Former NOW President Is YWCA's New CEO

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Patricia Ireland, the woman who presided over the National Organization for Women (NOW) for a decade and whose "major contributions included organizing NOW activists to defend women's access to abortion," was chosen Wednesday as the new chief executive officer of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

The appointment, confirmed by, immediately drew criticism from cultural conservatives.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the Ireland appointment "disgusting," pointing to reports that Ireland had carried on a homosexual relationship in Washington, D.C., while remaining married to her husband, who was living in Florida.

"Here's a woman who is a bisexual heading up a young women's organization," Lafferty said. "This organization (YWCA) was started by a religious revival, this organization was started by Godly women, and the original intent has been totally perverted," she added.

Audrey Peeples, chairwoman of the YWCA's National Coordinating Board, rejected the idea that the organization had roots in religious revivalism.

"We were never a religious revivalist. We were always about self-sufficiency for women. The YWCA, when it was first incorporated, provided job training and housing for women when they were coming into the large urban areas," Peeples said, adding that the organization's current mission is to provide economic empowerment for women and fight racism.

However, the YWCA's own Internet site, which Peeples admitted she had not seen, includes a reference to a 1850s "religious revival...sweeping through the Northeast."

When informed about the section of the website describing the YWCA's history, Peeples, who has been affiliated with the organization for 14 years, conceded that she "needed to go look at the website."

Peeples also insisted that the YWCA is now and always has been "a pro-choice organization."

As for the selection of Ireland to direct YWCA operations, Peeples said there was no concern on the board that Ireland might be a controversial figure.

"In any employment interview, you can't ask personal questions or pry into the private lives of people. And what we were more concerned about is that she has wonderful connections in Washington, she has been an advocate for women's rights and out there on women's issues and discrimination for a very long time," Peeples said.

However, as a result of Ireland's appointment, Lafferty said she is "sure the (YWCA) founders are just turning over in their graves."

She compared Ireland's new role at the YWCA to "letting the fox guard the henhouse - having a bisexual lesbian, whatever she is, be the president of this organization."

"We know that the YWCA is becoming more and more liberal," Lafferty said, "and now, they have totally gone off the deep end."

The 57-year-old Ireland was president of NOW from 1991 until 2001. Her new employer, the YWCA, has more than 300 chapters in the United States.

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