A contingent of 58 military veterans and union members assembled in front of the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks at 8th and I streets, S.E., in D.C. on Thursday to call on the Marines to stop sponsoring a sports organization said to condone “homophobic slurs.”
The veterans, some of whom are gay, and members of Unite Here, a union that represents 250,000 workers in the hotel, food service, restaurant and other industries, said they object to the Marine Corps sponsorship of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the nation’s largest promoter of martial arts or “cage” fighting.
“The UFC is an organization that has tolerated people associated with it making jokes about rape, homophobic slurs, and sexually explicit remarks that are demeaning towards women,” the vets and union members said in a statement.
Organizers cited Defense Department figures showing that the Marines have spent more than $2 million purchasing Marine recruitment advertising, including TV ads, linked to UFC fights and events.
The veterans participating in the contingent that approached the Marine Barracks on Thursday attempted to present copies of petitions with about 5,000 signatures calling for ending the Marines’ sponsorship of the UFC to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who resides in a house next to the barracks.
Capt. John Norton, public affairs officer at the barracks, told the veterans the barracks could not accept the petitions. Norton told the veterans and others with them to instead deliver the petitions to either Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon or at a Marine base in Quantico, Va., which organizes the Marine Corps recruitment program.
Unite Here spokesperson Chris Serres said a veterans committee associated with the union had sent in advance a letter to Amos informing Amos of the union’s objections to the Marine Corps sponsorship of the UFC.
“We believe that, by aligning with the UFC, an organization that has tolerated homophobia, misogyny, and hate speech, the Marine Corps is violating its stated commitment of ‘maintaining dignity and respect for one another,’” the letter says. “Homophobia and hatred, in any form, are not consistent with the values that make the Marines an elite fighting force,” the letter says.
A spokesperson for the UFC couldn’t immediately be reached.
Advertising Age magazine reported in April that Anheuser-Busch Company, which regularly purchases Budweiser Beer ads from the UFC, complained to UFC officials about remarks made by UFC fighters in recent months that the beer company considered objectionable.
The magazine quoted an Anheuser-Bush statement saying the company “embraces diversity and does not condone insensitive and derogatory comments rooted in ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc.”
According to Advertising Age, the UFC responded by sending the magazine a statement saying, “With over 425 athletes on our roster, there have unfortunately been instances where a couple athletes have made insensitive or inappropriate comments. We don’t condone this behavior, and in no way is it reflective of the company or its values.”
Ryan Hand, a Marine veteran and member of Unite Here’s local union branch in Saco, Maine, told the Blade he was skeptical over the UFC’s claim that it doesn’t condone anti-gay or hostile remarks toward women, saying UFC fighters continue to make such remarks.
“As a Marine, I am deeply offended that the Marine Corps would ever associate itself with an organization that tolerates homophobia and hate speech like the UFC,” Hand said in a statement. “As a taxpayer, our money can be better spent elsewhere, particularly as the Defense Department prepares deep cuts to the military.”
“I’m here because I’m a survivor of a sexual assault and I’m a queer woman,” said Chloe Connelly, a Philadelphia resident who traveled to D.C. with Unite Here members to participate in the gathering at the Marine Barracks. “So I find the UFC very, very offensive. They perpetuate homophobia. They perpetuate a rape culture and I don’t think any organizations that my tax dollars pay for should be supporting an organization like the UFC.”
Barracks spokesperson Capt. Norton, when pressed by the veterans at Thursday’s gathering, returned to his office and came back out with a brief written statement, which he gave to the group.
“The issues articulated in the petition regarding inappropriate conduct, alleged or substantiated, by a handful of UFC competitors and leadership are an area of concern that has been addressed with the UFC,” says the statement, which is attributed to the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
“We are monitoring the issue and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of our advertising and lead generation partnership,” the statement says. “If corrective action is not implemented, we reserve the option to respond accordingly.”
Ethan Snow, a spokesperson for the group that gathered at the Marine Barracks in D.C. said separate continents of union members and veterans were scheduled to deliver copies of the petitions to U.S. Marine recruiting stations several other cities on Thursday. Among the cities, he said, were Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and D.C.
He said Unite Here and its veterans contingent also were lobbying for an amendment to the U.S. defense appropriations bill currently pending in Congress that would prohibit the Marines and all other military branches from sponsoring any professional sports event, including major league baseball and football.
A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee said the committee accepted the amendment as part of the defense appropriations bill and the measure was expected to reach the House floor next week. However, the House Rules Committee approved a rule allowing any member to introduce an amendment to remove the provision from the bill on the House floor, the spokesperson said.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT service members, didn’t immediately respond to a Blade inquiry about whether the group has taken a position on the amendment.