Sexual misconduct allegations against Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders’ son prompted her resignation
When Lisa Borders announced her resignation this week as the inaugural chief executive of Time’s Up, she cited a need “to address family concerns that require my singular focus.”
Borders, 61, did not explain the circumstances behind her abrupt exit, which came after just four months on the job. But the Los Angeles Times has learned that Borders suddenly found herself at odds with the core mission of Time’s Up because of a desire to stand by a man — her son — facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
For the record:
4:45 PM, Feb. 22, 2019A previous version of this story stated that Lisa Borders’ interview with Oprah Winfrey for “SuperSoul Conversations” was scheduled to air in March. It has already aired.
Borders stepped down four days after a 31-year-old Santa Monica woman alleged, in a Facebook post, that Borders’ 36-year-old son had been sexually inappropriate with her. People familiar with the situation who were not authorized to comment said Borders, formerly the president of the WNBA professional basketball league and a former senior executive at Coca-Cola Co., quickly brought the allegations to the attention of the Time’s Up board. The group — which seeks equality and safety in the workplace for women — and Borders, these people said, soon recognized that she was in an untenable position.
Celia Gellert told The Times that Borders’ son, a photographer, podcast host and life coach named Garry “Dijon” Bowden Jr., offered her a “healing session.” She said she was surprised and felt “violated” when, she alleged, he touched her genitalia, kissed her neck and brushed his erect but clothed penis against her body during the session.
An attorney for Bowden, Alan Jackson, disputed Gellert’s account, saying that Bowden was giving a healing massage that Gellert had requested. He showed The Times a text message exchange in which Gellert thanked Bowden afterward, calling the massage “gentle and authentic and loving.”
“My client vehemently denies that any inappropriate or nonconsensual touching occurred at any time,” Jackson said.
Gellert went public with her experience on Facebook “because I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” she said. “And I want to be strong and stand my ground and speak my truth.”
Encouraging victims to “speak their truth” is a key tenet of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up. But the interaction between Gellert and Bowden illustrates the complexities that can arise with sexual misconduct claims. The situation also demonstrates how a person’s loyalties can be divided, particularly when a loved one faces serious allegations.
Borders’ “role as the president of Time’s Up was in conflict with being a mother who was taking active steps to defend her son,” said one of the knowledgeable people, who asked not to be identified. “Lisa’s decision to step down was the right one for her — and for the organization.”
Time’s Up started with more than 300 Hollywood women, including Shonda Rhimes, Natalie Portman and Reese Witherspoon, who vowed to raise their voices on behalf of women who lack power. Over the last 14 months, the group has expanded its campaign for gender parity and workplace safety across disciplines. Its legal defense fund has raised more than $22 million to help victims pursue their claims of harassment and abuse.
“We can no longer stand by and tolerate women’s voices not being heard,” Borders said during an October news conference when Time’s Up triumphantly introduced her as chief executive after a months-long search. She took the group’s reins in November, embarking on a public relations blitz to raise awareness about the mission of Time’s Up and the need for societal change.
Then, late last week, came the accusations against her son. Last weekend, within 24 hours of learning about the allegations, the Time’s Up board met with Borders and members debated whether the situation would undermine the mission of Time’s Up, one knowledgeable person said. Borders volunteered to step down, and group members accepted her resignation, a second individual said.
Late Thursday, after The Times published its findings, Time’s Up released a statement: “On Friday, Lisa Borders informed members of Time’s Up leadership that sexual assault allegations had been made against her son in a private forum. Within 24 hours, Lisa made the decision to resign as president and CEO of Time’s Up and we agreed that it was the right decision for all parties involved. All of our actions were fully guided by our support for survivors.”
Borders did not respond to repeated and detailed requests for comment.
Gellert and Bowden offer divergent accounts of the events in question.
Gellert, a yoga instructor, said that she met Bowden about a year ago and that they worked together on wellness events, including a December beach yoga session, which Borders attended. Gellert said she considered Bowden to be a friend, collaborator and fellow professional in the wellness community.
On his website, Dijon’s Dimension, Bowden until Thursday advertised four experiences, including a two-hour, $333 treatment called Shakti Invocation. He wrote that he uses “intuitive touch,” crystals and chocolate to “calm the nervous system and awaken and energize your inner Shakti.” Shakti is a term from Hinduism that is also used in wellness circles to represent creative power and the female principle of divine energy.
