Christian Nunes at the 2020 Women’s March. (Photo Courtesy of NOW)
By Ronnie Allen Campman
Nonprofit Sector News
October 17, 2020
The National Organization for Women, or NOW, is moving forward with a renewed focus on intersectionality with Christian Nunes as president after the resignation of Toni Van Pelt earlier this year.
Van Pelt stepped down as president after three years in June amid allegations of creating a racist and toxic work environment within the feminist organization. Intersectionality is the theory of how overlapping identities, including gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation impact the way people experience discrimination and oppression.
“I saw how she (Van Pelt) treated people on the board and it was her minimization of women of color that really made me understand there’s no way to change a person like that,” said Nina Ahmed, a woman of color on the NOW board and a previous member of the organization’s Racial Justice Committee. “I felt that’s how she valued people as less. So there was no sort of rehabilitation of this person.”
Ahmed was one of the nine board members who called for Van Pelt’s removal.
Van Pelt released an email to the NOW organization saying that her doctor had “implored her for months to stop working” after struggling with a “very painful health issue” during her year as president, as originally reported Aug. 17 in the Daily Beast.
Ahmed couldn’t answer Nonprofit Sector News’ questions on Van Pelt’s statement but Ahmed said that she was relieved Van Pelt was finally gone. (Other NOW officials also refused to comment on several other questions from Nonprofit Sector News.)
While Nunes, an African-American woman, was Vice President she experienced racism and tokenism, and was not advised on NOW’s public statement about the death of George Floyd, she told the Daily Beast.
This isn’t the first time NOW has been under fire for racism and mistreatment of its members. In 2017, Monica Weeks, who is of Cuban descent, ran for NOW vice president. She was a part of the first all-women-of-color ticket. In an organization that aims to “eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life,” Weeks was heckled by members when speaking about the diversity among all women. In a video that was shown on the Daily Beast, crowd members yelled, “White women, too!”
“This organization has a problem of racism and ageism and [they] don’t know how to deal with it,” Weeks said in an interview with the Daily Beast originally published on June 6.
NOW has made no public comment on Van Pelt’s resignation or the racist allegations made against it on its national website.
As the second African-American President of NOW, after Aileen Hernandez, Nunes has set her sight on introducing an era of intersectionality and amplifying the voices of more than 500 local chapters and 500,000 members across the country.
“We have members that are transgender, gender nonconforming and LBTQIA, Christian, Muslim and members that represent everyone in our organization and who all have a place in our organization,” Nunes said. “And my focus is really to emphasize their voices and uplift them.”
Nunes was appointed president on August 21, 2020, and will complete a four-year term. She can run for re-election for up to two terms.
Nunes is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who served as vice-president with Van Pelt. She manages her time as a business owner as well. In 2006, she founded a behavioral health practice that provides mental health services to people and assists other behavioral health companies.
Since becoming president, Nunes has seen an increase in the NOW’s membership. About 500 people from across the country participated in NOW’s virtual National Conference that took place on Sep. 26,150 more participants than last year’s conference. NOW currently has more than 100,000 active members according to its Press Team.
Ahmed has said, “It’s a dramatic night and day difference” between the leadership styles of Van Pelt and Nunes.
Nunes said she has received tremendous support from past presidents who have reached out to her. Some have made donations. She said members have emailed her saying she’s inspired them to rejoin because they believe in her and her mission of inclusivity.
Nunes’s first project leading the feminist organization includes launching a series of conversations with Nunes. She describes it as intense, engaging conversations with feminists across the country who are leaders in action, discussing what is occurring in the world regarding feminism, activism and issues. The goal is to have discussions that will motivate and mobilize change throughout the nation.
She is also working on what the organization is calling “Intersectional Allies,” a webinar series, aimed toward training and educating NOW leaders and chapters on how to be an effective intersectional ally. They are utilizing town halls and webinars to provide resources to NOW chapters nationwide.
The organization’s goal is championing abortion rights, ending violence against women and securing economic equality for women. With an annual budget last year of more than $3 million, they do this by organizing mass marches, rallies, non-violent civil disobedience and supporting more women in political office.
“We’re seeing so many movements about race, I think it’s important at an organization who supports issues that focus on racial justice, LBTQIA issues and economic justice, all these things are very marginalized issues that affect everyone, that we have to give voices to everyone in our organizations who are the ones leading this movement.” Nunes said.