Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence chief calls for healing

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

EUREKA – The president of the Eureka Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence says an extended period of healing is a must, now that Humboldt Pride is slated to dissolve Nov. 30.

Calla Peltier-Olson, head of the local Abbey of the Big Red Wood, believes that before any new LBGTQ+ organizations emerge, a series of foundational issues and tensions must be resolved, chief among them racial injustice. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer. The plus sign signifies other identities such as asexual, pansexual, genderqueer and so on.)

“The goal can’t be, ‘Oh, hurry up, we need a new Pride organization because we need to have our festival again,’” said Peltier-Olson. “The goal has to be to confront these issues in our community. After we’ve confronted them and are able to work together with common understanding, we’ll be able to make something much more beautiful and much more healthy.”

FROM THE ABBEY Calla Peltier-Olson discusses the future of the local LGBTQ+ movement. Submitted photo

FROM THE ABBEY Calla Peltier-Olson discusses the future of the local LGBTQ+ movement. Submitted photo

For the near-term, Peltier-Olson said the Sisters support plans in embryo for a series of community forums to air grievances and settle the racial and related conflicts that led to Humboldt Pride’s putative dismantling.

The notional forums would be organized by the Humboldt County Grassroots LGBTQ+ Community Space Project, acting under the aegis of the Ink People Center for the Arts, the Eureka-based advocacy group for cultural development and civic discourse.

Peltier-Olson has been asked to assist with arranging the first one but said there is no timetable yet. “A lot of internal dialogue in the queer community needs to take place before a schedule is organized around the foundational issues I mentioned. Nobody has any idea how long it will take. The Sisters have not met to decide on what our objectives will be in lieu of Humboldt Pride.”

Tracing what she believes led to Humboldt Pride’s downfall, Peltier-Olson said several factors were at play. In an interview last week at an Old Town coffee house, she said the organization’s board of directors failed to heed challenges to its organizing practices, which “weren’t inclusive of people of color.” The lack of inclusiveness was part of “a larger critique of a lack of transparency and responsiveness to the LGBTQ+ community.”

Josh Tillett, a year-long member of the Humboldt Pride board, agreed that moving slowly is advisable. “A lot of distrust was created in the community and racial justice was a part of that, primarily due to the fact that it wasn’t even being recognized” by the directors, he said. “People are very apprehensive now about that Humboldt Pride name and affiliation. We don’t want to jump back into that and make the same mistakes.”

Peltier-Olson said that with the election of Donald Trump, “There is no more important topic to address than the issue of racial justice. His election... highlights the underlying white supremacy of American culture and brings it to a head. The national election confirms the need for local community organizing and adds a greater sense of urgency.”

She called attention to the national rise in hate crimes at the grassroots, “as bigots have had their beliefs basically confirmed.”

The FBI reported last week that hate crimes rose 6.8 percent last year, with a 67 percent surge in attacks on Muslims alone.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 700 incidents of harassment or intimidation since the presidential election Nov. 8.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the latest statistics “deeply sobering,” declaring, “We will continue to enforce our nation’s hate crimes laws to the fullest extent possible.”

But Lynch’s prospective successor, hardline law and order conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), nominated by President-elect Trump Friday, is triggering depth charges in the minority black, Latino, Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities.

Sessions is well-liked in the Senate and Republicans applauded the nomination. But the Washington Post quoted Rep. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) as saying, “If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man.”

President Obama warned after a summit conference in Athens earlier last week, “We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around ‘an us and a them.’”

Peltier-Olson hastened to rule out that the non-profit, volunteer Sisters would assume leadership of major events. “We don’t have the capacity to organize a Pride festival and as president I don’t want my organization to take on that responsibility because that isn’t our role in the community.”

She added, “My intent as a Sister and as the president of our abbey is to help set the tone for the conversation and to help ensure that previous harms aren’t replicated. We as a community have to engage in dialogue about racial justice,” as the predicate to a replacement organization “that is inclusive and accountable.”

Humboldt Pride’s undoing had its genesis in a broadside publicized in August by a Humboldt group calling itself the “32 Queers for Community Unity.” The 32 signatories said they had “lost hope” in the Pride’s board of directors, who were accused of acting as an intolerant and exclusionary clique which barred full participation.

The manifesto accused the directors of covert bullying, closed board meetings, curtailed discussion topics, undocumented decision making and the withholding of finances and organizational rules from the Pride website.

Charging the directors with a persistent lack of accountability and the high-handed removal of individual board members, the 32 asserted that Humboldt Pride could not represent the queer community until it acknowledged the experiences of queer people of color, as well as working class, disabled, homeless and elder queers, among others. (In the LGBTQ+ lexicon, “queer” is an umbrella term, shorthand for the entire community. Its use is intended in part to expose the prejudice considered inherent in labels and social categories like lesbian, gay and bisexual.)

Tillett said he agreed with the 32 Queer critique, but some uncertainty still surrounds Humboldt Pride’s ultimate fate.

Both Tillett and Peltier-Olson said that the silence of the directors about whether they will meet Nov. 30 and confirm the decision leaves an open question. Neither has heard from any of the directors since the prior announcement, which resulted from a nearly three hour board discussion last month that Tillett said deadlocked.

“Nobody is positive about the Nov. 30 date,” in Peltier-Olson’s words.

Nor has there been any word, she said, about the amount of funds Humboldt Pride has on hand and how and to whom they might be disbursed.

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