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Calgary Outlink faces dissolution after accusations of racism

By Melanie Woods, September 10 2015 —

The Calgary Outlink Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity pulled out of Calgary Pride, suspended all services until further notice and is facing dissolution following accusations of structural racism and mismanagement within the organization.

Outlink has operated in Calgary for over 25 years. It provided workshops, an LGBTQ-specific crisis line, community events and peer support to the LGBTQ community. The organization’s current board of directors said that if a new board of directors of at least five members is not found, the organization will be dissolved.

The five remaining members of the Calgary Outlink board of directors issued a statement to the Gauntlet on Sept. 3 announcing the likely dissolution of the organization. As of Sept. 5, four out of the five remaining board members have resigned.

Rebecca Sullivan is a women’s studies professor at the University of Calgary. She is worried about what impact the potential disappearance of Outlink will have.

“The University of Calgary’s gender and sexuality support network works very closely with community support systems and has relied on the services of Outlink,” Sullivan said. “With Outlink suspended, we need to do all we can to help not just our students, but everyone in the [LGBTQ] community.”

The initial suspension of programming occurred after an incident report filed by one of the organization’s programs in July revealed larger management issues.

Beyond Borders was a volunteer-run program within Outlink designed to provide support for people of colour and recent immigrants in the LGBTQ community. Volunteers involved with Beyond Borders filed a formal incident report to the Outlink board of directors on July 21 that requested the firing of executive director Brett Mason and accused the organization of structural racism.

Both Mason and a member of Beyond Borders that filed the incident report declined to comment. The report outlined several specific events, including a lack of resources despite available funds and the use of “disrespectful, racist” questioning by Mason in an interview setting.

“We want Outlink to publicly acknowledge that due to the lack of their intention and proper policies, Beyond Borders needs to be closed,” the report said. “This is not due to lack of the need of the group, but due to lack of organizational competence.”

Seven of the 12 members of the Outlink board of directors resigned immediately after the report was filed. They have not been replaced.

Calgary Outlink announced on August 26 that they had laid off all paid staff, suspended all services and were seeking new board members.

A town hall meeting was held on August 28 to discuss the incident report and the future of Calgary Outlink. Three of the five remaining board members at that time were in attendance.

LGBTQ-community member Stasha Huntingford was brought in as one of the facilitators for the meeting.

“[Outlink] is a vital service in this community and for it to vanish without trace is a horrible loss,” Huntingford said. “But if services are being provided in a racist way, if people are fighting racism to access services, then it is unethical to continue.”

The board’s statement offered two ways of moving forward: dissolving the organization completely or finding five new board members to run the centre.

Huntingford believes Outlink’s initial suspension of programming was irresponsible.

“[Outlink’s actions] don’t acknowledge that the population accessing services is really vulnerable, has an incredibly high rate of suicide, and so a lot of the services are designed to intervene with that,” Huntingford said.

U of C Q Centre Coordinators Leah Schmidt and Katie O’Brien are also concerned about the gap in services for the LGBTQ community. The Q Centre has been involved with Calgary Outlink since its inception.

“We hope that the resource gap that has been left by [Outlink’s] stalled front-line services will be able to be negotiated through community effort,” the Q Centre said in a statement. “We want to ensure that marginalized populations in Calgary, specifically young queer people in need of support, will still be able to find adequate resources at this time.”

The Alex Centre, HIV Community Link, the Calgary Centre for Sexual Health and various other organizations have reached out to the LGBTQ community to offer various services in place of Outlink.

“I am confident that the community will band together and we will find new ways to serve our LGBTQ community,” Sullivan said. “Calgary is a good city and we care. And the LGBTQ community in Calgary is filled with good people who care. We just need to work together.”

Note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted on September 4 2015

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