All five LGBTQ-serving organizations that have applied to enter Provo’s Freedom Festival Parade have been denied, according to Kendall Wilcox, executive director of Mormons Building Bridges.
The denials come after Utah County and Provo both added nondiscrimination clauses to their funding agreements with the festival following an incident in 2017 in which Encircle, a LGBT youth resource center based in Provo, was denied entry to the parade after previously having its application approved. Utah County provides about $113,000 to the festival yearly in cash and in-kind contributions and Provo’s donations total about $150,000.
The denials came just a day after Provo and the Freedom Festival signed a new contract with added nondiscrimination language Tuesday. The language in that contract said the Freedom Festival could not discriminate on the bases of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin or sexual orientation, among other attributes. But, it went on to say that the board of trustees for the festival “Have wide discretion to include or exclude organizations, groups, individuals, content, etc., on a wide variety of grounds.”
The county’s nondiscrimination language applied to county sponsored events, but did not specifically name the parade as a county-sponsored event.
The city of Provo issued a statement from Mayor Michelle Kaufusi’s office saying they are disappointed to read that Encircle’s application was denied.
“We think it would be wonderful if the Freedom Festival and Encircle would work together to see if they can come up with an entry that both the festival and Encircle can feel good about,” the statement said.
Utah County Commission Chair Nathan Ivie said he was “extremely disappointed,” particularly about Encircle’s denial.
Ivie said if the festival continues to act this way, then they should be privately funded. When asked if Utah County should continue funding the Freedom Festival, Ivie said, “In the future, no, if this is how they are going to act.”
On Wednesday evening, Ivie wrote on Twitter that he was "beyond disappointed in the “freedom festival’s” decision to continue to exclude and discriminate against members of our community." He added, in response to another tweet, that he was "going to try to pull the funding for this year!"
Encircle found out Wednesday evening that the application had been denied, said Stephenie Larsen, executive director of Encircle. An email was sent saying that Encircle didn’t clearly show how it would meet parade standards. Larsen said parade official called to explain the denial, and told her the application wasn’t “patriotic enough.”
Ivie questioned how the Mormon missionaries that walk in the parade each year are considered “patriotic” while a group that saves lives isn’t.
Larsen said she believes the denial is not in good faith with the intent of the nondiscrimination clauses that the city and county put in place.
“I feel like they made a commitment to the state by signing that, that they wouldn’t discriminate,” Larsen said. “I don’t buy the explanation that our application wasn’t patriotic enough. We were so careful to make sure our application was what they were asking for.”
Parade directors had previously offered that Encircle could participate in the parade by wrangling one of the large balloons, according to screenshots of emails Larsen sent.
“If you wrangle a balloon, then you can have your own shirts that have Encircle on them but without the LGBTQ Resource House added,” the email said.
Larsen said she argued against that, saying that it would make the kids feel bad, and like they weren’t wanted in the parade.
Following the rejection, Encircle plans to do a large pancake breakfast July 4, the same morning as the parade.
“We will make sure these youth and families have a fun place to celebrate Fourth of July together,” Larsen said.
Mormons Building Bridges, Provo PFLAG, Queer Meals and Provo Pride have all received denials to their parade applications as of Wednesday evening, Wilcox said.
The denial email sent to MBB said the parade committee “Has determined that your organization’s application did not clearly show how it would meet this standard and was not approved. This year, 22 applicants were declined for similar reasons.”
Wilcox said the LGBT organizations that applied had been meeting and negotiating with Freedom Festival representatives, and felt that what was communicated to the groups in those meetings has not come to pass.
“They had given us their word that they would work with each of these organizations, and we had agreed to be a consortium of groups to negotiate with the Freedom Festival, so at a minimum there would be two or three LGBT group entries in the parade,” Wilcox said. “That was their last promise to us.”
Wilcox said the groups understand that the nondiscrimination clauses from Provo and Utah County did not mean that every LGBT group would be guaranteed entry in the parade, but said he was under the impression that the Freedom Festival would work with the groups to help them meet the parade standards.
The LGBT groups want to work with the Freedom Festival to help them avoid the negative publicity that comes with denying all the LGBT groups, Wilcox said.
“The message is that no LGBT people are welcome at the Freedom Festival or in Provo,” Wilcox said. “That’s an unacceptable message.”
Paul Warner, executive director of the Freedom Festival, did not immediately return the Daily Herald’s request for comment.