Metaphorically speaking, a faction of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community feel that a higher-up representing the Braves stroked the wrong kind of check — one that had Brian Kemp’s name scrawled in fresh ink on its face.
That faction took up a complaint with the board of Atlanta Pride, the one in negotiations for a festival sponsorship from the MLB hometeam. That complaint was not taken lightly.
“We did make a decision not to move forward with the partnership with the Braves this year,” says Jamie Fergerson, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee. Put simply? “We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so we can’t and don’t take positions on candidates or parties.” That’s not to say, however, that they’re apolitical. With a bit more context, she adds: “We do talk about issues and we’re certainly aware of what’s happening in the community around us. Pride began as a political entity, so we take stands when we need to.”
Fergerson stresses that as an LGBTQ-oriented organization, there are criteria on what makes for a good relationship with Pride and its sponsors. Among the many that have run through her mind as she mulls over businesses and individuals who show willingness to purchase space at the well-attended, three-day affair: “Do you support fair employment for our community? Do you support marriage equality? Do you support adoption rights, things that protect members of our community that are based on their sexuality and gender identity? Do your actions bear that out?”
“We’re just trying to do a good job, and as a Pride organization, we’re making decisions that we feel are responsible and responsive to the community.” Since she took over, she tells us she feels merely a steward of an organization that doesn’t belong to her, so any decision she makes is one she’s mulled over. “This decision was not unilateral,” she says, noting that the committee was heavily involved. “We all felt like we wanted to just pause.”
If a lack of proper LGBTQ support from a sponsorship applicant is in question, Fergerson — along with the board — hashes out what’s fair when it comes to representation in what’s clearly a celebration and a movement to advance the community toward a more fair and equal standing in today’s society.
“The truth of it is, we turn down money and sponsorships regularly,” she says, adding that there are very little donations from attendees and those who could, perhaps, donate in other ways. Noting this, she adds that, naturally, corporate sponsorships are what keep Pride (and its many year-round events) free of charge. Their resolution is made stronger, one could note, by the fact that it would be almost too easy for Pride to accept donations willy-nilly. However, Fergerson insists that “it’s about finding the right fit — and not everyone who comes to you is the right fit.”
“It was a fairly new partnership — just this year they approached us,” she says of the almost-inaugural Pride/Braves match-up. As much of the team-up would have been grand, “We want organizations and businesses to support [the LGBTQ community], and we want to support them back. We want to do things right.” So much so, that the board decided to turn away what was possibly a handsome check. In spite of comments from angered parties, Fergerson stresses that money, while important, isn’t the first priority of the board. It would seem that the community’s input matters most, even if there has been a concerted effort on behalf of the Braves to reach out to marginalized communities.
“They have a team of folks working specifically with the LGBTQ community, as well as the Spanish-speaking community, and they genuinely want to have to have improved relationships between the LGBTQ community and the Braves, and with major-league baseball in general,” she says. “A lot of sports [teams] have not been super queer-friendly.”
The spirited executive director makes a point. There’s a noted lack of LGBTQ-support in a majority of American-grown sports leagues. 2014 saw Michael Sam come out in the NFL, but his career arc was more fizzle than sizzle. Ditto Jason Collins of the NBA. There are currently no openly gay MLB players.
In fact, homophobia in the leagues graces more headlines than do pro-LGBTQ stories — including, perhaps unironically — the moment when Braves leftfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. was held in a lingering embrace in the dugout by fellow Brave, second-baseman Ozzie Albies. Rumors encircled the duo (some explaining the show of affection to a death in Acuna’s family, to an emotional meltdown from the outfielder) but one thing that held true: They became a laughingstock to many who’ve upheld (forgive me) subjectively indignant positions on the outward display of affection between two male athletes.
(Actually, no: If I can interject a personal retort to the haters: At the time of writing, the Braves were/are currently in the 2018 playoffs. Better still? They’re in the playoffs with the Dodgers, which is the only team that’s seen two gay players — Glenn Burke and Billy Bean, who came out after their MLB careers — show themselves to the world. Chew on that ’baccy wad and spit it on your own high-school cleats, Jethro.)
Pardon that. Back to the story:
Keep in mind, as well, that this is a team that’s held an LGBT night with a happening pre-party for the past three years — this year’s was sold completely out. If anyone’s familiar with the ballcaps emblazoned with the rainbow Braves-font “A,” (pictured as the story’s cover) they know those things fetch a high dollar from those who couldn’t get tickets in time.
Lots of LGBTQ denizens of this city support the Braves.
Fergerson sees why: “They have been genuine and absolutely understand the community and the work that needs to be done,” she says. She’s speaking of (at least) two liaisons who work under the Braves’ community-outreach banner, both of whom she credits as being “wonderful” to work with. Continuing:
“In general, I think these [minority-outreach] partnerships are important for [the Braves]; I think their motives are genuine and they’ve been doing things for at least these last couple of years to move in the right direction,” Fergerson tells us. “When [news of the Kemp donation] came out, I had a conversation with the people I was working with at the Braves, and they were clearly disappointed, but we ultimately decided that we were more interested in figuring out what was healthy for both organizations in the long term. So we decided to push pause on things.”
(Was that a bummer? I have to ask.)
“There was some disappointment, but it was amicable. We’re open to continuing conversations with them.”
But there’s another roll of the many-sided, campaign-contribution dice: “Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall said the franchise often donates to candidates from both parties,” adding that Kemp-opponent Stacey Abrams’ campaign received a Tomahawk-chop of a check toward her political run in the past. That’s per the AJC. At any rate, when it came to the Braves’ involvement in this year’s Pride, Fergerson and Co. were at the 11th hour on people and organizations to keep aboard.
“We didn’t really have enough time to do research, to vet it and figure out what was to happen before our sponsorship deadline, so we concluded that — given that there was this contribution; they confirmed it and people in our community wanted to know more about it — we [should] pause on the relationship for now.”
I want to know if there’s some rogue aspect to the donation.
“I can’t speak for [the Braves], but my understanding that this donation was made by [a single] individual.” She doesn’t know who made the contribution, but can say that the decision wasn’t vetted by the Braves as an entity. However:
“That doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t have repercussions when it’s done in their name. I think that ultimately, we had to make a decision in the best interest of Pride and was responsive to the community. If there’s a significant portion of our community with a concern, our responsibility is to listen to that and to, at the very least, figure something out, to do some research. Hopefully, we’ll have conversations with them in the future and we’ll see what happens.”
She didn’t want to start off a sponsorship on a bad foot, adding, “I would rather put it off, and then do it when it’s right and appropriate.”
“One thing we know is that a lot of people and organizations that have grown up in the Deep South are working to undo homophobia in our lives and in our organizations. Different people have different places in that work and are on the journey, and we’re open to continuing to talk to them and realize they are on that journey.”
“There is no animosity in this,” she says, adding that time and education might make for a better fit. Of a team-up, she tells us with gravitas: “Next year might be different.”
[This is a living story. All attempts to reach out to Braves PR have been without response. DISCLOSURE: This article was written in the wee hours of the morning, after a late interview with Jamie Fergerson. Any reachback/interviews will be promptly reported and appreciated.]