Disclaimer: This article discusses issues of transphobia, religious persecution, and misappropriation of religious doctrine. The views expressed herein are my own and are not the official stance of True Blue LA, SB Nation, or Vox Media. Reader discretion is advised.
As I wrote last year, normally, we try to keep politics off of this site. However, there are times when ignoring an injustice is a choice to be complicit and silently accept and perpetuate said injustice.
For as much good as the Dodgers did last year in finally acknowledging and honoring Glenn Burke, they have managed to faceplant themselves once again regarding issues with the LGBTQ+ community, while watering down their own annual Pride Night.
For the past nine years, the Dodgers have had a Pride Night at Dodger Stadium, which has become the largest such event in American Sports. Last year, I wrote an essay for which I am especially proud, a timeline of how the Dodgers failed Glenn Burke, America’s first openly gay player, and his re-inclusion into the Dodgers’ history.
Needless to say, progress on these matters rarely happens in a straight line. One does not need to look very far or very hard to see that LGBTQ+ people are under recent and constant siege in this country, especially in the past year. On May 17, the Dodgers issued a Tweet that initially confused me about the upcoming Pride Night in June:
In the spirit of unity, the Los Angeles Dodgers are proud to host our 10th annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night on June 16th. This event has become a meaningful tradition, highlighting not only the diversity and resilience within our fanbase, but also the impactful work of extraordinary community groups.
This year, as part of a full night of programming, we invited a number of groups to join us. We are now aware that our inclusion of one group in particular — The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — in this year’s pride night has been the source of some controversy.
Given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits that we have seen over the years of Pride Night, we are deciding to remove them from this year’s group of honorees.
I have no issue with the first paragraph. The team is patting itself on the back regarding LGBTQ+ issues. It feels a little undeserved, but it is not so egregious to merit anything other than an eye roll. (Again, Glenn Burke — repaying that massive karmic debt takes more than an evening.)
The second paragraph is where the team goes off the rails:
“This year, as part of a full night of programming, we invited a number of groups to join us. We are now aware that our inclusion of one group in particular — The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — in this year’s pride night has been the source of some controversy.”
The Dodgers concluded by disinviting the Sisters and rescinding the planned award “in an effort not to distract from the great benefits” that Pride Night has generated in its 10-year history.
As someone with the bandwidth to cover issues that fall outside the pure baseball realm, Bauer’s suspension, the Gondola, the Locker Room at Camelback, the One-Win Team, trade proposals, retrospectives, etc., I would have noticed had there been an actual controversy about Pride Night online. I had no idea what the Tweet was talking about.
All of which begs a single question: what happened? So let’s break it down and demonstrate why the Dodgers have managed to botch their own Pride Night.
What was the alleged controversy?
On May 16, Cyd Zeigler of Outsports reported that Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and Florida Senator Marco Rubio made public statements to Commissioner Rob Manfred decrying the rewarding of alleged anti-Catholic behavior of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Dodgers 2023 Pride Night.
Both Rubio and Donohue went out of their way to point out the alleged hypocrisy of Dodger executive Erik Braverman, an openly gay executive who was married at Dodger Stadium, by saying that the team’s planned award to the Sisters did not align with the goal of the event to “foster an atmosphere of acceptance for all.”
Donohue went as far as to compare the Dodgers’ planned award to the Sisters as if the Dodgers were hypothetically honoring children in blackface on Jackie Robinson Day. As a result, the Dodgers disinvited the Sisters and the planned award has been scrapped one day after the release of the Rubio/Donahue statements.
I am not religious at all. But I have been trained in religious matters in more ways than the average writer than you might think. Now, we will cover the Sisters in a moment, but the source of the criticism needs to be addressed.
Religious prosecution has an actual definition, as does the term anti-Catholic. Both Donohue and Rubio attempted to conflate the two definitions in their letters to the Commissioner. Anti-Catholic is defined as “being opposed to or hostile towards the Catholic Church.” Religious persecution is defined “as to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict based on one’s religion.
