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Column: The Dodgers faltered by disinviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence but came to their senses

Three drag nuns in wimples
Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the gay pride parade in West Hollywood. The group has accepted the Dodgers’ invitation to Pride Night (again).
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
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The Dodgers have only themselves to blame for the beating they’ve taken from the left and the right over the decision to first invite to Pride Night — and then disinvite — a charity organization fronted by drag queens dressed as nuns.

The team’s apology to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on Monday afternoon doesn’t erase the damage done. The Dodgers tried to have it both ways. But in today’s America, there simply isn’t a lot of bandwidth left for corporations that shake hands with homophobia in May, then try to hoist rainbow flags in June.

Not even for our friends who eventually come to the right decision.

The Dodgers responded to criticism for their decision to exclude the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from their June 16 Pride Night by reversing course.

May 22, 2023

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“We made a mistake,” Dodgers team President Stan Kasten said Monday about disinviting the Sisters. “We have extended a new invitation to the Sisters, and they have accepted.” The team will honor the charity with a Community Hero Award.

The controversy started because some — like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — find the Sisters’ use of religious imagery offensive. Kasten said the uproar over honoring the organization was a lesson for the Dodgers.

“This is new territory for us,” he said. Facing a pressure campaign, Kasten said, “we weren’t sure what to do, but we wanted to address the issue quickly and we made this judgment too quickly. Before really hearing out all of the people and the points of view, particularly from the LGBTQ community whom we’ve had a long and very good relationship with.”

Indeed, it hasn’t been a year since the team commemorated the life of Glenn Burke, baseball’s first openly gay player, during its last Pride celebration. In recognizing the former Dodger, the organization also acknowledged its mistreatment of him, including trading Burke to Oakland in 1977 after he refused the team’s bribe to marry a woman. Sadly, the immensely talented Burke was run out of the league by 1979.

Coincidentally that is the same year the Sisters formed. The group uses religious imagery for satire and has used humor to raise money in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is the same disease that ultimately took Burke’s life in May 1995. The Dodgers invited 40-plus members of the Burke family, trying to heal wounds this current incarnation of the franchise did not cause but wanted to address nonetheless. That’s not performative. There are executives in the organization — including Kasten, Lon Rosen, Erik Braverman — whose commitment to equality isn’t just talk.

“It’s a misstep today,” Kasten said about the decision to disinvite the Sisters, “but I am happy we have an opportunity to correct it.”

The Dodgers faced backlash after they said they would no longer honor the satirical LGBTQ+ group. But they reversed course and reinvited the Sisters.

May 19, 2023

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What the Dodgers faced isn’t unique. As the latest skirmishes of the culture war veer into 2024 primary season, businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community have been targeted by opportunistic politicians looking to score points with conservatives.

Neither side responds well when businesses attempt to avoid these conflicts.

It was on a Tuesday back in 2022 when Disney’s then-chief executive Bob Chapek thought “apolitical” was a good stance to take with his statement on Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies. By Wednesday, he was in the center of a hornet’s nest. By Thursday, he was apologizing, saying “I understand our political approach, no matter how well-intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done.” It sure didn’t.

Bud Light sponsored an Instagram post by a transgender influencer in April, pressure came, sales dropped. And then Anheuser Busch’s CEO tried to issue an “apolitical” statement looking for safety: “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”

Great.

These stances look clueless against the backdrop of hundreds of pieces of legislation across the country targeting LGBTQ+ people. Why on earth would Bud Light or Disney or the Dodgers or any corporate entity believe it can be seen as “fighting for equality” without actually fighting? Read the room. There are mass shootings at gay clubs, endless violence against trans people, laws intended to erase LGBTQ+ from history. Businesses are either invested in change or complicit with the status quo.

Attempting to play both sides counts as the latter.

But companies can see the light and do better.

The Dodgers are a far cry from the team that chose homophobia over Burke decades ago. It is now the organization that hosted a stadium wedding for their senior vice president Braverman and his husband. It is the organization that counts Billie Jean King as an owner. There are a lot of enemies of the LGBTQ+ community. The Dodgers are not one of them. Their real priorities won out when they reinvited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to Pride Night.

When Rubio sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred protesting the Sisters’ inclusion in the event, it read in part: “Baseball has always been tied to our nation’s values, at the heart of which is faith in God.”

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I give the senator credit: It takes a lot of gall to lecture the franchise that hosts Jackie Robinson Day every season about the history of baseball’s values. But in the end, Rubio did help the Dodgers find themselves. The flap gave them a chance to show what it really means to fight for equality.

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