“It’s your time to feel safe, open and receptive to bliss,” his site read. “Indulge yourself, you deserve it.”
Gellert, who practices the spiritual art of reiki healing, said she wanted to be supportive of her friend, whom she regarded as a peer. She asked him for a “healing session,” and they arranged for him to come to her home. During a Jan. 21 encounter at her home, Gellert said, Bowden instructed her to disrobe and lie on a mat on a massage table. He slathered her with coconut oil. “He touched me in really inappropriate places. I just froze,” she said, adding that she began to cry.
“I told him I didn’t feel well and he kept saying, ‘Trust me,’” she said. He “kissed the back of my neck,” she said, adding that he said, “Don’t worry if you are afraid.” She said he then brushed his penis over her arm, jiggled her buttocks and blew air on her private area.
“It was not healing, it was disgusting,” Gellert said.
Jackson, Bowden’s attorney, asserted that the healing session did not include any nonconsensual or inappropriate touching. He provided The Times with the text exchange between Gellert and Bowden, which indicated that Gellert reached out to arrange the session and that she suggested it take place in her home. “So is that a yes for tonight?” Bowden asked.
The morning after the treatment, Gellert told Bowden she had had disturbing dreams. He recommended the name of another healer. She thanked him for the session, calling the massage “gentle and authentic and loving” and calling him “soul family/angelic soul.”
Two days after the session, Gellert reached out again to say she was uncomfortable with what had transpired. Bowden wrote back, “When you say uncomfortable, do you mean your stomach still hurts?” She told The Times that her discomfort stemmed from his touching of her private areas.
“I do feel a little surprised to that you’re saying you feel uncomfortable with the process [because] you said multiple times during and after how beautiful and supportive it was,” Bowden wrote in the text exchange. She responded that while portions of the session worked for her, “I’m still left feeling uncomfortable and violated.”
In the days that followed, Gellert spoke with at least two friends about the incident by phone. The friends, Lauren Aubrey, 34, of Los Angeles and another woman who preferred not to be identified, confirmed to The Times that Gellert gave consistent descriptions of Bowden’s behavior and her reactions. Both noted that she cried during her separate conversations with them.
On Feb. 14, three weeks after the alleged incident, Gellert wrote about her experience in a private Facebook group, Inspired Women of Los Angeles. In her post, Gellert warned others to “stay far away” from Bowden. Borders resigned Feb. 18. Gellert said she reported the incident to the Santa Monica Police Department on Wednesday.
Bowden has written extensively about his life on social media. On his website, he said he moved from Atlanta to San Francisco in 2007 but became homeless and slept in a friend’s car. In November he published an article on Medium titled “How to Heal Your Relationship With Your Parents.”
“While I was growing up,” Bowden wrote, “my mom was too busy working to be present with my creations and my dad wasn’t there.” He then described a recent trip his estranged father took to see him in California, during which Bowden said he shared “my own struggles with alcohol and drugs.” He noted he was “past all that now.”
He also wrote about a breakthrough: He’d recently changed his mother’s contact listing in his phone from “Lisa Borders” to “Mom.”
Borders’ resignation represents a setback for Time’s Up, which now must search again for a leader. The group struggled internally last year in an attempt to get organized. Borders, an accomplished executive, changed all of that. In an interview this month with Borders for a TV episode, Oprah Winfrey described meeting her last fall in television producer Rhimes’ backyard. There Winfrey learned that Borders was joining Time’s Up.
“Everybody said, ‘Hallelujah, we have found her!’” Winfrey said during taping of a “SuperSoul Conversations” episode that recently aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The conversation centered on the progress of Time’s Up. “Time’s Up seeks to bring solutions to the table so no woman or man ever has to say me too again,” Borders told Winfrey in the episode.
Borders added that she agreed to take the Time’s Up job only after she made it clear “we’re going to include men” in the conversation. “We’re going to help teach men what is correct interaction, what is a good, healthy relationship and a sharing of power.”
Gellert came forward “not out of malice or ill intent,” she said. “I’m just trying to raise awareness and create a change so that men can get the help that they need.”
Aubrey defended her friend, Gellert, who she said felt vulnerable.
“It is so ironic to me that his mother is ... was leading this organization that was supposed to be about protecting women,” Aubrey said, “and helping women find their voice.”
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