I am heartsick.

Iris Firemoon of Firefly House has publicly accused her ex-husband Sean Bennett of adultery and emotional abuse. She called for Sean to be removed from his position on the Board of Governors of the Open Hearth Foundation because of this misconduct, and announced that she would no longer support the OHF community center, presumably until Sean was removed.

Firefly House just released a statement that they are following her lead:

…we have decided to pull financial and volunteer support from the Open Hearth Foundation until the OHF board remedies the situations in a way that is suitable to the current conditions.

Firefly does not specify what a “suitable” remedy would be. By making these public statements, Iris and Firefly seem to be calling on the Pagan community to follow their lead and withdraw support from OHF.

These statements leave me with more questions than ever: Is Firefly trying to mount a boycott of OHF? If so, they should come out and say it; if not, they should state that, too. By withdrawing their support publicly, they create an atmosphere that draws the whole community into this argument. Are they really trying to create an “us vs them” situation, where every act of support for OHF as an organization is also a statement in support of Sean and what he has been accused of?

I don’t understand the OHF side of this, either, and I am desperately hoping they will make a public statement very soon about this matter.

Does OHF have an ethics code or expectations for its Board of Governors? Can a governor be removed by the board officially? Can one be asked to step down? And if so, under what circumstances?

Is the OHF leadership discussing this with Sean? I’m not asking him to make a public statement, but unfortunately if Firefly is calling for a boycott – and I don’t see how their actions can be interpreted any other way, but if they make a public statement otherwise, I’ll listen – then OHF needs to respond to that boycott, and in so doing they need to discuss the matter internally. If he maintains his innocence, we are in a real pickle.

I don’t know what happened between Iris and Sean. I believe that Iris is telling the truth about how she understands her experiences, but it’s extremely difficult to prove things like emotional abuse.

It’s very dangerous to set an institutional precedent that someone can be removed against his or her will on the basis of something that can’t be proven, even if it’s true.

As far as I can tell, Sean has not been accused of any malfeasance with respect to his position on the Board or within the organization. I’m not sure if Iris is arguing that Sean’s position on the board is in some way enabling him to mistreat other people or causes him to pose a risk to the community. If that is what she’s arguing, it could be understood as grounds to remove him – if that’s even possible under OHF bylaws – but that would be a very difficult argument to make based on what is mostly private behavior to which the board and the community have no access or witness.

Iris argues that people are asked to leave groups because of sexual misconduct, harassment, and violence or threats of violence, but all the examples she gives seem to be ones where there were witnesses. Again, I’m not saying she’s lying; I am saying that if this sets a precedent, an accusation could be used in the future to remove someone from the board who is totally innocent. It puts the board and the community in the position of judging the truth of allegations that are by their very nature subject to misunderstanding the participants themselves, let alone outsiders. I do not want to be put in that position, nor do I think the organization should be.

I am also not asking for Iris to air the specifics of her grievances more publicly in order to try to demonstrate that there is something provable (or proven). As part of taking this (nascent?) boycott seriously, I hope the OHF asks Iris more specifics in order to figure out if there’s something there they can, should, or must act on, starting with discussing this with Sean, as I said above.

I hope that’s going on, and since I too would prefer that it go on at least partly in private, I am trying to wait and be patient. But I am heartsick.

When I went to the OHF open board meeting recently, what I saw was an organization at a tipping point. It’s almost a year into the two-year lease, and OHF is having tremendous success with some programs, especially the library. At the same time, the organization is still using seed money to cover part of its monthly expenses. The financial outlook seems to be that the organization will be able to cover all of its obligations through to the end of the two-year lease.

Speakers at the meeting were extremely optimistic about being able to make the community center a viable enterprise and be able to continue operation beyond the end of the current lease, although it would take even more tremendous investment from the community in terms of financial support to begin to meet the monthly costs. I saw this as a tipping point where either the community center and its programs, events, and classes would become valuable enough to the community to elicit that support, or it would become obvious that for many reasons a DC community center is not a feasible proposition.

The Firefly withdrawal throws all of that into question. If the community center fails, years of work and many thousands of dollars will have been for naught, as Iris herself acknowledges, having been a key player in making the community center a reality.

For now, I urge my fellow Pagans not to rush to judgment, and I implore the OHF leadership to issue a statement that tells us you are taking this seriously and begins to outline how you intend to approach this. I want to see this issue addressed, but I am not willing to financially imperil the community center at this critical juncture.

If OHF is for structural reasons unable to meet Iris’ demands, I will be even more heartsick, but I am not yet convinced that it is right to threaten to destroy what so many have worked so hard to create in order to blame an institution for the actions of an individual.

I don’t want to see the community destroy itself and its resources this way; I don’t want my support for the community center to become a political football in a personal dispute.

12 thoughts on “Firefly calls for a boycott of OHF?

