MS Society ‘Apologizes’ for Dismissal of 90-Year-Old Volunteer Over Pronoun Questions After Intense Backlash

2024-02-22 08:00:53

Over the weekend, we wrote about 90-year-old Fran Itkoff, who is a lifelong volunteer for the National MS Society, in honor of her late husband, who passed away 20 years ago and who battled MS for decades.

In an interview done with Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik, Mrs. Itkoff said she was unceremoniously dismissed from her role last month after she asked questions about the organization’s use of pronouns in the context of their DEI policies after seeing it in some of the MS Society’s literature.

To quickly recap, in a late Friday afternoon email sent to Itkoff in mid-January, the group’s Community Engagement Manager, Kali Kumor, notified her that due to an alleged “failure to abide by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion guidelines,” they had “made the difficult decision” to tell her to “step down from your volunteer position, effective immediately.”

They also told her that she and the Lakewood/Long Beach self-help group she leads were “still welcome to attend and participate in the Society’s events and programs.” However, the MS Society would no longer be “formally affiliated” with them:

In an update to this story, thanks to the ensuing outcry, which included vows to donate money elsewhere and inquiries from public figures like Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean, who suffers from MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has issued an “apology” of sorts to Mrs. Itkoff, though they said their original decision was made “with the best intentions”:

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society apologizes to our longtime, dedicated volunteer Fran Itkoff. Recently, we asked Fran to step down from her role as a group leader because of statements made that we viewed as not aligning with our recently implemented diversity, equity and inclusion policy. We realize now that we made a mistake, and we should have had more conversations with Fran before making this decision.

Over her 60 years of volunteer service, Fran has been a committed champion for our cause. We had an opportunity to work with her and support her as a self-help group volunteer leader, but as an organization, we fell short.

While we acted at the time with the best intentions, we did not have clear protocols in place. We should have spent more time with Fran to help her understand why, as an organization, we are dedicated to building a diverse and inclusive movement where everyone has equitable access to the care, connections, and support they need to live their best lives.

We apologized to Fran directly and reached out to her to find a way to continue to work together. In the spirit of continuous learning, we are focused on evaluating our processes and fortifying our learning to ensure our team members are equipped on the best ways to implement all of our policies. We want everyone to feel confident and supported in their roles. This work is a journey requiring commitment, accountability, transparency, and courage.

The National MS Society is a nonpartisan organization committed to one bold vision – a world free of MS. The support of our volunteers is essential to achieving our mission and ensuring people affected by MS can live their best lives. MS does not discriminate, and everyone who shares our vision of a world free of MS is welcome here.

For many critics of the MS Society, however, including Dean, their apology fell way short considering it appeared like they were not apologizing for dismissing her, but apologizing instead for not giving her a more in-depth explanation for why they did it:

Raichik is also not letting them off the hook:

We’ll keep you posted if there are any further updates on this story, including if the MS Society decides to answer those and other questions. As always, stay tuned.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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MS Society ‘Apologizes’ for Dismissal of 90-Year-Old Volunteer Over Pronoun Questions After Intense Backlash


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