Originally published on Advocate.com October 21 2003 11:00 PM ET
Women's rights activist Patricia Ireland has been fired from her post as chief executive for the YWCA of the USA, just six months after she was hired. According to The Washington Post, the organization said it "proved to be the wrong platform" for her advocacy on women's issues. Ireland, 58, headed the National Organization for Women, which advocates for gay rights among the many progressive stands it takes, for 10 years before joining the YWCA in April and has been a longtime advocate for abortion rights. The Y's board trumpeted her arrival as the culmination of an effort to transform the YWCA into an "aggressive" advocate for "women's empowerment and racial justice."
But Ireland's appointment caused a firestorm among conservative Christian groups who campaigned for her removal. Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, told the Post that she believes the YWCA reversed course under pressure from "soccer moms across America" who cut off donations. Lafferty said she had "done a lot of TV and radio on this over the last few months," telling audiences on Christian programs that Ireland is "a bisexual who never met an abortion she didn't like. What I found was, time and again, mothers and grandmothers were very
concerned that if they dropped their children or grandchildren off at the YWCA, they would be taken care of by lesbians."
Audrey Peeples, head of the YWCA's National Coordinating Board, denied that there was a nationwide drop in donations or that pressure from Christian groups played a part in the board's decision. "We have the deepest admiration for Ms. Ireland's dedication to women's issues and social justice, but the YWCA has proved to be the wrong platform for her to advocate on these issues," Peeples said in a statement. She declined to be more specific about what advocacy by Ireland had turned out to be wrong for the YWCA, saying she could not discuss "confidential personnel matters." Dorris Daniel-Parkes, the YWCA's director of human resources, was named interim director.
Ireland said she was caught by surprise by the board's decision at a meeting last week in New York. She said she had taken a red-eye flight from California, where she was on business, to attend a meeting with an important donor group Thursday morning. The meeting went extremely well, she said, and was followed by an elegant lunch. "We had a lovely meal, and then they called me into this small room and fired me," she told the Post. Ireland said she still does not know the reason for her dismissal. "We had and still have the same positions on many of the issues the right wing was upset about," she said, noting that the YWCA has "a very strong pro-choice stand" and "a very strong stand in favor of lesbian and gay civil rights."