The Dodgers Made the Right Call

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

In a sport defined by making the call, a tough one had to be made at Dodgers Stadium. Only this one had nothing to do with the game.

As part of the Major League Baseball (MLB)’s broader Pride Month campaign, the Los Angeles Dodgers invited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to their June 16 Pride Night celebration.The Sisters are an “order of queer and  trans nuns who have devoted [themselves] to those on the edges, promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.” To accomplish their goal, they “use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

It’s the “humor and irreverent wit” that has drawn criticism from the Archbishop of San Francisco, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Florida senator Marco Rubio and Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw. These individuals chastised the Sisters for mocking the Catholic faith and created enough of an outcry to cause the Dodgers to withdraw their invitation on May 18. However, the Dodgers later reversed their decision on May 22 and re-invited the Sisters.

Given the Sisters’ impact on the LGBTQ+ community, I think it is the correct call. I acknowledge that the protesting parties have a right to disagree. It’s true that the Sisters satirize the traditionally reserved costumes and names of Catholic nuns. In 1998, they “exorcised” the Pope in Union Square just as his helicopter was about to land at the Golden State Bridge. For Pride celebrations in 2003, they displayed one of their members, Pope Dementia, in a cage with the mock purpose of “reaching out and fondling our young acolyte.” Seeing nuns and the Pope presented in this way can easily be interpreted by Catholics as disrespecting holy figures in their faith. Furthermore, their motto of “go and sin some more” is a twist on Christ’s statement to “go and sin no more” and they engage in pub crawls as a reference to the processional route of the Stations of the Cross, a popular form of devotion for Catholics.

However, dismissing them as just a comedy or satire group diminishes their long history of service towards the LGBTQ+ community. During the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the Sisters hosted early fundraisers for AIDS patients. They created “Play Fair,” an instrumental safe sex resource for gay men that advocated condom usage. One of their members, Bobbi Campbell, became an outspoken advocate for AIDS education and prevention through an appearance on the cover of Newsweek. He co-founded People with AIDS San Francisco to bring more attention to AIDS patients and held AIDS Candlelight Vigil to honor those who succumbed to the disease. Their efforts starkly contrast with the Vatican publicly denouncing homosexuality as an “objective disorder” in 1986 and powerful Catholic figures like New York Archbishop John O’Connor opposing the distribution of condoms. While it is true Catholic hospitals took in AIDS patients, the institution actively worked to stop the spread of a major preventive tool for the disease. It seems fair for the Sisters to criticize this hypocrisy.

The Sisters have also used their notoriety to speak out against anti-feminists like Phyllis Schlafly (through mock public exorcism) and to raise money for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. They’ve consistently organized campaigns drawing attention to violence against
LGBTQIA+ individuals and events – such as their anniversary parades on Castro Street in San Francisco and youth dances – that empower LGBTQIA+ youth.

The context of the game and the Sisters’ response to the protests also support their presence. The San Francisco Giants, whom the Dodgers play in their Pride Night game, are from the home city of the Sisters and a frontline in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. As a result, the Sisters have an especially large footprint in California, hence the reason for them being honored by the Dodgers. The significance of that honor, despite the Dodgers’ disinvitation and re-invitation, hasn’t been lost on the Sisters either. They’ve chosen to focus on how Kershaw hasn’t boycotted the game to show his opposition and acknowledge his beliefs.

If the Sisters are going to draw attention to themselves and the causes they support through humor, they must be prepared for people to get offended.  Not everyone sees a joke the same way. Fortunately, it seems they are aware of that. It would have been easy for them to deny the re-invitation, but they chose to see the Dodgers’ gesture as what it is — an attempt to draw attention to the issues that the LGBTQIA+ community faces and the work being done to combat it.

Changing a Twitter logo is simple and often performative, but forcing a conversation sparks real change. 

On a night where the focus is on supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, it would have been hypocritical to shun a group at the center of that support. Even if you disagree with their methods, you cannot deny the Sisters of Indulgence’s results.

I’m glad the Dodgers haven’t.