Recent social media posts have raised concerns about Rainbow Alley and leadership at The Center. An open letter from former Rainbow Alley volunteers and youth has left many community members concerned. The letter accuses Center leadership of “mistreatment, disrespect, and disregard for minority communities exhibited by executive leadership at The Center, specifically as it relates to Rainbow Alley, The Center’s youth program serving LGBTQ youth from ages 11-21.”
In 1998, The Center developed Rainbow Alley as a ground-breaking youth program. The goals of the program have always been to provide a welcoming, supportive environment for LGBTQ youth and to empower youth to be themselves. The program has attracted hundreds of young people over the years who have found friends, support and the courage to speak truth to power. Over the years the program has gone through several changes in leadership, and Rainbow Alley youth and Center staff have worked together to advance the program and make it stronger.
Recently, Rainbow Alley again went through a leadership change when the former Youth Services Director and Outreach Manager left to pursue other opportunities. That transition resulted in much confusion and misinformation. As Center staff, we hope to address the concerns outlined in the public letter to assure our community that the youth attending Rainbow Alley are safe and that the program’s goals have not changed.
Specific concerns listed in the open letter are as follows:
Abuses of power:
- Camera installed in the youth space and footage used outside of stated purposes
- Intentional exclusion of stakeholders from meetings
- Lack of communication and transparency regarding decision-making
- Creation of fake policies to keep adult volunteers and youth out of Rainbow Alley
- Outright lies and selective application of “policies”
Mistreatment of youth staff, interns and volunteers:
- Threats of firing/termination
- Retaliatory firings and non-renewal of contracts
- Blatant ageism and overt disrespect of youth staff
Systematic disenfranchisement and undermining of youth empowerment:
- Intentional exclusion from the hiring process of a new Youth Services Director, disregard of previous agreement for Youth Staff’s involvement in hiring process
- Firing of volunteers without youth consultation
- Tokenization of youth to drive donations to The Center overall
Regarding the use of a camera in the space, security cameras are installed at The Center for the protection of our community, just as they are in in many public facilities. Center staff respect the confidentiality of all community members. The Center has specifically addressed concerns about HIPAA regulations and is operating well within the law.
A group of former Rainbow Alley volunteers contacted The Center’s board of directors with these concerns and called for accountability and requested that the board investigate the accusations. As the group responsible for overseeing Center staff and activities, the board conducted an investigation as requested. The co-chairs of the Center’s board of directors sent the following letter to the group of volunteers on March 27. We believe this letter demonstrates the efforts on behalf of the board to be responsive and respectful of youth and volunteer concerns regarding these matters:
Michael and I have had an opportunity to review the letters concerning Rainbow Alley submitted by you and the other adult volunteers, past and present, between March 15th and March 20th. Additionally, we met personally with the current Rainbow Alley youth staff on March 21st. Finally, we have conducted a thorough fact finding undertaking which included:
- Conducting staff interviews
- Reviewing relevant e-mail communication
- Reviewing relevant Center policies and procedures
- Assessing a timeline of events
- Reviewing personnel records and history
- Evaluating historical practices
Following a productive meeting with the Rainbow Alley youth last week regarding our findings, we wanted to provide you with an update on our next steps to share with the other letter writers as soon as possible.
Michael and I believe that there is clearly a perceived disconnection between Rainbow Alley youth staff and Center leadership that needs to be addressed and remedied. We invited the youth staff to provide us with their thoughts and requests for how we can work to remedy the communication issues and collaboration impediments. The youth staff came up with fantastic ideas that are already in the process of being implemented. Included in this list of solutions is:
- Inviting Deb, Kelly, and Rex to attend Rainbow Alley check-ins three times per week for the next three weeks in an effort to make themselves more available to engage with the youth and assist the youth in getting to know Kelly and the other Center leaders in a better capacity.
- The youth staff will be meeting with Kelly and Deb at least bi-monthly, and likely at a more frequent interval during the Director transition, to discuss needs and concerns of Rainbow Alley and address issues in a more timely fashion to avoid ongoing miscommunications and misperceptions.
- The youth staff will meet in the next three weeks with Center leadership for an “operations” meeting to discuss and plan for upcoming Rainbow Alley events such as Queer Prom, PrideFest, and Summer Academy.
