Firefly calls for OHF board member’s removal; OHF responds

I wrote to Firefly House directly with some of the questions in my last post, and David Salisbury, a HP of Firefly, responded and gave me permission to share his responses.

Are you calling for a boycott of OHF?

No.  Neither Iris nor FIrefly are calling for a boycott of the Open Hearth Foundation.  The statements made were merely to publicly express our decisions to discontinue our support for the time being.  Although it is not our intention to see other people and groups discontinue their support for the OHF, we understand that once others are aware of the current situation, they may feel the same.

This is an equivocation. I understand that they are not explicitly calling for others to leave, but they freely admit that their actions will have the result of making others leave. They are clearly withdrawing support in order to pressure the organization to take specific steps, as the next answer shows.

And if you are, what actions are you calling on OHF to take?

We had hoped that once the OHF was made aware two months ago of the abuse and manipulation that had occurred inside their organization that they would wish to preserve the highest ethical quality and take steps to remove the governor in question.

I don’t know why the communications from Firefly are giving Sean the you-know-who treatment. They are insisting that OHF remove Sean.

Again, this causes me to ask if that is even possible for the organization as an organization to do. There is nothing in the bylaws that I saw that creates any mechanism for impeaching a board member, and if there was, it might only be possible to do so if the board member acted wrongly with respect to her or his role within the organization.

Under what conditions will you return your support to the organization?

As a matter of principle, we are unable to return our support to the OHF as long as the governor in question is still on the board.  However, the failure to timely address the situation when it was brought to their attention and increased appearance of support for said governor has left us with more concerns about the leadership of the organization as a whole.  Our return of support will depend on OHF response and the steps taken in the next few months.  While we do not wish to see the community center fail, as Firefly members have also donated a lot of time and energy to the project, the response of the organization to this situation has been highly questionable.  Why did no one follow up when Iris told them what was happening?  Why were her claims ignored?  Why wasn’t action taken sooner? It is concerning to think that abuse by leaders in the community is acceptable.

This is troubling. I understand them insisting that Sean step down or be removed. But the “concerns about the leadership of the organization as a whole” part suggests that if Firefly is not completely satisfied with OHF’s response – and since they may be asking for something the organization is legally unable to do, that’s a potential outcome – Firefly would continue to refuse to support OHF.

Capital Witch has released an article about this, and the quotes from other individuals show that people are following Firefly’s lead and boycotting OHF.

OHF did release a statement today. They make some critically important points.

Third, neither the community nor the organization are best served by removing leadership because of allegations that are unrelated to the professional work of the OHF or the execution of the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Governors. Moreover, the board cannot comment or act on pending legal matters that do not involve the organization.

Let me explain that as I understand it. Please note I am not speaking on behalf of OHF, just trying to expand on the details of these matters as I see them.

As the beginning of the statement points out, people who work with OHF are supposed to be professional and separate their personal life from OHF as much as possible. That has clearly failed here. But the fact that some people have failed at it does not mean that the organization as an organization is now party to their personal disputes. It is the right thing to do for the organization to try not to take sides in a matter like this. It’s the only way we can successfully build a community center that is neutral with respect to disagreements between individuals.

And while it is very satisfying to declare someone “unfit to lead,” that is a personal, ethical judgment and also not something the organization can necessarily act on. People can be thrown out of less formal organizations on the basis of allegations and because of personal disagreements. But again, it’s not clear that Sean’s actions – whatever actions those were – represent malfeasance with respect to his position on the board. He may be a scumbag; he may not be; but if he’s not an incompetent governor, for the organization to remove him (again, if that’s possible) for things unrelated to his duties makes the organization less professional.

Even if you are absolutely positive that it is totally justified in this case, sometimes tolerating people who have done bad things is the price of working together. Iris brought up Bill Clinton in her original post about the matter; well, Clinton was not removed from office for precisely these reasons. Being on the OHF board of governors doesn’t mean that OHF endorses you as a right and trustworthy human being. We can wish that it did, but it doesn’t.

