The Joyful Warriors National Summit, the upcoming national convention of the right-wing organization Moms for Liberty, continues to reverberate in Philadelphia. Scheduled for the weekend of June 29 to July 2 at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott, the event has already caused several protests and is likely to cause more against the organization and the right-wing politicians scheduled to speak, including Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
But the uproar against Moms for Liberty (M4L) is extending beyond the Marriott. The Free Library is preparing for probable demonstrations by M4L members protesting its Pride programming. And now, employees and staff of the Museum of the American Revolution in Old City have risen up en masse to express their opposition to an M4L event scheduled for their venue.
M4L has rented out public space at the Museum of the American Revolution for June 29, the Summit’s opening day, to host a “Welcome to Philadelphia Reception.” Both the organization and the museum have been somewhat secretive about the event. M4L does not specify where the reception is to take place in its schedule of Summit events, saying only it will be “off-site.” According to staff members, details of the M4L rental, which was arranged last December, remained secret until they were anonymously leaked to museum staffers the week prior to Memorial Day. However, a museum representative told PGN that they had “made it a point to proactively notify managers about the event to discuss with their teams at their discretion.”
Bee Reed, a longtime museum employee and member of the LGBT community, admits, “I have very mixed feelings. I’ve been working for the museum for four or five years now, and I’ve always been grateful to work someplace that has been so supportive of me as a queer person. But with this — I feel a great sense of betrayal.”
According to a staff member who wished to remain anonymous, the negative reaction of the staff was immediate and extreme. Not only did the employees individually voice their objections to the administrative staff, a petition was quickly pulled together, signed by over 60% of the museum’s staff, and submitted to the museum’s President and CEO, Dr. R. Scott Stephenson. Museum representatives said Stephenson did not receive the petition and could not confirm how many employees had signed it.
The anonymous staff member said because of the level of tumult, a general open forum was called for the first Tuesday after Memorial Day, where all employees and staffers at every level could attend and voice their concerns. The forum was attended by Stephenson and also by most of the museum’s senior administrators.
The staff member described the forum as highly emotional, especially given that many staffers are LGBT. They told PGN about how several people spoke, sometimes tearfully, of how threatened they felt and how Moms for Liberty’s open agenda was the antithesis of Museum of the American Revolution’s own stated values, which includes, among other things, “integrity, empathy and inclusivity.”
In the end, despite overwhelming opposition, Stephenson decided against his own people and said he would not cancel the event.
A museum spokesperson provided a statement to PGN detailing the museum’s position vis-a-vis the M4L event. It said in part, “The Museum of the American Revolution strives to create an inclusive and accessible museum experience for visitors with a wide range of viewpoints and beliefs. Consistent with this mission, we make available after-hours and private rentals to groups that organize legally and safely, including federally recognized 501c4 non-profit organizations. Because fostering understanding within a democratic society is so central to our mission, rejecting visitors on the basis of ideology would in fact be antithetical to our purpose.”
During the open forum, when staffers tried to apprise the administrators of M4L’s widespread reputation as a hate group, according to people who attended the forum, those concerns were dismissed out of hand. It was argued that M4L could not be equated with other hate groups like the Proud Boys, especially since it has not been characterized as a hate group by such watchdog organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
When asked if this was indeed the position of the museum’s administration vis-a-vis M4L, the spokesperson declined to comment.
It is worth noting that SPLC, in its latest Year in Hate & Extremism report, listed M4L as an “anti-government movement” and has written that “Moms for Liberty is a far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated books bans.”
The museum’s statement went on to address the concerns of the staff. It says, “We care deeply about providing a workplace in which our staff know they are heard, valued, and safe. We welcome all visitors and pride ourselves on a museum experience that reflects our mission to uncover and share the stories of diverse people and complex events that sparked the ongoing American experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Our staff are the lifeblood of this work. We are aware that some members of our staff do not agree with the museum’s private booking, and we will continue to do all we can to listen with intention; to make sure they know they are valued; and to accommodate them when the event date arrives.”
The anonymous staff member conceded, when asked if there has been any feedback from the museum’s board of directors, that the board has been both silent and absent throughout this whole affair. In fact, when looking into the possibility of attending the next board meeting in order to plead their case, the staff member discovered that it had been decided that the next scheduled board was to be conducted virtually. Usually, board meetings are held on-site, said the staff member, with board members being quite visible.
The museum spokesperson disputed the staff member’s assertion, saying “Since the pandemic, all of our board meetings have been hybrid. The upcoming meeting is primarily virtual solely because of board member availability.”
Another LGBT staffer, who also spoke with PGN on the condition of anonymity, disagrees with the museum spokesperson’s assertion that the administration values their staff’s feedback, especially the LGBT staffers. They said, “It feels to me that the concerns of the LGBT staff are not being given adequate consideration; that our concerns are just being dismissed.”
Staffers also said that museum CEO Stephenson shared that part of his rationale for not canceling the M4L event was concern for the staff’s safety. It was felt that if the event were canceled at this late date, M4L would protest the museum.
The anonymous LGBT staffer pushed back on this assertion, saying, “They’re putting us in danger by having this event. Our space is filled with public exhibits that are anathema to the Moms’ agenda. How do they expect those people to react when they see things like the ‘Black Founders’ exhibit? Or the Stonewall exhibit?”
The museum spokesperson declined to comment on Stephenson’s statement.
As the June 29 M4L event at the museum approaches, there have been reports of some resignations in protest. No one PGN spoke with could say if more resignations were to be expected, though one source said, “It’s possible.”
ACT UP Philadelphia is organizing a demonstration at the Museum of the American Revolution to protest the museum’s hosting the M4L event on Friday, June 9 at 6:00 p.m.