- Rainbow Alley youth staff will provide a list of questions for the new Director to be answered via a video introduction from the new Director to the youth.
- Upon the new Director getting settled into the space, Rainbow Alley leadership and Center leadership will collaborate to modify The Center’s hiring policies to more specifically outline the youth staff’s role and responsibility in the hiring process for Rainbow Alley staff.
- Upon the new Director getting settled into the space, the board leadership in collaboration with Center leadership and Rainbow Alley leadership and youth staff, will schedule and engage in a facilitated appreciative inquiry to address the ongoing culture of Rainbow Alley and the relationship between Rainbow Alley and The Center as whole.
We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to review and respond to the concerns raised by the Rainbow Alley adult volunteers and supporters. We have approached this opportunity with careful consideration and substantive fact finding. Should you wish to meet in person regarding these issues, we will be happy to accommodate that request. Our current travel schedules will require any meeting to wait until the week of April 15th or later. Please let us know if you would like to find a time to meet in mid-to-late April and we will coordinate a date.
Ryann Peyton, Board Co-Chair
Michael Song, Board Co-Chair
These actions were all taken in good faith and are reflective of the positive youth development approach The Center employs in the Rainbow Alley program. The number one concern of The Center’s staff and board is the safety and well-being of all the community members who take part in our programs and doing our best to create a positive experience for everyone. That of course includes the young people in our Rainbow Alley program and the dedicated volunteers who contribute their time and energy to Rainbow Alley and other programs at The Center.
Regarding the other points listed in the letter under mistreatment of youth staff, interns and volunteers and systematic disenfranchisement and undermining of youth empowerment, we respectfully disagree with the letter writers on the facts.
The letter above from our board chairs demonstrates the tone of communication we strive to use when communicating with youth staff and volunteers. The Center’s intent is to be respectful and to take youth and volunteer concerns seriously and responsibly. Given the level of frustration expressed by the letter writers, it is clear that we have fallen short in this goal and communication has broken down. It is our intent to repair the relationship with youth participants as our first priority.
Rainbow Alley’s positive youth development model of programming emphasizes the value of youth input and decision making within the space. Youth in the program have a formal leadership and advisory council, participate in program planning and implementation, and provide important feedback on decisions involving the youth program. Having collaborative relationships between youth and organizational stakeholders can be challenging work, especially when disagreements arise. We are committed to continuing this model of service and will work with the youth to repair and strengthen these relationships moving forward. To ensure the well-being of all youth who visit Rainbow Alley, The Center will always hold all staff, volunteers, interns, and community members accountable when policies are violated. Paid youth positions are designed to give youth work experience and are by their nature part time and temporary.
When the letter writers accuse The Center of tokenizing youth to drive donations, we would respond that youth staff, hired in part to be ambassadors and representatives of the program, were asked, in consultation and cooperation with the Rainbow Alley adult staff, if they would be willing to record videos and speak on behalf of the program; the youth staff agreed and were not forced to participate in any way.
If any community members have questions about the financial health of The Center or Rainbow Alley or the fundraising efforts at The Center, our financial statements are available here.
When searching for a new program director, an employee well-known to youth had applied for the position. In meetings with administrative staff, youth staff agreed that participating in the interviews could be a conflict of interest. Youth were invited to submit interview questions for the candidates.
We know that the recent leadership transition at Rainbow Alley has been difficult. After hearing the concerns from some volunteers about how that transition was handled, The Center’s Board of Directors conducted a careful investigation and determined that the interaction between The Center’s leadership and Rainbow Alley staff during the transition was professional, timely, and appropriate. We regret that some of our volunteers disagree with this approach. We are grateful for their service but believe in the best interest of Rainbow Alley youth, it is time to move on.
The goal of Rainbow Alley is to help LGBTQ youth find their own voices, and to create a safe place for those voices to be heard. While we may not always agree with each other, we respect and encourage their right to their own opinions.
The Center’s leadership makes decisions based on the best interests of our entire community. We believe that now is the time to move forward, and that the best way to do that is to share The Center’s perspective on events in order to be transparent with our community.