Finally, that part about not being able to comment on certain  matters must be understood. This is an incorporated organization with specific rules, laws, and obligations that it must follow. A divorce is a legal action, and Iris has said a divorce is pending. Therefore the OHF cannot comment on the situation between the two of them. This is not a matter of OHF stonewalling or protecting Sean.

Edited to clarify: I wrote that the OHF was legally forbidden from commenting. That is not precisely accurate; it is not external law that keeps OHF from taking a position or making public comments about an ongoing legal matter, it is the internal duties that the officers owe to the organization. They must not make the organization liable to be drawn into the proceedings and must maintain the organization’s impartiality. They can look into the matter as an internal affair, which they are doing – see below.

It’s not their job to adjudicate the private situation between Iris and Sean, and moreover, since there are people adjudicating that situation, it is specifically something the OHF needs to stay out of.

OHF must not take sides for reasons of professionalism and staying out of legal proceedings. And I think that once we’re aware of this, all of us and especially Firefly need to think very carefully about whether we’re putting them in an impossible position by creating one side and declaring that OHF is de facto the “other side.”

The OHF is restricting communication through a spokesperson, Eric Eldritch, and has also appointed a new ombudsman, Angela Raincatcher. I strongly encourage anyone interested in this issue to contact them and work with the OHF as an organization in an effort to keep this professional and to work to preserve the community building the organization has done.

Edited to add: I have contacted Angela with my own personal position on what the OHF ought to do. She is listening to all opinions and guaranteeing confidentiality. If you have a position on this matter, talk to her.

Finally, I want to note that OHF will not act on this matter immediately. I know we all want to see justice done – whatever that might mean – as quickly as possible. But OHF needs to listen to the community, they need to assess their internal situation, and they need to weigh the alternatives. Whatever it is, this matter is not cut-and-dried, and working through issues like this takes time. Please, everyone, acknowledge that, and stay engaged with the OHF as they work through this.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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8 Responses to Firefly calls for OHF board member’s removal; OHF responds

  1. The other consideration that many people are not talking about is that the current Chair’s affair was with a trustee of the OHF (who is still a trustee), and they followed through on that relationship at the center’s property. From what I hear, an Air Force employee’s (Bennett is still enlisted) affair are illegal and is punishable by possible court marshal. Does the OHF really want to associate itself with that?

    • Literata says:

      As far as I know, Sean is still vice chair. Yes, adultery is specifically ruled out by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, although such incidents almost never go to court-martial. And regardless of who did what with whom where, the OHF has to try to stay as uninvolved as possible.

  2. derored says:

    Where is the line for “personal” behavior to legitimately reflect on “professional” standing? What if it was rape, pretty well documented but not convicted only due to victim blaming by the local district attorney or judge or whatever? What if prior child abuse convictions that had been hidden come to light? I mean, if an organization doesn’t have ANY way to impeach or remove members for ethical and moral lapses… that seems like a BAD IDEA and a poor set up.

    I really don’t think people should have to suck it up just because something hasn’t been proven in a court of law– it shouldn’t be sufficient only for an accusation to eject someone, but I think it’s perfectly justified that we don’t have to meet standards such as beyond the shadow of a doubt and innocent until proven guilty for keeping someone in a leadership position.

    If organizations DON’T have that, then I’m sorry, I do judge them ethically for the moral lapses they see fit to overlook for expertise in “professional” areas. It isn’t taking a personal issue into an illegitimate area or destroying professionalism at all, but rather, I think, *supporting* a higher standard of what professionalism is meant to be in service TO. Supporting not just the limited stepping stones explicitly enumerated for an organization to function on the lowest level possible, but upholding the ultimate goal of making the world a better place. You can’t ever do that by putting morally destructive individuals in positions of power.

    It’s one thing if you are arguing that there is not enough evidence in this case to do anything– sadly, not every moral lapse can be proven. But to say it has *NO PLACE* in the judgment of fitness for professional duty? I disagree, strongly. If there is no legal way to eject someone from the governing board for abusive behavior to *anyone* than that was a serious, serious mistake in writing the bylaws of this agency.

