On the evening of June 16th, 2023, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted their 10th annual Pride Night at Dodger Stadium. As fans made their way into the ballpark, they were met by thousands of protestors gathered in the parking lot in opposition to the team's decision to honor the LA chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a longtime LGBTQ+ charity and activist group, as part of the night's festivities. The protest illuminated the continued tensions surrounding LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance.
Inside the stadium, the Dodgers held a brief pre-game ceremony to present the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence with the Dodgers Community Hero Award "for their outstanding service to the LGBTQ+ community," as stadium announcer Todd Leitz declared. Sister Unity, representing the group in a blue and red ribbon outfit, reported hearing cheers of support from LGBTQ+ fans rather than boos from protestors. Manager Dave Roberts also made clear that "anyone who wants to come in and support the Dodgers" was welcome. By first pitch, over 50,000 fans had filled the ballpark in a show of acceptance.
A Controversial Honoree
Outside Dodger Stadium, however, several thousand protestors spearheaded by the group Catholics for Catholics decried the team's decision to honor the Sisters. The conservative Catholic activist group, which includes advisors like Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, set up a stage to denounce the Sisters as a "hate group," holding a prayer procession against what they viewed as an inappropriate honoree for the Dodgers' Pride Night. Participants included members of other anti-LGBTQ+ groups who previously protested LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts in schools.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have long worked to serve the LGBTQ+ community through HIV/AIDS activism and fundraising, operating with an irreverent tone that employs drag names and attire like nun's habits. Their provocative methods have made them controversial, viewed by some social conservatives as anti-Catholic or generally immoral. The group has denied such characterizations, framing their work as "promulgating universal joy and expiating stigmatic guilt." Nevertheless, the Dodgers' choice to celebrate their contributions this Pride Night was contentious.
For critics like Catholics for Catholics, Pride Night itself was objectionable, let alone honoring the Sisters alongside it. But the Dodgers proceeded with the event following MLB's decision in 2022 to formally celebrate Pride Month across the league. This illustrated the divides that remain on LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports and society amid ongoing debates over drag performances, classroom discussions on gender identity, and how organizations like the Dodgers should navigate these complex issues.
Debating Pride and Inclusion in Sports
The Dodgers' Pride Night protest symbolized broader debates about how sports teams and other institutions should recognize marginalized groups. Is any acknowledgement of sexuality or gender identity too political or divisive? Are some groups or styles of advocacy too extreme for mainstream acceptance? These questions are difficult to answer absolutely.
Supporters argue Pride Nights provide meaningful representation and belonging for the LGBTQ+ community. Critics suggest they inappropriately mix politics, sexuality, and sports. There are good-faith perspectives on both sides. The Dodgers aimed to take a moderate approach - holding Pride Night while avoiding direct political statements or advocacy. Even so, honoring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence proved controversial given the group's bold persona.
Going forward, teams like the Dodgers face challenging decisions about who to celebrate for Pride Nights or similar heritage events. Any choice may draw criticism from those who feel excluded or disagree with part of a group's messaging. But not participating at all also sends a message. There are rarely easy solutions, as the Dodgers discovered this Pride Night. Open communication, good intentions, and staying focused on shared values like inclusion and respect can help sports franchises navigate these complex waters.
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