear and low morale at the agency. "I think almost everybody there realized that their days were numbered," Roger Buckland, who formerly directed the agency's food pantry until he was fired, told Echo. Robinson claimed he was fired from the staff of APAZ's African-American outreach program, TRIBE, after he filed a formal letter of complaint about policy changes at the organization. The agency said he was dismissed for not scheduling vacation time early enough.
Lawson denied that she is homophobic, claiming to have had several gay and lesbian friends for more than 20 years, Echo reports. APAZ board chairman Arcelious Stephens said the organization is working harder than ever to support HIV-positive people and prevent others from becoming infected with the virus. "The focus of the agency has not changed. We've always been there for clients and intend to keep it that way," he told Echo. Policy changes implemented by Lawson, including a dress code, were designed to make the agency more professional and to bring it up to par with other area businesses, he added.