This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the HFA Annual Conference along with PZ Myers, Shelley Segal, David Niose, and many others. I was blown away by how receptive and interesting the audience was, and I was surprised and flattered to receive HFA’s Humanist of the Year Award.
As I was traveling to the conference Friday, a story broke that I found astounding: Men’s Rights Activist Justin Vacula was appointed co-chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, the organization that recently came under fire for hiring Republican lobbyist Edwina Rogers.
In case you’re not familiar with him, Vacula has written about the “feminist lies” of Surly Amy for A Voice For Men (the same site where Paul Elam wrote a short novella on what a “stupid, lying whore” I am, and some pseudonymous grandfather called me a “bitch”).
He participated in the gleeful bullying of Jen McCreight, who was driven off her blog last month by trolls:
He posted Surly Amy’s home address on a hate site:
Vacula also seems to have an intense hatred of Amy, Tweeting about her obsessively and saying she brings harassment on herself:
Here you can see he changed his Twitter avatar into a necklace that looks like those Amy creates, and it says “Don’t censor me Amy”:
Several secular bloggers have already posted about this: Ophelia, Jason Thibeault, and JT have documented some of the problems we all have with Vacula, and called for SCA to remove him from the position. Stephanie Zvan has even created a petition, which details more of the ways that Vacula has engaged in behavior that will actively drive progressive women away from the secular cause.
I quickly read up on some of these things while at the HFA conference. Saturday night, I ate dinner at a table with Kelly Damerow, Research and Advocacy Manager for the Secular Coalition for America. All night, I had no idea that she worked for SCA, so the topic didn’t come up. Sunday morning, Damerow gave me her business card.
“Oh! SCA!” I said. “What’s up with that whole Justin Vacula thing?”
She started talking about how they’d keep a close eye on their state directors, but I pointed out that regardless of how he acts from now on, he has a very recent history of being aggressively anti-woman, and surely that should have been taken into consideration when choosing him. Unfortunately, I was rushed away from our conversation in order to arrange my ride to the airport – I was originally going to have to leave the conference early (before Damerow’s talk), but luckily someone volunteered to give me a later lift. So an hour or so later, I sat down to watch Damerow talk about the lobbying work that SCA does and the push to open 50 state chapters.
Damerow described SCA as a diplomatic, non-partisan organization that hoped to build grassroots support in every state. So, during Q&A, I wanted to know how Vacula fit into that plan. You can see the relevant portion in this clip:
To sum up: I very briefly described Vacula’s behavior over the past several months and asked Damerow how SCA expected to build support amongst progressive women in Pennsylvania with someone like him running that state’s chapter.
Damerow clarified that Vacula wasn’t actually “hired,” since it is a volunteer position. She then went on to emphasize that SCA needs to be respectful and diplomatic and non-partisan.
I was confused, because that didn’t actually answer my question. If I were a woman in Pennsylvania, I would never, ever want to get involved in any way with Justin Vacula. In fact, I will never, ever get involved with SCA so long as someone like him holds a position of power anywhere, let alone in a state I live in. So Vacula is actively driving people away from SCA. I’d like to know how they expect to overcome that – how they hope to reach out to progressive people, and particularly women in Pennsylvania, while an MRA is a co-chair.
EllenBeth Wachs asked Damerow what percentage of women were co-chairs, to which Damerow eventually said one out of eight, currently. Wachs pointed out that it already sounds as though they haven’t made it a priority to reach out to women. She also says that if Vacula were the co-chair in Florida (where Wachs is), she’d have nothing to do with them. Damerow states that SCA has done what’s right for Florida in Florida, and what’s right for Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania. That made me wonder: why does SCA dislike feminist secular activists in Pennsylvania?
It’s all a real shame, because SCA fills an important role in our movement and I’d like to give them my support. It’s also a shame because I enjoyed Damerow’s talk, and I liked chatting with her about non-movement stuff over dinner. I’m always looking for more awesome women to support and recommend to event organizers. But I just can’t stand the non-answers and the utter dismissal of the concerns of feminists. I don’t believe secular organizations should reward bullies and bigots with high-level positions, even if those positions are volunteer-only.
I hope that in addition to individuals signing Stephanie Zvan’s petition, the member organizations of SCA make a strong statement against this move. American Atheists, American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Atheist Alliance of America, Camp Quest, Council for Secular Humanism, HUUmanists Association, Institute for Humanist Studies, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Secular Student Alliance, and Society for Humanistic Judaism: do you agree with SCA that Justin Vacula is a good representative of your cause? If not, weigh in and let the feminists who support you know that you support them, too.
EDIT Oct 4: As EllenBeth Wachs mentions in the comments below, Vacula has apparently resigned from his position with SCA, claiming that he made some mistakes in the past few months that were not malicious, not apologizing for those “mistakes,” comparing himself to an Ibsen character, calling it “disrespectful” to point out that his hiring alienated women in the movement, and maintaining that there is a “campaign of lies” about him, without linking to or quoting any of those lies. We can only guess.