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Outfest's Union Effort Meets Employee Layoffs and Executive Director Takes Leave of Absence

Outfest's Union Effort Meets Employee Layoffs and Executive Director Takes Leave of Absence

<p>Outfest's Union Effort Meets Employee Layoffs and Executive Director Takes Leave of Absence</p>

Staff members faced unexpected job cuts as unionization move unfolds at the LGBTQ+ nonprofit.


Following a staff attempt to unionize, LGBTQ+ nonprofit Outfest laid off five employees, while its executive director, Damien Navarro, has taken an unanticipated leave of absence. The organization's board said the layoffs were pre-planned.

The layoffs came shortly after the formation of Queer Filmmakers United (QFU) by the Outfest staff, who informed the board about their intention to unionize, as per a report by IndieWire. The employees laid off include Martine McDonald, director of artist development and the organization's only Black employee, and Gabi Grossman, senior programming coordinator and Outfest's only transgender woman employee. Others laid off included Alex Gootter, development coordinator; Hansen Bursic, marketing manager; and Daniel Cooke, the organization's senior programmer.

The outlet reports that the board of Outfest refuted claims linking the layoffs to the unionization attempt, attributing them instead to a “pre-planned reduction of workforce” amidst financial challenges due to recent industry strikes.

A termination letter mentioned by IndieWire attributed one layoff to a “lack of funding” due to the strikes.

Related - How to Make an LGBTQ+ Film: Advice From 22 Outfest Directors

Amidst these developments, Navarro’s sudden leave of absence took many by surprise, occurring soon after disclosing the unionization initiative. Zackery Alexzander Stephens has been appointed acting executive director in Navarro’s absence.

Founded in 1982 in Los Angeles, Outfest advances LGBTQ+ equality by crafting, disseminating, and safeguarding LGBTQ+ narratives on film. Over its extensive history, it has presented thousands of cinematic works from around the world, serving as a vital conduit for the representation and inclusion of LGBTQ+ community members in the cinematic arena. The organization orchestrates several flagship events yearly, such as the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival and the Outfest Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival, which are instrumental in underscoring and celebrating the diverse tapestry of queer storytelling and talent.

An unnamed QFU organizer expressed their disappointment, saying, “I am heartbroken over the state of this organization, which we have labored with love to build up. We find it disheartening that, in a time of change and potential growth, the immediate course of action has been one of contraction rather than collaboration.”

Regarding unionization, the Outfest board told IndieWire, “The Board has initiated measures to support organizational solvency and help realign the organization…It is with great sadness that we have to make layoffs, but these are in no way connected to the staff’s desire to unionize.”

Lead image shows Martine McDonald, Damien Navarro and Gabi Grossman.

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