Progressive orgs face off over UFC donation and award

Is trouble brewing within the Las Vegas progressive community? According to media reports and sources I’m close to, things aren’t looking so rosy between The Gay and Lesbian Center and folks at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN). But the question is, why?

This kerfuffle stems from news that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to get a “Corporation of the Year” award from The Center at their annual Honorarium next month. The award, an act approved by The Center’s board, comes after a $200,000 donation to the organization and on the heels of the UFC enacting a code of conduct earlier this year to address a dark history of anti-gay comments (as well as rape jokes, racist jokes, and more). Indeed, you may recall yours truly heading up a coalition to demand such a code (and they finally did!).

According to a CityLife blog, written by Launce Rake, who used to work at PLAN, things are getting testy between The Center and PLAN, who sent representatives to the LGBT organization’s last board meeting to protest the UFC award:

Representatives for PLAN and the Culinary Union Local 226 were careful Friday to say that they support the mission of The Center, which provides a range of support for lesbians, gay, bisexual people and transgender people and others in the community.

“It’s been kind of tough,” Laura Martin, PLAN communications director, said. “The (Center) staff are our friends. They are still our friends.”

She said that PLAN and Culinary representatives attended The Center’s board meeting earlier this month and submitted a letter expressing their concerns with the partnership. The board did not respond, Martin said.

For their part, The Center’s board is defending their burgeoning relationship with the UFC:

“The partnership between The Center and UFC is unlike any other joint effort we have, providing a platform for The Center’s programs, services, and messaging to be communicated to an important and critical demographic, mostly new to The Center,” said Raymond Wilmer, The Center’s board president. “From the outset of our partnership, the participation by UFC in the life of The Center has been about more than just funding. They have had an impressive presence at significant events, and they have ensured that this participation has been inclusive and has included the highest level of leadership of UFC. The Center, in turn, has committed ourselves to supporting UFC’s long-standing efforts to ensure that their operation is fully supportive of equality and the LGBTQ community. It is our strong belief that we can effect greater change by working with corporations like UFC than by isolating them.”

In fact, I suspect this has been a long-time coming. In 2011, when I approached The Center to sign on to the code of conduct campaign (as five local organizations, including the Culinary Union did), I was told that wouldn’t happen. At the time I was told that donations were promised to The Center and they didn’t want to jeopardize that. For similar reasons, other local women’s groups did not sign on, including one organization which received a donation from a fighter after one of his inappropriate comments made headlines. In October 2011, The Center was curiously absent in signing on to a letter asking Anheuser-Busch to drop sponsorship deals with the UFC after misogynistic and anti-gay comments (PLAN and several other organizations did sign), which resulted in the beverage giant issuing a stern warning to the sports franchise in April 2012.

But this isn’t news, right? Non-profits and community organizations are often beholden to boards and to the tightrope walk of defending or remaining mum about actions by donors or potential donors. I daresay PLAN has been in similar ethical quandaries over the years. And by the way, PLAN refused to sign on to the code of conduct campaign in 2011, even as some of its coalition members, including the Culinary Union, did. Does that mean PLAN has some donor information to hide as well? I’m not saying they do. I’m just pointing out that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

All the politics of donors aside, there have been some grumblings coming from Center clients and even some staff that the UFC donation — no doubt of great help in the organization’s efforts to finish their new building and launch some pretty impressive national campaigns — has the appearance of blood money, used to wash away some of the sins of UFC President Dana White and fighter comments that were less than sensitive to LGBTQ individuals and issues. Whether it actually is a sign of a come-to-Jesus moment for White and his organization or a calculated PR strategy designed to keep advertisers and partners happy … only time will tell.

Indeed, with all the headlines and positive accomplishments The Center has had in the past year, I can’t help but wonder what is the true motivation behind this current progressive community schism? The Center is a member organization of PLAN’s coalition, true. But I didn’t see PLAN go after other coalition members for taking donations from mining companies, even though PLAN has been working on changing mining tax laws for nearly a decade. In fact, on PLAN’s list of accomplishments on its website, they take credit for helping to launch The Center, even though The Center was started in 1992 and as best as I can determine from their website, PLAN didn’t form until at least 1994 after co-founder and current executive director Bob Fulkerson left Citizen Alert. (Full disclosure: I worked for Fulkerson at PLAN for eight 16 weeks in 2008.)

So what’s the real motivation here? Is it really a worry about the collaboration between the city’s esteemed LGBT organization and the UFC? I can’t help wondering, if calling out the UFC were such a priority, where was PLAN during the 2011 campaign for the code of conduct? Or in the year between that campaign ending (2012) and when the UFC finally enacted their code earlier this year? Or since then? If The Center’s actions to take a donation and give an award to the UFC stinks — and I’m not saying it doesn’t — why then doesn’t it stink that PLAN is only concerned with this issue NOW? And what does it say about PLAN that they feel they have the right or authority to butt into The Center’s business? (By the way, I find it interesting that you can find information about Center sponsors and donors on their website — on their front page even — but nothing on PLAN’s website. Where’s your annual report, PLAN? If it’s good for the goose, surely it’s good for the gander.)

Who is the figure behind the curtain here? The Culinary Union. The union has had a lengthy history of attacking the UFC as a backdoor way to attack the Fertitta family, who are owners of Zuffa LLC, which owns the UFC. Of course, the Fertittas also own the local Stations casino company, which has famously held out against unionizing. Has the Culinary offered to give a donation to PLAN recently? Have they offered other help? And would that be any better or worse than The Center taking a donation from the UFC?

