EXCLUSIVE: GMHC Ousts Marjorie Hill After Seven Years
BY SAM SPOKONY | Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the nation’s oldest non-profit organization dedicated to ending the HIV/ AIDS epidemic and supporting those affected by it, announced on September 13 that its CEO for the past seven years, Dr. Marjorie Hill, will step down at the end of this month.
Contrary to a press release stating that Hill’s departure was a mutual decision between her and GMHC’s 25-member board of directors, sources within the organization told this newspaper that Hill was, in fact, fired by the board.
“Hill was completely blindsided by the firing, since she believed that she had solid core support on the board,” said a source, who asked to remain anonymous due to professional concerns, via email on September 15, adding that the ouster was initially orchestrated about six months ago by board chair Myron Sulzberger Rolfe and his board colleague Manuel Rivera.
Despite release citing amicable parting, sources confirm departure was orchestrated by leaders of the board
Rivera is also chair of GMHC’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB), a group that advocates for the organization’s clients and is made up of clients, staff, volunteers, and community partners.
Many of those connected to GMHC have said that Hill’s relationships with staff and clients have become extremely contentious.
“It’s been a rough tenure, especially over the past year, and the clients just feel like [Hill] hasn’t been responsive to their needs, even though she does plenty of fundraising,” said Joseph Sellman, another member of the CAB. “A lot of us could tell that this was in the works.”
Myron Gold, a CAB member and a client for the past 20 years, said that the damaged relationship was most clearly expressed at a July 23 mayoral candidate forum held at GMHC. When candidate Bill Thompson said during the forum that, if elected, he would put Hill on the city’s AIDS advisory board, the mention of her name drew loud boos throughout the room.
“I’ll never forget that, because the candidates were so stunned and it was just such an embarrassment,” Gold said. “On top of that, a lot of board members were there, so it really looked bad.”
Rivera declined to comment on the issue, instead referring the reporter to Rolfe, who acts as spokesperson for the board of directors.
Rolfe denied that the board fired Hill during a September 16 phone interview that was closely supervised by a senior manager at GMHC.
However, Rolfe did acknowledge that he received a letter earlier this year from a group of GMHC staff members, which declared that the staff had “lost confidence” in the leadership of Hill and chief operating officer Janet Weinberg.
The reporter learned through a source outside the board that Rolfe, Rivera, and the rest of the board had to sign a non-disclosure contract as a result of an agreement that bound them to secrecy about the events of the firing in exchange for Hill’s quiet departure.
A second GMHC source confirmed every detail provided by the first source.
According to the sources, another stipulation of that agreement allowed Weinberg to avoid being fired as well, and she is currently serving as interim CEO until the board decides on a new hire for the leadership position.
Hill, who is African American, threatened to sue the board — which is mostly comprised of white males — for racial discrimination once it was clear she would be fired, according to the sources.
Hill could not be reached for comment on that, because she is currently out of the country on a sabbatical that began on July 1 and which will continue until the end of her tenure on September 29.
Before becoming the CEO of GMHC in 2006, Hill served as the organization’s managing director for community health.
She also previously served as assistant commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Hill first became a high profile leader in the LGBT community when she served as Mayor David Dinkins’ gay liaison two decades ago.
In October 2012, Hill was appointed chair of the New York State AIDS Advisory Council by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Weinberg lauded Hill’s seven years as CEO of GMHC.
“In the world of HIV/ AIDS, she’s renowned,” Weinberg said. “I think she’s raised the issue for black people in this epidemic and really set a precedent for making sure that HIV services were all-inclusive, regardless of race, sexual orientation, mental health, and substance use issues.”
One of the most significant changes made by Hill during her tenure was the decision, in 2010, to move GMHC from its longtime home at 119 West 24th Street to new offices at 450 West 33rd Street, after the rent was raised significantly.
The result of that move was unpopular among some AIDS activists, including GMHC co-founder Larry Kramer, mainly because of restrictions placed on the organization within the new location, such as the inability to provide medical services on-site.