Pride is a protest. So when a Pride event pisses off the right people, that means it’s doing its job.
I don’t expect this to happen at any MLB Pride Night, of course. At their best, Pride Nights are meant as a celebratory promotion and I appreciate them for what they are. But for a brief moment, it felt like there was going to be something different and special about this year’s Dodgers Pride.
When they unveiled their plans, the Dodgers initially announced they were going to honor the satirical performance and activist group The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence with their Community Hero Award. It was a tribute to one of the only organizations that provided care, companionship and fundraising to gay men during the height of the AIDS crisis.
Once word of this got out, the backlash from the religious right was swift.
The Dodgers’ tribute to the Sisters flummoxed Senator Marco Rubio worse than a bottle of water. It also incensed anti-gay Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who took a break from blaming the gays for the church’s history of sexual abuse to pen a letter of protest to Commissioner Rob Manfred, presumably because the Dodgers refused to move the Sisters to another parish.
For once, it felt like an MLB Pride Night was not just about marketing to LGBTQ fans, it was going to make a statement in support of our community and stand up to those who attack us for who we are. The Dodgers have traditionally been one of the biggest allies in sports, and the idea that they were going to celebrate a group that angered powerful anti-gay reactionaries was inspiring and felt like the very best example of MLB Pride.
Yesterday morning, in fact, I had just written the Dodgers entry for the upcoming annual Outsports MLB Pride Guide and applauded them for their support. But following what happened during this past NHL season and Bud Light’s capitulation to organized transphobia, there was also a loud voice of cynicism in my head that saw the backlash and thought, “They’ll probably cave.”
So it was no great surprise when the Sisters were uninvited. But that didn’t make it any less hurtful.
I was raised Catholic. And although I knew I was gay in sixth grade, I didn’t come out until age 35. I wouldn’t say that this was definitely causation, but there was certainly a hell of a lot of correlation.
My church wasn’t one of those fire and brimstone “I saw a boy with nail polish and I wanted to break his fingers” congregations. Not at all. But they didn’t need to be to get their message across. I heard enough readings from the Letters of Paul to know at a young age that sexuality was something to be ashamed of and repress.
Being gay was completely out of the question.
For most of my childhood, I really wanted to be a good Catholic. Love thy neighbor, say your prayers, go to Heaven…I was all in. When I started realizing I was attracted to guys, in order to continue being a good Catholic, I had to disassociate that part of myself from the rest of my life. The attraction was there — constantly — but I forced my mind to refuse to acknowledge it.
This manifested itself with some behaviors that proved seriously harmful to my mental health.
In eighth grade, I spent a good deal of my waking hours silently repeating the mantra: “I reject Satan, I reject Satan, I reject Satan.” I focused on it with intensity as if there were a magical number of times that would make me stop noticing how cute some of the guys on the basketball team were.
There was also one Midnight Christmas Mass where I spent the hour entranced in trying to pray my gay away — almost as an out-of-body experience. I definitely knew who I was. But after spending a couple decades as a good Catholic and absorbing the church’s teachings, I was determined to hate being gay and fight it with every fiber of my being.
So you can hopefully understand that when the Catholic League launches an attack on a night when my favorite sport welcomes my community, I take it very personally.
It’s especially galling to read the mewling whines of a homophobe like Donohue, whose only move is to perpetually play the victim and convince enough of his followers to do the same until they get their way.
His utter shamelessness is best exemplified by this passage from his letter:
“In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers made history by naming Jackie Robinson to its [sic] roster. He was the first Black man to play Major League Baseball. Now it is in the business of promoting bigotry, not fighting it. By rewarding anti-Catholicism, the Dodgers have broken bread with the most despicable elements in American society today.”
I trust I don’t need to explain how disgusting it is to see a multimillionaire white man invoke the struggle of Jackie Robinson to attack another marginalized group. Then again, based on how Donohue interprets the teachings of Jesus, I suppose I should give him points for consistency.
But Donohue knew what he was doing by directing his screed at Commissioner Manfred and including his e-mail address so that his followers could do the same. The best way to sum up Manfred is that his moral compass is sponsored by Nike, MGM Resorts, or whichever corporation promises to give MLB the most money.
We don’t know for sure whether it was the Dodgers who made the call to disinvite the Sisters or if it was on orders from above. Regardless, it confirmed that the cynical instinct to believe that they would back down from this opportunistic outrage was spot on.
After getting my hopes up for a brief moment, that’s a hollow, empty feeling — especially when it makes me relive everything the church did to me and feel like they’re winning.
Despite this, the Dodgers are going ahead with their Pride Night and it’s still going to be a celebration of their LGBTQ fanbase. But lingering over everything is this undeniable fact: Backing down to well-organized anti-gay forces because your organization fears a homophobic backlash is the antithesis of Pride.
It’s also a reminder of why we protest in the first place. And why it must continue.