The Asian-American Advocacy Nonprofit APANO Is The Latest Organization Roiled by Allegations of Sexism

APANO leadership denies allegations.

There's trouble at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.

Fourteen former employees and board members at APANO signed a Nov. 5 letter demanding the immediate resignations of executive director Joseph Santos-Lyons, associate director Duncan Hwang and all board members. The letter alleged wrongdoing at the 21-year-old nonprofit, which lobbies on behalf of Asian-Americans and is increasingly active in social justice campaigns.

"There have been over a dozen staff members," the letter says, "who have been pushed out and traumatized by their experiences of rampant sexism, homophobia and transphobia at APANO."

The controversy is among the latest turmoil to arise from the #MeToo movement, which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse nationwide.

On Nov. 15, APANO board chairs Simon Tam and Raahi Reddy responded with an open letter to the Asian Pacific community.

"We want to assure our communities that APANO has, and will continue to thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct, including gender and LGBTQ discrimination, and respond appropriately," they wrote. "To date, we have no evidence to suggest that there has been any unlawful discrimination or actions by current or former staff within the organizational practices of APANO."

Santos-Lyons also says APANO takes the allegation seriously.

"APANO has not lost sight of our values and what justice can look like as we move through this process," he says. "We want to assure our communities that APANO has, and will continue to thoroughly investigate any allegations of misconduct, and respond appropriately."

Updated Oct. 8, 2019 with investigation results: After a letter from APANO staff and board members in early November 2017, APANO hired the Miller Nash law firm to investigate allegations of misconduct and discrimination.

Here is a summary of the investigation's findings and a link to the full report.

"Based on the interviews conducted and materials reviewed, we do not find any evidence that overt discrimination against any protected class occurred," Miller Nash lawyer Elisa Dozono wrote in her Feb. 9, 2018 report. "Put simply, we do not find any evidence (1) of a pattern of ongoing and persistent harassment severe enough to alter the conditions of employment and that the harassment was because of an individual's sex, gender identity or sexual orientation; (2) that APANO treated an individual disparately in the terms and conditions of employment because of the person's sex, gender identity or sexual orientation; or (3) that APANO denied a position or a promotion because of an individual's sex, gender identity or sexual orientation."

"But based on the consistent concerns raised by current and former Board members, staff, volunteers, and external stakeholders, we find that APANO has inadequately addressed numerous organizational challenges. In brief, APANO leadership has failed to professionally manage its human capital, and to ensure that appropriate employment policies were implemented and followed. And because APANO is a progressive social-justice-minded organization, APANO staff, community members, and stakeholders expect APANO to address those concerns."

Following completion of the investigation, the boards of APANO 501c3 and 501c4 issued a lengthy joint statement to community community members, pledging reforms.

"We welcome these concrete opportunities to improve, and move forward in the critical work that builds justice both within and outside of APANO," the boards wrote. "We thank you for helping us to create dedicated space to listen and learn, and better cultivate an organization where all people are respected, valued and treated fairly."