Moreover, David T. Smith, in Religious Persecution and Political Order in the United States, defined religious persecution as “violence or discrimination against members of a religious minority because of their religious affiliation,” referring to “actions that are intended to deprive individuals of their political rights and force minorities to assimilate, leave, or live as second-class citizens.”
Usual forms of religious persecution include confiscation or destruction of property, incitement of hatred, arrests, imprisonment, beatings, torture, murder, and execution.
Dressing in drag is not any of the above-identified behaviors that actually constitute religious persecution. I have actually worked on cases where Christians were actually being persecuted, although to be fair, the alleged persecution happened literally before I was born. Conflating the two concepts cheapens both, and makes it easier to deny LGBTQ+ people the basic dignity of existence.
What I find particularly galling are the messengers in this case. Bill Donohue is a known homophobe. In my view, the Dodgers taking his “advice” regarding their Pride Night is akin to the Dodgers taking David Duke’s “advice” regarding Jackie Robinson Day — a slap in the face of the community. A night like Pride Night is supposed to stand up to people like Bill Donahue.
Moreover, does Marco Rubio have nothing better to do in Florida? Last year, Rubio pulled the same stunt, while actually complaining to the Rays’ owner, about a donation to the Metro Inclusive Health clinic in Tampa. The donation was not refunded as far as I can tell, as unsurprisingly, Rubio got those facts wrong too. I can guarantee you that none of the relevant California elected officials would have made such a specious argument as Donahue and Rubio.
Just who are the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?
The name sounded vaguely familiar though when I heard it. The Sisters are an order of queer and trans nuns founded in San Francisco in 1979, with the following mission statement: to promulgate universal joy and expiate astigmatic guilt.
The group later formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit with orders across the country devoting themselves to “community service, ministry, outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.”
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, which was viewed by the Reagan administration as a literal joke, the Sisters performed community outreach, administering to those that the Catholic Church would not.
Why do the Sisters dress in drag? To quote Cyd Ziegler, it is a form of satire to draw attention to and protest the long-standing homophobic positions and policies of the Catholic Church. The Sisters were one of the first major activists during the AIDS crisis. The group is literally commemorated in the AIDS quilt.
There are those that would take issue with the form of satire or even the idea of satire itself.
But, Michael, they are mocking something holy to me! What if someone mocked something holy to you? You’re not religious — how can you understand how I feel?!?
For starters, it is a logical fallacy to assume the non-religious do not have things that are important, sacred, or holy, for lack of a better word. Personally, I am an optimistic nihilist, who tries to act with intention as to the tail end of his life. I am more than my beliefs or any institution.
You may not like the Sisters dressing in drag. Personally, I don’t get it, it doesn’t interest me. But I don’t have to get it. It doesn’t have to have to interest me. They have as much right to exist as I do.
A belief or institution that cannot stand mockery is not an institution or belief worth having in my view. While I acknowledge that some may find the satire unsettling, at the end of the day, if that discomfort promotes positive change, it is worth it. Those with privilege, when faced with equality, often claim oppression, incorrectly.
Generally, if you are religious, no one is attacking you personally. As far as I am able to tell, these people are seeking a more equitable society for the LGBTQ+ community. For what it’s worth, Jesus Christ only had two commandments.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38).
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:39-40).
That’s it. If you want to deny the humanity of the LGBTQ+ community, stop using Christianity (or any other religion) to justify your actions. Moreover, you should not be denying the humanity of the LGBT+ community, as they have just as much right to exist as you do. Merely existing is not infringing upon you in any way.
While I am not a believer, there are those that are close to me that are. And every debasement of their faith by these charlatans to justify hate against innocent people diminishes the people that I love and those who are most in need of love.
Charlatans like Donohue and Rubio are not necessarily surprising. Personally, it has always been my view that one will not go bankrupt underestimating the callousness and stupidity of the craven.
But there is one group that should know better and do better: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” (James 2:17)
As I wrote in the Burke piece last year, it would be cynical of the Dodgers to expect inclusion and positivity by slapping rainbows everywhere and calling it a day as such an act would not be inclusion. Such an act would be signaling one’s virtue in the hope that things stay the same while getting paid for it.
