YWCA Tight-Lipped About Ireland Firing

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - After the YWCA fired abortion activist Patricia Ireland as its chief executive officer, the national service organization founded more than a century ago as a Christian group remained mum about the reason for Ireland's ousting.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of Traditional Values Coalition, attributed the Ireland firing to pressure from conservative interests that were incensed by Ireland's installment as head of the historic organization.

"Patricia Ireland has been a lifelong advocate of everything that most Christians oppose," said Lafferty, whose group had been running an online petition drive against Ireland.

"She is a liberal extremist, and the soccer moms dropping their kids off at the local Y don't want any part of her and her strange friends," Lafferty said.

"Some of the more conservative organizations took exception to the appointment some months ago when it occurred," noted Bill Keegan, a YWCA spokesperson.

But an official YWCA statement demurred on the question of whether "the decision made by the YWCA to terminate Ms. Ireland [was] based at all on pressure felt by the YWCA from conservative organizations."

Ireland took the helm of the YWCA after 10 years (1991-2001) of leading the National Organization for Women (NOW) in liberal activism, focusing primarily on abortion rights.

Following the revelation that the YWCA board of directors had fired Ireland (after failing to secure her resignation), the group issued a statement declaring it YWCA policy "not to comment on private and confidential personnel matters."

"It is our belief that in order for the YWCA to continue to carry out its mission of empowering women and girls throughout the world, a change needed to be made," the statement read.

"We can tell you that we have much respect for Patricia Ireland and the work she has done on behalf of women's rights. The issues between the board and Ms. Ireland are private matters, and the board believes this separation is in the best interests of the YWCA and the women and girls it serves," the statement added.

Ireland has publicly described herself as "uncharacteristically speechless" in the wake of the decision, which was made on October 16. Ireland complained that "there had been no notice" to her in advance of the board's decision.

One local YWCA director said that, despite the fact Ireland didn't work out, her replacement need not be less controversial or politically outspoken.

"I think we all have a lot of admiration for Patricia," said Janet Marcotte, director of the Tucson, Ariz., YWCA. "It looked like it was going to be a good fit, so I don't know that the direction was wrong."

Kimberly Reeve, director of development and marketing for the Minneapolis YWCA, said she likewise had no problem with Ireland as head of the YWCA.

"I've met her personally and was impressed by her and know that she's very committed to lobbying on...women's issues and social justice," said Reeve. "But evidently, it appears that the YW may not have been the best fit for her."

"I think that people made some assumptions that Patricia Ireland's position on issues were [sic] inconsistent with the YWCA's, but they are not," Marcotte said. "The YWCA has always been a pro-choice organization," she noted, pointing to the fact that the organization filed a 1972 amicus brief in favor of abortion rights in Roe v. Wade.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that the national coordinating body would need to look in a different [direction just] because an individual didn't prove to be a fit," Marcotte continued. "As far as her stance on things, they were very consistent with our own. So that was never an issue or a problem, certainly for our organization."

Nationwide, the YWCA currently has two broad missions: to "create opportunities for women's growth, leadership and power" and to eliminate racism wherever it exists.

According to Marcotte, the Tucson YWCA serves 10,000 people in their various programs, which includes a "racial justice program." Recently, the group organized a daylong session for middle and high school students in Tucson to brainstorm on ways to eliminate racism.

Upcoming is a women's leadership conference featuring Lt. Col. Martha McSally, who last year challenged on free speech and religion grounds Department of Defense policy requiring female military personnel in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya, a long black garment worn by Saudi Arabian women.

YWCA officials, from the local to the national level, continue to distance themselves from their history as the Young Women's Christian Association.

"It's not really a Christian group," said Keegan. "It has that in its name, but it...doesn't necessarily reflect the prevailing attitudes.

"Yes, there's a certain Christian overtone," said Keegan. "Its roots run very strong in that area," Keegan said, but not related to the YWCA's key focus of "fighting for empowerment for women and girls and fighting racism."

A name change for the group might be in order, Keegan said, but for the "huge branding effort" of trying to rename the 144-year-old organization.

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