    Given the claim mainly seems to be adultery, I would not really care about an organization which overlooked that. But I understand why others would.

    • Literata says:

      I am certainly not arguing that personal behavior *never* reflects on or affects one’s ability to lead an organization. I don’t know what OHF would do if someone in a leadership position was charged with a felony or convicted of a crime; I certainly think there ought to be a mechanism for removing people from the board, especially in cases like the ones you suggest. But this situation is much more complicated. It’s not exactly about “overlooking” unethical behavior, it’s about who gets to judge whom for what.

      • derored says:

        It’s also complicated because there are apparently some legal cases going on in parallel to this, and it’s not unreasonable to at least ask for patience to see where that goes first.

        I just am concerned on a more general level by the apparent lack of a process to remove someone from leadership. And I don’t think it should have to rise to the level of proof to convict someone of a crime. The burden of proof when trying to remove someone’s freedom of movement does lay with the ones trying to remove it… whereas the burden of proof to maintain one’s position of privilege and authority should much different. I do think there are a lot of wrongs in the world that come of people confusing these two things. If the bylaws are not written to acknowledge this… than they need to be rewritten. If this, particular, case never needs to invoke them, that’s good, but the procedures need to have been discussed and set in place.

        And also, to clarify, I also meant the case in which the person had already long since been charged, but had hidden the legal result in order to get the position, and it later coming to light. Double jeopardy means they cannot be taken to court again– but does this mean their position is untouchable? If so– then the organization has a big problem.

  3. I’m not part of the community there. I don’t know any of the people or organizations involved. All I can talk about is what I’ve learned from your posts and the things I’ve linked to, what I know about emotional abuse, and what I think about situations like this in general (about which, I’m sure you will be absolutely shocked to hear, I have Strong Opinions).

    Emotional abuse is not actually subject to much interpretation. There are ways to evaluate whether or not patterns of behavior are abusive. Counselors have tools for this, and I suggest that anyone acting in a pastoral capacity be familiar with them, as a general rule. People who give spiritual advice ought to be familiar with these things, I think. It particularly behooves us as Pagan priest/esses, who have such small communities, so easily disrupted by exactly this sort of allegation, to be familiar with the standards used to tell whether or not something is abusive.

    There are frequently witnesses to patterns of emotionally abusive behaviors, too, most of whom simply don’t realize what they’re seeing, because understanding of emotionally abusive behavior is so poor. Take gaslighting, for example. It is so very easy for people who see one partner saying to another, “Now honey, don’t get so worked up about this, you know you’re really sensitive about these things, why don’t you go have a calming cup of tea” occasionally or even frequently, and see simply concern, instead of a pattern of making the upset partner feel as if their anger or worry is invalid, and making that partner doubt their own feelings. But it’s still an abusive pattern. It is entirely possible to soothe and calm someone who is upset without making them doubt themselves and telling them their feelings are invalid. Likewise other patterns of abusive behavior: many of them are very dismissable. But it’s very possible to learn how to evaluate what is abusive, to listen to the description of someone who says they have been emotionally abused, and then to ask people around them if they have seen things that correspond to that abusive behavior.

    Which is, of course, a lot of work for an individual not affiliated with anybody involved to go to. I am not saying that you or anyone else has done this. I am saying, however, that it is not just a subjective matter, something that is open to that much interpretation, that other people can’t judge it, and if an organization that both partners were involved with, who has seen the interactions between them over time, and that has members experienced with evaluation of abusive behavior, believes that abuse has occurred, they may have excellent reasons to do so, and may be in a very good position to judge that. Again, I don’t know any of the people or organizations involved. I can speak only to the general case.

    What I would want to see in a community I belonged to in cases where one person accuses another of abuse is absolutely that community leaders, ones with experience and, if possible, training, in evaluating abusive situations, attempt to find out the truth of the matter. This is always difficult, yes, but not impossible. If a member of the community says that their partner has been beating them in a way that does not leave visible bruises, well, there are ways to evaluate that, too (actually, mostly the same ways to evaluate emotional abuse).

