Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Devil is in the Details

Since people are asking me for details regarding the abrupt cancellation of the "One Aim: Safety for Everyone!" seminar by the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, I might as well make a post about it so I don't have to keep re-typing the information.

I first contacted the First Congregational Church of Winter Park (hereafter FCCWP) on Friday, May 12 with the following message:
Subject: May we hold a seminar at your church?

Hello! I found you listed on as an LGBTQ-friendly church.

My name is Erin Palette, and I run Operation Blazing Sword, a 501c3 charity founded in the wake of the Pulse massacre and whose purpose is to teach safety to the LGBTQ community and prevent similar tragedies.

With the 1 year anniversary of Pulse coming up, my organization wants to hold a seminar called "ONE AIM - Safety For Everyone!" and we need a venue in which to host it. Would you be willing to donate the use of your sanctuary or fellowship hall for such an event?

The seminar will begin with First Responders explaining what they can offer to the community that may help to prevent a future tragedy (for example, the Fire Dept offers free CPR training, the Police Dept offers a confidential hotline to report "see something, say something" , etc). Then our key speaker, Mr. Rommell Scalf, will do a 90 minute presentation on what to do in a situation similar to Pulse: using cover & concealment in event of attack; fight or flight options; using available items as barriers/weapons; how the Police & SWAT are being trained and how to behave when they arrive; basic & trauma first aid to wounded; and similar. The seminar will be given for free (again, we are a nonprofit) but there will be a jar for charitable donations.

We would like to hold the seminar on Saturday, June 17, sometime in the afternoon. All we need is the use of a sanctuary or fellowship hall for approximately 2 hours, and access to your kitchen (if any) to prepare coffee and snacks. We will of course buy all the food items ourselves and will clean up afterwards.

Will you help us?

FCCWP replied on Monday, May 15th:

We would love to host this event!

I will need to know the times on Saturday, June 17, so I can block out the time.

Will this be open to everyone? (i.e., can we put it in our bulletin and let our congregation know?)

Will you need technical stuff?!

How many people would you expect? That will depend on the Sanctuary or FH?

Mary Joe Searl
First Congregational Church of Winter Park
United Church of Christ

Then there followed some emails where we hashed out the requirements, how long it would take, etc. When it was all worked out, FCCWP responded with:
Everything is doable.

Our next email blast - for the month of June goes out around May 30. So timing is perfect.

I will make sure it is in the bulletin.

So far, so good. I handed off the specifics of the seminar to Jo Martin, head of Pink Pistols of Central Florida, who drove out to FCCWP on Monday, May 22nd (a week later) to meet with Mary Joe face to face and to inspect the facilities. Everything went well, and Jo was happy with what she saw.

As soon as I knew she was happy, I created flyers for the seminar and made a public announcement.

Yesterday, Tuesday May 30th, I received the email from FCCWP where they rescinded permission for us to use their faculties. For those keeping track, that was two weeks after we had been given permission to use their faculties, and one week after we'd had a face-to-face meeting. To reiterate what I said yesterday, while I acknowledge that the First Congregational Church of Winter Park has the right to rescind their invitation, I was hurt and taken by surprise by their sudden announcement. It would not have been an issue if they had rejected us on the 15th; however, changing their minds two weeks after they said yes (and two weeks before the event was scheduled) strikes me as deeply unprofessional.

Now, there are two ways this could have happened. The first is that Mary Joe did not do her due diligence in inspecting who we are, gave her permission, and then noticed (or someone else noticed) that both Operation Blazing Sword and Pink Pistols held political beliefs that FCCWP felt were antithetical to its mission.*

The other option is that someone on the church council noticed what was going on (probably while composing their monthly email blast), looked us up, and quickly brought it before the church council to vote on whether or not our political positions tainted what we did. I personally think it was the latter, because you will note that the rejection letter was not penned by Mary Joe, Church Administrator, but by Philip O. Toal, Moderator, Church Council.

The final kick in the ribs is the email message which accompanied the PDF of the rejection letter:

Do you see an email address for the Moderator in that email? I don't. Nor do I see one in the rejection letter, reprinted here for your convenience:

So any questions must be directed to a Moderator, whose contact information is not given. This sounds like a very distinct "Go away and do not contact us ever again" to me.

Now I am scrambling to find a new venue that
  1. has the facilities for a presentation;
  2. does not cost an outrageous amount;
  3. and is welcoming to both LGBTQ and straight/cis members of the community.
And I need to get ALL THIS DONE before I can make new flyers, and those flyers have to be out and in the community before June 17th -- if indeed we can still make that date work. A new venue might require a different day, or time, or both. 

We currently have some leads, but so far there is nothing solid. And we need to get a new venue ASAP, because I truly doubt that FCCWP will refer reservations to us; I rather expect they will tell people "I'm sorry, we aren't hosting that event" and hang up.

And that's all the info that I have right now.

*This is despite the fact that both Jo Martin and myself went to extreme lengths to avoid even SAYING the word "gun". If you read my initial letter, you will note that the seminar is based upon the "Hide, Run, Fight" model and NOT firearms training.

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