Health & Medicine

Dignity Health calls off naming deal with Broadway Sacramento after LGBTQ boycott threat

Broadway At Music Circus last brought a production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot” to Sacramento in 2010.
Broadway At Music Circus last brought a production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot” to Sacramento in 2010.

Dignity Health announced that it has withdrawn from a sponsorship deal to put its name on Broadway Sacramento’s popular theater-in-the-round on H Street, bowing to concerns raised by members of Sacramento’s LGBTQ community in the two weeks since the health care giant announced the deal.

“We don’t want our partnership to become a distraction as Broadway Sacramento opens a new season,” said Laurie Harting, president of Dignity’s Greater Sacramento division, in a written statement late Friday. “After discussion with Broadway Sacramento and a number of community stakeholders, we have agreed that the best course is to find another way to support Broadway Sacramento’s work.”

Broadway Sacramento, formerly known as California Musical Theater, has long produced Broadway shows during the summer at its H Street arena stage in a series known as Broadway at Music Circus, a reference to the nonprofit theater producer’s shows once held under a giant tent.

Richard Lewis, the chief executive officer of Broadway Sacramento, said: “Our goal has always been to elevate the work of the arts; however, it has become clear that there are some concerns about our partnership. Unfortunately, these concerns have begun to distract from this important work. ... Broadway Sacramento believes that Dignity Health is a valued contributor to the Sacramento community and greatly appreciates their continued commitment to supporting the arts.”

Dignity Health has faced condemnation and lawsuits from transgender individuals facing denials for gender-affirming surgery and from women who are limited in what reproductive procedures they can receive at the company’s Catholic hospitals. Dignity abides by “ethical and religious directives” that have, for instance, prescribed restrictions for abortion, contraceptives, sterilization, and in vitro fertilization.

Evan Minton, a transgender man from the Sacramento region, sued Dignity in 2017 over its decision to cancel his hysterectomy two days before surgery was to take place. An appeals court recently directed a lower court to allow his case to proceed.

He said he learned about the partnership between Dignity and Broadway Sacramento soon after it was reported by The Sacramento Bee and others because someone else in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender-questioning community had shared it with him on social media.

“It was devastating to me when I first heard about this partnership,” Minton said. “I’ve been in anguish, and my community has been in anguish ever since the announcement of this partnership, and so when I heard the news this morning, it was a joyful feeling. And, it was a feeling that Broadway Sacramento had taken the right steps to bring us closer to justice.”

Dignity Health leaders have said that the company has a legacy of providing care to all people regardless of their background, sexual orientation or gender identity. They pointed out that the company’s hospitals were among the first to offer services in response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and that Dignity recently partnered with World Professional Association for Transgender Health to hold a conference on transgender care called the Gender Institute in San Francisco. Company officials also noted that Dignity leaders ensured that Minton was able to get his surgery at one of the company’s non-Catholic hospitals.

Earlier this year, Minton and other activists also protested a planned partnership between Dignity and the health care division of University of California, San Francisco. The two entities had been negotiating for three years over plans to share branding and medical services, but UCSF called an abrupt halt to it after hearing out the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen, who is active on gay issues and represents the downtown area, said that after reading news of the Oct. 28 deal, he felt certain he would hear concerns from members of the capital region’s transgender community and their supporters, and indeed, Minton and others contacted him.

“Dignity does have a background here in Sacramento that is very strong, and they’ve done a lot,” Hansen said, “but I think their contributions don’t obscure the fact that they have gone into a direction where the religious foundations of the institution are now dictating how care is provided in some instances.”

Hansen said it’s best for everyone that Dignity listened to the concerns and opted to withdraw from the deal. Now, he said, he will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg, civic leaders and members of the LGBTQ to ensure that Broadway Sacramento can find another naming rights partner.

“It’s really incumbent on the community to help Music Circus ... so this isn’t a fiscal wound that can’t be healed for Broadway Sacramento,” Hansen said. “The Music Circus Pavilion has bond debt on it from when it was built, and so the naming rights really go to pay the bond debt.

“The tickets themselves cover the salaries, the licensing for the shows and a lot of the other things that go on, but there’s not going to be a successful Music Circus and Broadway Sacramento if we don’t have a strong naming rights partner to help financially support the organization.”

Transgender activist Ebony Harper, a Sacramento resident, said she feels certain they can find a company willing to partner with a community institution that has long championed the LGBTQ community.

“We can find a different partner with money,” said Harper, who was having lunch with Minton when she spoke to The Bee by phone. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that the name of Dignity Health has no dignity in it, not for our community.”

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.