    I would absolutely want any organization I was a part of or affiliated with to refuse to support or associate with someone who was physically abusive, and would want them to treat emotional abuse exactly the same, because abuse is abuse, and because someone who is abusive of an intimate partner is likely to be abusive of other people, and can easily become a predator within a group, or simply form new intimate relationships with other people in the group and then abuse them. Protecting both current victim(s) and possible future victim(s) is paramount.

    In the recent ReaderCon harassment debacle, Genevieve Valentine went public with the fact that she had been harassed at the con, and then that ReaderCon’s Board declined to enforce their own policy. At that point, Ms. Valentine said that she would not be attending because she did not feel safe. Was she calling for a boycott? No. Other SFF authors, better known ones, came forward to announce that they would not be attending, some of them people who did not feel that they were at any risk of harassment. They did not call for a boycott, either. Instead, they stated that they could not attend a con that made itself unsafe for people who were or might be harassed, and that did not live up to its own standards and policies. Stating one’s own position, including stating a position of principle, even when one has reason to believe that others will agree and take similar action, is not the same thing as calling for a boycott. I will not, as a matter of principle, give my money to Chick-fil-A (when I’m in a place that has them), and have not done so for years (even when I lived in a place that had them, and worked in a mall that had one), because I find their donations to anti-gay organizations abhorrent. That’s not a call for a boycott. It’s not a call for a boycott if my (entirely hypothetical) lesbian book club decides that we won’t get munchies from them for future meetings, either, not even if we announce that publicly. (OK, I know, no one actually cares if my hypothetical lesbian book club buys munchies from them or not. My HLBC is not in any kind of leadership position in the community. But it’s still a group, and it still gets to decide what to do with its collective resources, and it still gets to tell other people about it, without calling for a boycott. That word is starting to look like not-a-word.)

    I do not think that any spiritual or community-based organization taking a stand on abuse or abusers is getting involved in personal disputes. I would like to see a church or tradition that I was involved with take a general stance as well as a case-specific stance, if and when it came up. But one of the ways that abusers manage to continue their abuse is that their communities, even when made aware of the abuse, do not take a stand on it, often because they don’t want to get involved in personal disputes, or don’t want to make trouble, or don’t think it’s their business, or don’t want to disrupt something the abuser is involved with. Another way that abusers manage to continue their abuse is to put themselves in positions of trust, authority, or leadership, and then use those positions to stem action against them. They also often go to some pains to befriend (other) influential people in the community, people who will speak for them and defend them. Part of the reason that certain Catholic priests got away with child molestation for many years is because their parishioners were reluctant to disrupt the parish, because the parish was central to their community.

    It is, of course, entirely possible to take a stand against an abuser who is important to an organization you care about while still supporting that organization. In the recent ReaderCon debacle, RoseFox (a member of the ConCom, not the Board) found the Board’s decision abhorrent, spoke out against it loudly and immediately, and worked within ConCom and the ReaderCon community to solve the problem. She understood why many people spoke out saying that they would not return to RC, and in fact was instrumental in adding to the ConCom’s statement and policy the idea that anyone who had attended this year’s RC (at which the harassment took place) and felt that the con was still unsafe for them to attend despite the actions the ConCom took (which included replacing the entire Board, enforcing the policy in place, getting anti-harassment training for ConCom members and other volunteers, and other steps) could have a full refund for the membership fees for this year. (Most of the people who said they would not be attending in the future, including Ms. Valentine, are apparently quite satisfied with the steps the ConCom took, and have said they will attend in future. Including me, and you know how hard I am to please.)

    I think that possibly you might want to ask yourself: If Iris said her husband had physically abused her, how would I react to this? What if no one had seen bruises? What if other people had, but I hadn’t? What if she said he had sexually abused her? What if others backed her on it, or didn’t? What if someone he wasn’t married to said he had abused them, physically or sexually?

