Guest Editorial: Rev. Darlene Garner, ‘You’re fired!’

Posted: November 10th, 2017 | Guest Editorial, Opinion & News | No Comments

By Robin Tyler

I am shocked and I am not easily shocked!

There are too many powerful, competent women who have been attacked and vilified. Sometimes it is done publicly and nationally.

The best example, of course, is Hillary Clinton. As qualified as she was as a candidate for the office of President of the United States, she was seen as ‘pushy,’ suspicious, untruthful, and all the other derogatory adjectives that are heaped upon brilliant successful women by men, and, of course, by other women.

Another example is attorney Gloria Allred. She is admired as much as she is vilified. Men are never accused of wanting or getting “too much publicity.” But Allred, who has fought for decades for women and clients who have never been heard or seen, is criticized constantly. Gloria roared when victims barely whispered and began to lead an army of survivors from the darkness of their secrets into the light of truthfulness and healing.

Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times (2011-2014), is another example. After being a successful managing editor, she was promoted by the paper’s publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. The conflict began immediately. Even though she got high marks for the investigative stories she championed, Abramson was considered “too brusque, too hard to work with, too difficult, high-handed.”

Then Jill found out that her compensation as executive editor, and before that, as managing editor, was considerably less than the pay and benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. She sought the advice of an attorney and was fired, not because of the inquiry, but because Abramson caused “frustration” and was “too pushy.”

Really? She had the same personality as executive editor that she did when she was managing editor. Although in 2012, even when she was ranked No. 5 on the Forbes list of most powerful women, she was fired. She is presently teaching at Harvard, the university she graduated from.

So, I am not easy to shock. I know of the struggle that competent women face.

Rev. Darlene Garner (Courtesy Robin Tyler)

However, when I heard that after 41 years of working at Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), my good friend Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, age 69, had recently been “fired” and that her last work day would be on her birthday, I felt stunned and shocked.

MCC did not call it “firing.” They called it “restructuring.” But a “restructuring” means shifting people around, not eliminating them without warning nor without extending a level of professionalism that could have ended in a win/win situation. Instead, there was just “Goodbye, Darlene,” with no warning, no severance, and no unemployment compensation from MCC – a church whose “core values” are identified as inclusion (love is our greatest moral value), community, spiritual transformation, and justice (standing with those who suffer under the weight of oppressive systems, being guided always by our commitment to Global Human Rights).

Excuse me?

So a 69-year-old African-American lesbian was discarded like yesterday’s trash. Is that justice? Of course, they wanted her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and I’m sure they are rushing right now to put African-Americans on staff and on the board.

Did she murder someone in a congregation? No. Did she steal money from the organization? No. So, why?

At the MCC General Conference in Vancouver last year, she came in second when they voted for moderator, the top position in the organization. (A Canadian came in first yet did not get enough votes to be elected.)

For those of you who are not familiar with this great leader, Darlene joined MCC in 1976. She has been pastor of churches in Baltimore, Maryland, and Fairfax, Virginia, in the United States and in Cape Town, Western Cape in South Africa.

First recognized as an MCC spiritual leader in 1993, she was serving as the Convener of the MCC Conference for People of African Descent and as director of the MCC Office of Emerging Ministries when she was dismissed.

She has served as executive director of the Philadelphia mayor’s Commission on Sexual Minorities and a member of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations; a co-founder of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays; chair of the first International Conference for Gay and Lesbian People of Color; president of the Board of North Virginia AIDS Ministry; and so much more. Darlene attended Ohio State University, Samaritan College, and Lancaster Theological Seminary.

I worked for Darlene when she was based in Los Angeles. I produced the 31st anniversary of MCC. That is when I learned what kind of person and leader she truly is. She is one of the most competent, professional, fair, and intelligent women I have ever worked with.

At the time of Darlene’s dismissal, the governing board of MCC was three white men, one African-American man, one white transmasculine person, and four white women. Two of the women and the African-American man have now resigned.

It was the “interim moderator” (a 40-or-so-year-old white woman who Darlene trained — reminds me of the movie “All About Eve”) who told her she was through. And, of course, MCC will scramble to justify what they/the interim moderator has done.

MCC has had a history of racism and sexism (an understatement). I know that MCC, like many other organizations, was started when there was nothing for LGBT people to participate in. Now that many churches have changed their policy toward our community, MCC has to be struggling. But this is not the way to go about it. Despite the fact that this primarily male, primarily white organization denies its ageism, sexism, and racism, that is exactly what this is.

Darlene was going to retire in just one year and would have qualified then for full social security benefits. This would have been good because, like for all MCC clergy, the MCC pension plan pays less than $150 a month.

So it has happened again. After 41 years of service to and with MCC churches, without cause or consideration, a strong, brilliant woman is discarded and her legacy erased.

I hope God is watching.

— Robin Tyler is a comedian, a major event producer and a civil rights activist. She and her wife Diane Olson were the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit that resulted in same-sex marriage in California in 2008, and as a result, the first same-sex couple to be married in Los Angeles. Five months later, Prop. 8 took the right to marriage away. Tyler and Olson live in Los Angeles with their two beloved pugs, Mushu Pork and Won Ton.

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