  1. I just want to state as one of the Firefly leaders involved in the statement released that we are definitely NOT calling for a boycott. We convened and determined that because of the hurt experienced by so many scores of our members and our questions of ethical standing not being addressed by the board, that we could not justify supporting them at this time. TFH does not want the center to fail. On the contrary, having a Center has long been part of our dream, one that were were instrumental in bringing into manifestation. We hope it succeeds as much as anyone else and look forward to the time when we can be involved once again.

    1. I’m listening to you, David, but your actions look for all the world like trying to start a boycott. By publicly positioning this as an act of principle, you are implicitly calling on others to examine their support for the center.

      1. Let me amend that by adding that if you’re not calling for a boycott, I’d really like to see Firefly House publicly acknowledge that, and hopefully say that you understand that others may continue to support the organization. I personally don’t want to feel that I’m taking sides against Firefly by not walking out, and that’s really how the statement sounded to me.

  2. I have not heard a call for a boycott, only a statement that Firefly feels they can not continue to support an organization lead by an individual who used manipulation and lies to get his position on the board. I believe there are two issues here. First there is the split between two individuals. This is non of the communities business. Second, there is the obtaining of a board position by deceit, this included manipulation that caused the board chair to step down. Many members of the firefly community witnessed this. I believe them as a community, trust them and stand with them. As someone who has given funds on multiple occasions to OHF this also sickens me. What I do believe is the organization would be better of if the individuals involved withdrew from the organization for the time being. Directly stated it is time for Sean to leave the board. Yes for some of the reasons listed but even more importantly to save the organization from a political firestorm that will consume the center. In this process what is important is saving the center.

    1. I certainly agree that saving the center is of paramount importance; that’s one of the reasons I hope the organization speaks out soon on how it’s addressing this internally.

  3. Best I can tell from all the vague muck flying about, Firefly House is the largest financial contributor to OHF. They are withdrawing their support over an interpersonal issue. They are also claiming that OHF is losing major financial support, but I have yet to see that anyone other than FH is withdrawing support. Since they won’t name the sponsors that are being lost, it must be assumed that these sponsors that FH is vaguely referring to are FH and it’s members. Which is a rather dishonest way of phrasing things to make it seem like the issue is bigger than it is.

    What FH and Iris are aiming for is essentially a boycott to put pressure on the board, by whatever equivocation they use to describe it. The only claim laid against the board member is infidelity, and the loss of all these sponsors which only seem to be made up of FH members.

    I’m very disappointed by the whole thing. It’s not well thought out. As much as I feel for Iris she has unfortunately painted herself as someone unfit for leadership by describing in detail how easily she allows personal relationships to influence her decision making abilities and by making very public personal attacks against another Pagan organizer.

    This is essentially an interpersonal conflict that is being taken to the public sphere, and so far muck is only flying from one direction. It’s never wise to be the first person to throw dirt. Whether infidelity is grounds for dismissal from the board of a Pagan org, the answer is obviously no. I don’t think any Pagans think well of infidelity (cheating, not polyamory) but no Pagan is going to be willing to say there should be a sexual morality test to be able to effectively serve the community.

      1. Something about this comment bothered me. I had to come back to it. While I understand the importance of sacred oaths and of marriage/wedding/partnership/handfasting vows in particular, I have to say that I’m not comfortable with this way of talking about it. This is exactly the same language that conservative Christians use to ostracize people who get divorces, or at the very least keep them out of leadership positions.

        Infidelity – and abuse! – are different from other reasons people get divorces. While I can completely agree that infidelity and abuse are clearly violations of any kind of partnership agreement I can imagine, for every case like that, there are ten or a hundred that are less clear-cut. Some of those are amicable and both can release each other from their obligations; many will be situations where each party claims the other violated their sacred word. Does that make them unfit to lead? One, or both?

        Again, that is a very small point compared to the current controversy, but this kind of language simply makes my skin crawl, so I had to bring it up.

    1. I will second what ericjdev says; it has long been a belief of mine that marriage vows are oaths taken before the Gods. Dishonor or break that vow and you shame yourself before the Gods.

      >>The only claim laid against the board member is infidelity

      So Iris’ account of ongoing emotional abuse means nothing? I have nothing but contempt for anyone who would subject someone they claimed to love to that sort of thing. *spits*

      1. Iris’ claim of emotional abuse is deeply important to Iris and many other people as people. OHF, however, is about more than individuals and is not in the business of holding people in contempt, even if they are complete bastards.

  4. I too am concerned about the allegations of abuse…yes, we’re talking about consenting adults, but if there is a *pattern* of abuse and manipulations in a shared community, that’s a very serious problem that shows where the personal blends into the professional…and I’m not talking about the individual at the center of the allegations, I’m talking about the community perception and matters of trust and confidence in leadership. It concerns me that people are only talking about infidelity. The major complaint, as far as I can see it, is one of abuse and an unhealthy leadership situation.

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