The 12 members of the board of trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs are hitting back at the organization’s former executive director, Chloe Schwenke, who alleges that a board member’s transphobia resulted in her being fired on Sept. 7. An open letter dated Sept. 15 that was posted Sunday on its website and on social media the next morning denies that Schwenke was dismissed from her position due to her transgender status. Rather, the board contends, Schwenke was fired due to mismanaging finances as well as the staff of about 20 employees.
“Given our governance and fiduciary responsibilities,” the letter, signed by the board as a body, states, “The board acted quickly when it learned of multiple financial and workplace issues and specifically decisions Dr. Schwenke made.” The board disclosed in this letter that it has hired independent auditors to go through AWP’s financial records for the past fiscal year. It promises to publish the results after the audit is completed.
According to the board, former president Robin Reagler and former treasurer David Haynes, who resigned during the August 27 executive session at which it was decided to terminate Schwenke, both stepped down for personal reasons after having served nearly two terms.
The board’s letter concludes with a sharp rebuke directed at Schwenke: “We are disappointed that Dr. Schwenke has decided to use her own place in our community to wage a campaign to defame others, including members of the board, whose volunteer service is essential to maintaining a healthy governance framework for the organization.”
In response, Schwenke's attorney, Richard Renner, a partner at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch in Washington, D.C. told PW, "Normally, when management has a performance concern, they will investigate it and then decide what to do. Here, AWP’s brand new board officers decided to fire Dr. Schwenke first, and then do the investigation to see if they have grounds. This is what we call a 'post hoc' rationalization, and it is an indicator that unlawful discrimination is the real reason for Dr. Schwenke’s termination."
For the board's part, chair Bonnie Culver would only say in response to PW's requests for an interview that the board stands by its posted letter, while another officer, poet Rigoberto González, who serves as board treasurer, took to social media to vent his frustration with the situation.
“This past week I've been subjected to harassment and vitriol from members of the LGBT community,” González wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “My reputation and standing were questioned. I'm deeply disappointed, but I will continue to fight for this community I care about. I joined the board of AWP [in 2016] because I wanted to be part of the change, and not be just another person who criticized and complained. I invite any of you to consider joining the board.”