I do know one thing, the Culinary is coming out hard against The Center for taking the UFC donation and for honoring them at their big award’s event next month. Culinary has been sending out a pretty inflammatory flier, which was also sent to me by a reader (apologies for the poor image quality):

UFC_PLAN_Center_Culinary_flier2013

Reading this flier, it looks like the situation is pretty cut-and-dry. How can The Center align with a franchise that has allowed such hate speech to propagate unchecked? But if you research these quotes, they all date from 2011 or earlier. When I did an internet search on recent gay slurs or other forms of hate speech, the instances I found were followed up by swift action from White and use of the new code of conduct.

And The Center is not taking this lying down. They issued a pretty sternly worded response a couple of weeks ago:

However, during the annual Las Vegas PRIDE Festival, the Culinary Workers Union 226 (Culinary Union) launched their latest negative campaign against the owners of the UFC and Station Casinos. Seizing on an opportunity to perpetuate these falsehoods, the Culinary Union distributed flyers featuring fabrications about the UFC and Station Casinos owners’ commitment to their workers and the LGBTQ community. They also requested recipients to incite further action through social media, in order to continue their misinformation campaign online. It is clear that the Culinary Union will go to any length, even distorting the truth, to intimidate the owners of the UFC and Station Casinos to acquiesce to their labor demands.

The UFC will not allow the good work of the LGBTQ community to be used as a political tool in a completely separate private labor dispute regarding two private parties. The tactics employed by the leadership of the Culinary Union is an affront to the LGBTQ cause and their quest for equality. It is particularly abhorrent that a union that prides itself on protecting their members has resorted to bullying campaigns that perpetuate distortions about the UFC and Station Casinos, especially when both companies have strong and public ties to the LGBTQ movement.

It is clear that the Culinary Union’s leadership is more interested in perpetuating lies about the UFC and Station Casinos instead of promoting a healthy environment for their members. They are more concerned with launching negative campaigns seeking to misinform the public about the UFC and Station Casino’s continuing efforts to promote LGBTQ issues and the tolerance of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yikes. It sure seems like the Culinary — and perhaps by proxy, PLAN — are trying to fan the flames of old controversy to help their own agenda (unionizing Stations). There were some who accused me of being a tool of the Culinary when I partnered with them on the code of conduct campaign. But I would offer one key difference: I never took any money or in-kind donations from the union and the events that were highlighted as problematic were recent. (Not to mention, I had a specific goal and when I achieved that, my involvement ended.)

I’m not a UFC fan, but I do think that when you ask an organization to change and they do, then you have to give them the appropriate respect. I led a coalition in asking the UFC to address anti-gay and misogynistic comments by creating a code of conduct. And they did. And they are using it. Do they still have fighters who shoot their mouths off and say stupid things? Absolutely. So does football, of which I am a fan. There will always be individuals in sports that say and do stupid or hurtful things. The important thing in this context is to look to the governing organizations and see what their response is. That sets a tone. And it speaks volumes about respecting people and being a role model. And like it or not, the UFC is a role model to countless youth.

I have no relationship with PLAN or The Center or the Culinary (no member of my household has ever been a member of a union). I have, on occasion, worked in one way or another with each of the progressive groups in question. But any of those associations ended a long time ago. The Sin City Siren is an independent organization and does not take advertising money or contributions of any kind, unless expressly used for a specific campaign or event. (My blog hosting platform, WordPress, does embed ads in my blogs sometimes. But I have no control over that, nor do I get any revenue from that.) So I am not beholden to any of the players in this entangled mess. I’m not sure we can say the same for the key players here.

But this whole mess does have me wondering who is scratching whose back? What is the real motivation in all this? I would caution PLAN to watch out for being sucked into a campaign that is not genuinely representing their goals and could, in fact, hurt the progressive community as a whole. Fulkerson has been known to tilt at windmills more than most (sometimes against the advice of his own staff). The question is, which windmills are the real targets here?

If you want to find out more or ask your own questions, PLAN is having a meeting at 6 pm, Sept. 25, at their offices at 708 S. 6th Street.

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3 thoughts on “Progressive orgs face off over UFC donation and award

  1. Amen! Where was PLAN in 2011? While individuals I knew from PLAN had kind words some material support would have been nice. As Democratic party leaders included Harry Reid himself cashed UFC donor checks I got whispers I could face consequences, but no one asked about why all these progressive candidates took that money then. Harry Reid and the dozen or more politicians on UFCs donor list could better afford sending back those $$$$ than The Center.

    Independent activists do tire of being conveniently used and then having the knives wielded toward their backs when we are no longer convenient.

    Look out who you call “couch bloggers” because smart women with a keyboard get a helluva lot done while not needing to be seen in the same pack of a dozen or so progressives at every event. That kind of backhanded misogyny is an attack on the importance of family life balance. Sad. Especially that without pouring endless time getting seen – through passion and talent things get done.

    I spoke out in 2011 but was so far persona non-grata to even be contacted as to why this issue remains relevant because I would have asked why the conversation about the donation did not happen much much earlier. I asked too about the politicians who will be embraced and endorsed even by Culinary in the same cycle as they cash their UFC check.

    What is the purity test of Nevada progressive politics? Breaks my heart that when you follow the money in our community it is in the end in the very same bed of power. I question why to continue to use the limited resources our progressive community has fighting an in-battle leaving the same decision makers in control at the end of the day, when there are so many other battles left to win which will upon their conclusion change hearts and minds.

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