Former employees pen open letter alleging a history of hostile workplace behavior at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach

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The Center Long Beach, located at 2017 E 4th St, in Long Beach, CA.

Over the years, the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach has stated its personal mission is to “advance equity for LGBTQ people through culturally responsive advocacy, education, programs and services”.

For many, the Center is a way to access support groups, workshops, seminars, legal services, free HIV and STI testing and much more.

However, in recent weeks the Center is facing scrutiny due to an open letter released by a group of 14 former employees that described a hostile workplace and a culture of misogyny against Black and non-white women of color.

The collective which goes by the name Save The Center Long Beach, released the letter through Instagram, identifying the Center’s Executive Director, Porter Gilberg, as a source of the Center’s issues, leading to his decisions to take a leave of absence.

Porter Gilberg, Executive Director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach. (Via centerlb.org)

In the letter released on June 26, Save The Center Long Beach calls for the removal of Gilberg, citing “the traumatizing and hostile work environment created under his leadership, particularly for the Center’s Black employees.”

In an email to the Signal Tribune, Save The Center Long Beach claimed that Gilberg showed a lack of concern for the Center’s staff. They state that when confronted about workplace issues, such as disagreements over work hours, inadequate pay or arguments, Gilberg would become start exhibiting hostile behavior.

“Once the behavior escalated, it did not seem to stop until that staff member was fired or quit because they couldn’t handle the treatment anymore,” the group said. “The behavior ranged from things like silent treatment and avoidance to exhibiting aggressive behavior or acting condescendingly to staff in front of other staff members, clients, or Center stakeholders.”

The group also alleged that Gilberg would push employees to work long hours, sometimes over 50 hours a week. They also claim that he would belittle employees who did not meet this standard.

The group also stated that Gilberg exhibited racist behavior, even as the Center tried to hire more Black staff members. According to the group, they were unaware of any Black employees who worked at the Center in 2015.

Since then, the Center has made an effort to diversify its staff, but the group alleges that Gilberg did not create a welcoming environment for Black employees and that many of those employees would quit in response or be terminated from their positions.

“We feel that Gilberg tokenizes The Center’s Black staff members, not honoring the advice nor work of Black leadership, but boasting the diversity of the workplace. We feel this is demonstrated in the way he has spoken about Black staff members and demeaned and disrespected them,” said members of Save The Center Long Beach.

The group claims they are aware of at least 15 Black staffers who quit due to these circumstances.

Save The Center Long Beach also stated that members have tried to resolve issues with Gilberg directly. Still, many grievances were dismissed or met with anger. When apologies did occur, the group claims Gilberg would continue the same pattern of behavior.

Over the years, the group claims staff members have provided the Center’s Board of Directors with over 60 complaints from staff concerning issues with Gilberg’s behavior, but received little response.

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach Board of Directors (Via centerlb.org)

“Former and current staff have always been willing to work with The Center and Board leadership,” said Save The Center Long Beach. “Many staff members have gone to the Board about Gilberg’s behavior, and official complaints have been filed. Staff have been told their complaints are “under investigation,” after which we feel the complaints are not properly addressed nor investigated and no changes are made.”

According to the group, the open letter detailing Gilburg’s alleged actions came after his public support of Black Lives Matter and the Black community. The group decided to draft the open letter as a response.

In the aftermath of the letter, Gilburg acknowledged the allegations on his Facebook page and stated that he took the concerns outlined in the issue seriously and supported an independent investigation of his leadership at the Center. He also said he would not be speaking publicly about the allegations.

“I am fully committed to The Center, an organization I have been in service to for more than 13 years. In order to support the integrity of this process, I’ll be taking a leave from The Center and won’t be making further public statements until its conclusion,” Gilberg said in the post.

On June 27, Stella Ursa, the Chair and President of the Board for The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, also weighed in on the situation and issued a statement saying that the Center would be reviewing the allegations against the organization.

Stella Ursua, Board Chair & President of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach. (Via centerlb.org)

The Signal Tribune reached out to the Center but did not receive any response as of press time.

In a second public statement issued on July 11, the organization stated, “The Center has retained an outside law firm to conduct a neutral, prompt, and thorough investigation. The Center’s leadership asks its employees to allow that process to proceed; no further comment about the investigation will be provided at this time.”

“The Center remains committed to serving the community and we ask for your continuing support of our programs during this time.”

As the Center investigates the open-letter claims, Save The Center Long Beach says the decision to speak out publicly was a difficult choice. Still, the group says that it is motivated by a deep love for the Center. Its goal is to help change the Center to an organization that supports all LGBTQ people, but they believe that to do this, the Center must change.

The group is advocating for the hiring of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) staff along with livable wages and better health benefits.

Additionally, the group calls for hiring a third-party human resources department versed in anti-racist, queer and trans-affirmative hiring and retaining practices.

Save The Center Long Beach is also calling for the following changes to be made in order to address the issues outlined in their letter, including:

• Implementing and publicizing an outlined process of how the Board of Directors reviews and investigates staff concerns to include a written response to any formal complaints.
• Requiring the formal review of exit interviews within the Board of Directors, through which the Board can provide feedback and suggested changes to the exiting employee’s supervisor.
• Conducting bi-yearly upward reviews of the Executive Director through anonymous input from all Center employees overseen by the Board of Directors.
• Establishing a stakeholder advisory council representative of the diverse Long Beach community to ensure community accountability for the Center’s commitment to its values of anti-racism, inclusivity, and social justice.
• Contracting 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 made public.

Moving forward, the Save The Center Long Beach group says that its members are committed to staying together and expect that any change will be a process. However, the group says that it is intent on initiating a positive change in the Center.

“We would like to reiterate that we are motivated by a love of our community, and an understanding that we all deserve an affirming, safe LGBTQ center that uplifts and centers BIPOC,” Save The Center Long Beach said. “Until we see true transformative change at the LGBTQ Center Long Beach, we will continue to push for accountability.”