    Emotional abuse is easier to ignore and enable than any other kind, precisely because the perception is that it’s very hard to judge whether or not it exists in a given relationship. One of the challenges for a community dealing with any kind of abuse is deciding how to handle it, and whom to support, abuser or abusee (it may be, with a great deal of work on the part of the abuser, the abusee, and the community as a whole, to support both; I am not at all sure of this, though). One of the challenges for a community dealing with emotional abuse is deciding whether or not to handle it in the same way it would other kinds of abuse. And one of the challenges for a community dealing with any kind of abuse is deciding what consequences of being wrong are unacceptable: Is it unacceptable for an abuser to be enabled to abuse again if the community judges wrongly? Is it unacceptable for an innocent person to be removed from a position if the community judges wrongly? Which of these is worse? And what message does it send to other abuse victims if a community is seen to support an accused abuser out of hand, whether or not they are really abusers?

    A community organization has an obligation to keep the community it serves safe. If they have reason to believe that one of their members, including one of their organizers or leaders, makes their organization and/or space unsafe for people, then they have an obligation to the community to remove that person. Whether or not a person makes that organization and/or space unsafe for members of the community is a conversation that the community and the organization leadership need to have together.

    My personal position is: If TFH as a group, knowing both people well, knowing something about how abuse works, and having seen the patterns of behavior in their relationship in action, have come to the conclusion that abuse was going on, well, they’re probably in a good position to judge. If I knew and trusted the judgement of the leadership of that group in general, I would probably trust their judgement in this case. (From way over here, I have absolutely no way of knowing, frankly. Indeed, right here in town in most situations, I would have no way of knowing, because I am simply not that involved in the local community. I know I wouldn’t trust the leadership of one local church, because I have some small experience with them, and I think the current structure and leadership are fucked up, but that’s about it, and I could honestly be really wrong about them, too.) If they’re sure abuse occurred, then it is their duty to decide how best to serve their membership and their community by their response. They’ve decided is that their membership and community are best served by shunning this person as a group, including refusing to support a group that he holds a leadership position in. I support this. I think this is an excellent way to respond to an abuser. Abusers should not be allowed to continue to hold leadership positions because that enables them to continue to abuse people. I would also support them attempting to work within the structure of OHF to remove him, for the same reason. (Again: If I thought the organization’s judgement was poor and that they were full of shit, then I’d probably think their decisions were full of shit and not support them, but that’s a judgement on the group and not the action. Right action must come from right judgement.) Other people in the community, including the rest of the leadership of OHF, should make the own judgements based on their own best knowledge of the situation — including the decision to stay out of it if they really have absolutely no knowledge to judge the situation from, if that is their ethical position. But if the rest of the leadership of OFH has reason to believe that abuse did, in fact, occur, then I think it is their duty to the community they serve to remove the abuser from a leadership position, and possibly ban him from the community center entirely, if they think that he is a danger to other people there.

    I agree with your position that the community is of central importance. I do not agree with your position that the community is best served by discussions of abuse — in general or in specific cases — happening only in private. Communities must have discussions about abuse, both in general and in specific cases, in order to effectively support victims of abuse and effectively fight and prevent abuse.

    There. That’s my (extremely lengthy) two cents worth. If you would prefer that I not comment here on this, as it’s a matter that’s local to you and I know absolutely jack shit about it, I will absolutely respect that and take no offense.

    • After some thought, I would like to state for the record that the community should become involved only when the victim/abusee chooses to make the abuse public. People who have been abused or are being abused absolutely get to stay silent about it for their own reasons, and should not be dragged through the process by other people. However, a community should make it plain that people who come forward with the information that they have been abused by a community member will be supported and protected, and that it is as safe as the community can make it for them to come forward.

    • derored says:

      I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said. It troubles me significantly that a community organization, especially a religious organization, could view abuse as a private matter, something that has no bearing on fitness to serve– and may not even *have* the legal methods to eject someone for non-prosecutable destructive behavior.

      And if any organization decides that the risk of removing a innocent powerful, privileged person from a position of authority and leadership, is a HIGHER priority and more important to guard against than mistakenly leaving an abuser in a position which enables future abuse… I judge that organization harshly. This isn’t to say an accusation alone is enough, not remotely! It is a judgement of which *kind* of error an organization is more comfortable in making.

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