Mazzoni Center CEO, COO resign following public outcry

Shara Dae Howard
November 13, 2018 - 5:13 pm
Mazzoni Center

Shara Dae Howard/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Mazzoni Center, Pennsylvania's largest LGBTQ-focused health, wellness and advocacy organization, has changed its leadership structure after the recent resignation of CEO Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino and COO Ron Powers.

Gonzalez Sciarrino left Monday after a series of very public disagreements within the organization's ranks regarding her own background, having served in the position for just seven months. Some in the LGBTQ community argued Gonzalez Sciarrino — a straight, Latina woman from Florida — does not have the experience to lead an LGBTQ-focused health care provider.

The board of directors released a statement in March regarding public outrage from Gonzalez Sciarrino's hiring: "We are disappointed members of the community — our community — chose to judge Lydia without first meeting her, based on their perceptions of her race, gender identity and orientation, and not her qualifications."

"She doesn't have what it takes," LGBTQ advocate and community organizer Deja Alvarez said. "She doesn't have what it takes to understand this community and what it needed."

Alvarez said the shake-up was necessary. 

"You were brought in because staff, particularly queer people of color, felt as though they were not being heard, and you dropped that ball," Alvarez added.

The organization has faced several other controversies, including accounts of sexual harassment and hostile work environments for people of color.

So what's next? The organization announced there will no longer be only one person at the helm, but rather a group of three current Mazzoni employees: Dr. Nancy Brisbon, medical director; Alecia Manley, care services director; and Racquel Assaye, chief financial officer.

The new structure is expected to offer Mazzoni staff and community members a voice. 

Mayor Jim Kenney said having more people has its benefits.

"The Mazzoni Center is a very important center for LGBT youth in Philadelphia. I mean, it's more oversight and more to carry the workload," he said.

City Hall's Director of LGBTQ Affairs Amber Hikes said she welcomes the change as a more democratic form of leadership.

"This is a brave shift to do this new collaborative approach, to leading and managing our largest LGBTQ organization in the state," she said. "It's encouraging to see a board of directors and leadership recognizing a call from the community and staff for a dramatically different approach."

The center, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary next June, did not respond to a request for comment. 

The resignations of Powers and Gonzalez Sciarrino will take effect Dec. 28.

"If we are really committed to serving the needs of our marginalized communities," Hikes continued, "then we have to approach that work in more revolutionary ways, and I'm hoping many other organizations will take note."