A Statement from the QUEERFLEX Board re: Contractor's Termination

 

To the 2SLGBTQ+ community, all members and supporters of QUEERFLEX, and our stakeholders.

The QUEERFLEX Board is reaching out to address several issues that have been impacting our community regarding the dismissal of a contractor from our organization. We want to do the right thing and apologize for any undue harm that this termination has caused our community, more specifically the Black and People of Colour members of our community. We also would like to address and give context to some of the allegations made in regards to this situation.

On Friday, January 12th, 2019, QUEERFLEX’s previous Board Chair met with a former contractor, Adebayo Katiiti, to deliver a termination letter on the grounds of chronic lateness, failure to adhere to client documentation and scheduling procedures, failure to provide accessible and safe modifications to prescribed activities in group fitness classes, and client complaints that actions were triggering which led them to feel unsafe to speak out.

To this letter and termination of his contract, Adebayo and his representatives sent a response outlining a list of demands to the QUEERFLEX Board of Directors that we, as an organization, reviewed, accepted and adhered to shortly after receiving them. Below are the demands, as well as the actions that were taken by the board in response:

“1. Immediately pay me for the following shifts that I was not paid for, including: the ‘Circuit Circle Group Class’ on January 3, 2019 and the ‘pay what you can drop in’ .”

On Monday, March 11th, 2019, $87.50 was paid to Adebayo via e-Transfer as compensation for the group fitness classes mentioned above. Prior to his termination, Adebayo was paid in advance for approximately $1500 in services left undelivered on his part. QUEERFLEX did not seek repayment for this, and we considered that amount as his severance.

“2. The Queerflex Board of directors must have full accountability of their wrongful actions, and must acknowledge the systematic racism and anti-blackness that contributed to the wrongful dismissal that took place. To properly acknowledge this, the entire board must undergo thorough multi-cultural sensitivity training.”

The QUEERFLEX Board is willing to learn about its role in proliferating systematic racism, and QUEERFLEX is leading an initiative to have multiple organizations undergo multicultural sensitivity training. Our Executive Director reached out to the Executive Directors of the other leading queer-centred organizations in Edmonton to see if we could collectively fund this essential training. Like us, they are also in a place where they must examine these systems inside their organizations. Pooling our resources together, nearly $5000 was collected to invest in this.

“3. Queerflex must immediately restructure the board of Directors to have more representation of black queer and trans folks.”

On Sunday, March 17th, 2019, QUEERFLEX restructured their board to have more representation of Black Queer and Trans people, including three QTBIPOC Liaison Board Members.

“4. Apologize through a formal, written document to Adebayo Katiiti and to the Black and people of colour Community.

As an organization, we formally apologize for any undue harm terminating Adebayo Katiiti’s contract as a Personal and Group Fitness Trainer with QUEERFLEX may have caused. Being terminated from a place of employment is seldom a positive experience, and it has been made clear to us that this action, regardless of the reasoning, may have enforced negative messaging with regards to systemic racism.

The current QUEERFLEX board acknowledges that the previous board lacked resources, and could have handled Adebayo’s termination differently. While we are still a volunteer-run board, this is something that we are ready to work on going forward, should a similar situation occur.

In a subsequent meeting with Adebayo, three additional verbal demands were made. We have listed them below, as well as the board’s responses and actions:

1. Post the apology letter, the termination letter, and the response to the letter publicly.

An apology letter was sent on Thursday, March 14th, 2019, but it was deemed unacceptable as it did not state that the board wrongfully terminated Adebayo’s contract on racist grounds. Adebayo was not terminated on racist grounds but was terminated due to breach of contract.

Adebayo signed a work agreement outlining our organization’s lateness policy, along with six points in which a person’s contract could be immediately terminated. The highlighted points below outline the four in which he breached, some on more than one occasion:

  1. the Client or Contractor ceasing to exist in the capacity in which they originally signed;
  2. the Contractor being found in breach of Confidentiality Agreement;
  3. the Contractor being found acting negligently with respect to their professional accreditation as a Personal or Group Training Specialist, or related accreditation that holds bearing on the work outlined in the agreement;
  4. the Client or Contractor failing to uphold what is outlined in the Work Agreement on a regular, consistent and ongoing bases;
  5. the Contractor being found to have put the Client, Customer or anyone related or unrelated to the Client or Customer at risk by way of sexual, verbal, mental, or emotional harassment or abuse, or vice versa in the case of the Client to the Contractor;
  6. the Contractor giving two weeks written notice for termination for reasons existing either internally or external to this agreement;

Prior to Adebayo’s dismissal, he received more than three verbal warnings, he was suspended from teaching classes for 30 days, and the Executive Director made multiple attempts to facilitate learning opportunities with him.

The previous board and the Executive Director are being critiqued that it was racist to terminate Adebayo’s contract on the grounds mentioned above and that we should have had different expectations of him regarding the fulfillment of his contract’s terms. We have consulted multiple people of various backgrounds, both in and out of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, about this situation. It was made clear to us that, had we given Adebayo special treatment regarding our expectations of him solely based on his race, we would have been tokenizing him and therefore engaging in an actual act of racism.

We understand that we cannot satisfy everyone with this stance, but we do not believe in tokenizing individuals based on certain aspects of their identities.

2. Make all QUEERFLEX services free to QTBIPOC (Queer and Trans Black People, Indigenous People, and People of Colour).

At this time, making QUEERFLEX services free to any group would mean the end of our community-funded, non-profit organization. As such, we currently cannot meet this demand but remain committed to working with a sliding scale payment system to make our services as accessible as possible.

In an effort to meet this goal in the future, a member of our fund development subcommittee will be working on writing grants and developing fundraising initiatives specifically to make our services more accessible to QTBIPOC individuals.

3. State that it was racist of us to believe the clients who complained about Adebayo’s performance and behaviour, ultimately leading to his termination.

Complainants came from racially diverse backgrounds, and issues brought forward are treated as equal regardless of the clients’ racial backgrounds. It is part of our responsibility to the entire community to believe all people when they say they have experienced harm, and as such, we stand by our decision to believe those complainants.

QUEERFLEX is and always will be a client-centred facility, and we will continue working to address the internalized racism of each individual in a decision-making role at our gym. This is a critical piece of 2SLGBTQ+ accessibility, as our commitment to this work extends to how a person’s intersecting identities, including race, impact the ways the world views their bodies and the ways a person may experience their body in this world as a result.

We would like to recognize that this is not an overnight matter. We acknowledge that there will be much hard work ahead to rectify these issues within the structure of our organization and on an interpersonal level.

The current QUEERFLEX Board is open to meeting with Adebayo to work towards reconciliation and healing. It was communicated to us that he does not have the capacity to meet at this time. We respect this and have engaged the Edmonton Two-Spirit Society to help us facilitate further conversation, if and when Adebayo is ready.

We hope that this letter provides insight into the situation with Adebayo’s termination. If you have any questions regarding this, you may contact our current Board Chair Sithara Fernando at queerflexboard@gmail.com. If you would prefer giving us feedback completely anonymously, please fill out this Google form with your questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
Sithara Fernando (she/her), Board Chair

PDF version here.