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Our City of Colours chair resigns

Non-confidence vote alleges member discontent

Mo Kazerooni (right, at Surrey Pride in July 2013) says he has resigned from Our City of Colours because he feels attacked for his personal, political and religious beliefs. Credit: David P Ball

Nine months after members passed a non-confidence vote in his leadership, the chair of a local organization dedicated to queer people of colour and their allies has resigned.

In his March 11 letter of resignation, Mo Kazerooni says he felt bullied by some Our City of Colours members over his personal, political and religious beliefs.

But at least four people, including some of the group’s former board directors, disagree with Kazerooni’s characterization of events.

There has been conflict since Kazerooni became chair in March 2013, says interim board member Behshid Foadi, who stresses that she’s speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the organization.

“Probably his leadership style isn’t suited to this organization,” she suggests. “There’s been multiple times where board members have expressed that they feel alienated or just kind of harassed by his statements.”

Xtra obtained a draft copy of the June 2013 non-confidence motion against Kazerooni. It reads, in part, that “previously enthusiastic ex-board members, current executive board members, current board members, general members, volunteers and other community groups have expressed concern to the board that Mo Kazerooni’s position as chair of the organization has left them wishing to distance themselves from the organization and not participate.”

A section of the motion entitled “summary of evidence” alleges that Kazerooni restricted the topics that could be discussed in board meetings, continued to act as chair after he informed some board members he wanted to take a leave of absence, initiated disruptive changes to email communications, and refused to circulate contact information of board members to fellow board members.

The document also states that “highly engaged members and volunteers” declined to renew their memberships or asked for their memberships to be cancelled when Kazerooni became chair.

Kazerooni could not be reached for comment, but in his letter of resignation, which he sent to Xtra, he paints a different picture of the events that drove him to resign.

“A working board means coming to the table to put our differences aside for a unified mission to accomplish goals and encourage inclusion for all people from any cultural and linguistic backgrounds within the LGBTQ community and ally supporters,” he writes.

However, he says, he felt attacked by some group members for his personal beliefs, including his support for the state of Israel.

“I have decided that I do not want to be part of this hostility and animosity anymore. I do not wish to be involved in petty politics,” he writes.

In his letter, Kazerooni says he tried to assure members that Our City of Colours does not adopt positions on political matters but ended up being subject to the non-confidence motion. He alleges that a former director, known to the organization as Al Boyo, was one of the people behind the motion.

Boyo is surprised to be named as a reason for Kazerooni’s resignation, telling Xtra he was not at the June 2013 meeting when the motion was passed.

“I resigned from the organization in June and have had no contact with anyone remaining on the board since then,” he says.

The minutes of the June 10 meeting note that Boyo was not present when his own letter of resignation and those of two other directors, Brian O’Neill and Glen Arthur, were read out. The minutes also refer to the passage of the non-confidence motion against Kazerooni.

Gloria Miranda, who was the treasurer, and board directors Landon Krentz and Devyani Singh also resigned from the organization last year.

Foadi told Xtra by email that the board intends to meet soon to discuss and draft a response to Kazerooni’s letter of resignation. She says the board plans to send a copy of the response to the organization’s membership and will address it at the annual general meeting (AGM) scheduled for March 26 at Gordon Neighbourhood House.

In his letter of resignation, Kazerooni alleges that the date set for the upcoming AGM provides short notice to members, who will not have time to renew their membership before the meeting. He suggests this is tantamount to “locking out” members, which is “undemocratic.”  

“It’s flat-out untrue,” Foadi counters, saying that members who are not in good standing can renew their memberships.

She also says 38 new members have joined since the announcement of the AGM, adding that previous members are still able to renew their memberships at the time of the meeting and vote.

Despite the current tension, Foadi values Our City of Colours and says it’s the first organization for which she’s felt compelled to volunteer and to sit on the board.

“It’s really nice to bring queer people of colour together and reinforce the fact that we are here and that there is solidarity in knowing that we exist.

“That is something that Vancouver definitely needs, because it’s a multilingual, multicultural hub for everybody,” she says.

O’Neill told Xtra by email that the organization’s mission of fostering connection among people from different groups is significant.

“In a world of borders and fragmentation, of subgroups of subgroups, and of being isolated from each other, its concept is truly original and vital,” he says.

The group made headlines with its poster campaigns that reached out to different communities with gay-friendly messages in Mandarin, Punjabi, Tagalog, Farsi, Russian and other languages.

Our City of Colours founder Darren Ho told Xtra in 2011 that while there are many positive gay images in the media, much of the Greater Vancouver population won’t get those messages if they are conveyed only in English.

Our City of Colours

Annual general meeting

Wed, March 26, 6:30pm registration

Gordon Neighbourhood House, 1019 Broughton St