In some ways, it is absolutely typical that the Dodgers chose to ignore local activists who are still protesting an unwanted, unneeded, undesirable boondoggle of a gondola system or local activists who want to acknowledge the history of the land takings by the City of Los Angeles prior to the building of Dodger Stadium. At the same time, the Dodgers have capitulated with the delicacy of a wilting flower in record time upon the mere presence of something that will disrupt the corporate bottom line.
Only a day’s worth of headlines from out-of-towners was enough to sway a multi-billion-dollar organization when months, if not years, of demands for justice from people in their own backyard have been ignored!
At the end of the day, the Dodgers are loyal to something, one thing: getting your money.
If the Dodgers are now saying that their researchers and public relations department are so truly inept as to not anticipate any backlash to awarding the Sisters at Pride Night, then I am truly at a loss for words.
Imagine how powerful it would have been, if the Dodgers truly meant what they said about their support of the LGBTQ+ community, and upon this public pressure, had said something along the lines of:
We have become made aware of crictism from public officials and those that claim our upcoming Pride Night is anti-religious or engaging in anti-Catholic behavior.
We acknowledge that satire and doing what is right is not always convenient or even the easy thing to do. But with that said, the Los Angeles Dodgers have always chosen to seek inclusion, in the vein of Jackie Robinson and Glenn Burke, and we respect all of those who respect human dignity and the freedom to worship however one pleases.
We welcome all who would commune together and respect each other for our Tenth Annual Pride Night.
We stand firmly behind our decision to honor the local chapter of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at this year’s Pride Night for their works in our community. However, anyone that wishes to refund their ticket may do so at their earliest convenience for a full refund. For everyone else, we look forward to seeing you at Dodger Stadium where we will come together to celebrate the LGBT+ community as we have for the past ten seasons.
That statement would have been pretty nice. But actually having the courage of conviction requires effort, which the Dodgers seem to be in short supply.
As such, the Dodgers have managed to look feckless, incompetent, and cowardly in a single move. The Dodgers are now simultaneously promoting inclusion while giving the forces of intolerance and bigotry a very public veto. When given an opportunity to do the right thing, the Dodgers chose capitulation while hoping that you will still come out to the ballpark to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community — just not too much.
Forgive me if that hypocrisy and that cowardice are a just bit much to accept from the Dodgers right now. The hypocrisy was too much for the Los Angeles LGBT Center who made the following statement the next day.
We at the Center know that the religious right—a minority aligned with white supremacy and attacks on reproductive justice—does not speak for all people of faith, including the many people of faith within the LGBTQ+ community. We know that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have reclaimed religious imagery, garb, and symbolism to advocate for LGBTQ+ equality; through their protests, they have exposed the hypocrisy of the churches that demonized gay people during the AIDS Crisis; challenged faith institutions to stand with queer and trans people; and raised valuable resources for our community as we were turned away from services elsewhere.
We call on the Dodgers to reconsider their decision, honor the Sisters, and bring the true spirit of Pride back to Dodgers Stadium. If the decision is not reversed, we strongly encourage the Dodgers to cancel Pride Night. Any organization that turns its back on LGBTQ+ people at this damning and dangerous inflection point in our nation’s history should not be hoisting a rainbow flag or hosting a ‘Pride Night.’
Events appear to be accelerating as Thursday night, the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and LA Pride, the organizers of the LA Pride Parade and Festival, have independently announced that their respective organizations will not participate in the Dodgers 2023 Pride Night because of the Dodgers decision. Per the New York Times:
...[B]ased on the blowback, the force of which caught the organization off guard, the club internally is discussing potential compromise solutions, according to a team official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
If the actions of the Dodgers in this essay do not bother you, then I would suggest you let June 16 pass without remark. But if you feel as I feel, then I would encourage you to contact the Dodgers in a respectful, polite manner.
- By Phone: 866-DODGERS x9 (The Executive/Administrative Offices)
- By Email: email@example.com