Three senior members of the Association of Queer Women and Allies’ executive board will resign after a leader in the group was criticized for remarks made about minority students in a private Facebook group.
AQWA’s president, public relations chair and events chair will step down Wednesday after the former vice president of the organization said in a Facebook group for LGBTQ women at GW last month that people of color don’t attend AQWA events, sparking online backlash from members of the group who said the comments were inappropriate and offensive.
Leaders of the organization said their resignations will give members the opportunity to elect more diverse representatives in a special executive board election later this month and address larger questions of inclusivity within GW’s LGBTQ community.
Tara Fitzmartin, the president of AQWA, condemned the comment calling it “racist,” in a separate post in the group. She told members of the private group that the post, which was later deleted, “misrepresented AQWA on many levels, one of which was an act of erasure: our queer members of color were specifically ignored and erased by her suggestion that they ‘don’t show up,’” according to the post, which was reviewed by The Hatchet. The group had 130 members as of Sunday.
“I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I recognize that my intent does not mean people were not hurt.”
Immediately after the comment was posted, Fitzmartin said AQWA leaders asked for the resignation of the group’s vice president, Juliana Kogan, who had made the comments.
Fitzmartin said she then decided to step down herself and called on the other senior members of the group to follow in an effort to form a more representative leadership. Seven of the eight members of the current executive board are white, and the only person of color holds a temporary position on the board.
AQWA will be without an executive board for about a week this month after the senior members resign, but before an online election of a new board is held Jan. 24.
All senior members who resigned will be allowed to run in the elections, except Kogan, who said in an interview that she hopes to remain involved in the organization. Fitzmartin said she will run for president again.
“The elections are our way of having the community decide if they still have trust in us and the members that do decide to run again, if they deserve to have these positions and to refresh and to reinvigorate and make the AQWA e-board inclusive,” Fitzmartin said.
In an interview, Kogan declined to comment directly on her remarks in the group. She said in an email that she did not believe her comments were offensive when she posted them, but later “comprehended how they could be perceived as such after the nuances were pointed out to me and I adjusted my position.”
“I hold no prejudice against people of color and outright condemn racist ideologies,” Kogan said. “I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I recognize that my intent does not mean people were not hurt.”
She said she hopes the overhaul of the executive board shows that the group takes “responsibility for harmful things that were said in the past” and has “an active desire to better the organization, educate membership and just be a better organization as a whole.”
The day after the remark was posted, Kogan apologized in GW Gaydies for her comments and announced her resignation. She said she didn’t want her “poor words and actions” to be reflected on AQWA.
“I realize I have come from a place of privilege and ignorance,” she wrote. “I should have done prior research before engaging at all with the original post. I am now more informed and realize why my words were as harmful as they were, and as unacceptable as they were.”
In a statement emailed to AQWA’s members Wednesday, which was obtained by The Hatchet, organization leaders said Kogan’s comments “were used in a way that attempted to excuse and ignore the lack of representation within, accessibility to and exclusivity of queer spaces to people of color.”
“When you are elected to a position, you are meant to be accountable and whenever something goes wrong.”
In the statement, leaders said the group will pursue “additional steps” to make AQWA a more inclusive space, like pursuing planned diversity and bias trainings at the group’s first-ever LGBTQ leadership conference in March and likely launching a regular forum for the queer and multicultural communities this semester.
“Inclusion cannot be demarcated as a series of criteria that must be met in order to be fully achieved,” the statement read. “We at AQWA believe that we, along with the entirety of the queer community, have a long way to go to be inclusive to POC.”
Tyler Katz, AQWA’s public relations chair, who said they will run again in the special election, said the resignations could serve as an example to other queer groups at GW and elsewhere to be accountable for a lack of inclusivity within their own communities.
“When you are elected to a position, you are meant to be accountable and whenever something goes wrong, you have to know where it was your fault, where it was not your fault, what’s within your circle of control and take the best measure to make yourself as accountable as possible,” they said.