Freedom Festival Grand Parade draws thousands 13

A float operator waves to the crowd during the Freedom Festival Grand Parade, on Monday, July 4, 2016. The parade is the largest of its kind in Utah and attracts thousands to Provo every year to celebrate the Fourth of July. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

The Utah County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to add a nondiscrimination clause to its funding agreement with the Freedom Festival.

Commission Chair Nathan Ivie had first brought the issue up last week, in light of events at last year’s Freedom Festival where an LGBT youth resource group, Encircle, was denied entry to the event’s Grand Parade at the last minute after having been previously approved to march.

The contract approved Tuesday, which outlines $113,000 in county funding and in-kind donations to the Freedom Festival, included an added clause, which states that the festival cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status" for any county-sponsored events.

Though the contract does not name the parade as a county-sponsored event, and therefore the parade may not be included under the nondiscrimination clause, numerous members of the LGBTQ community voiced support Tuesday for the clause and spoke to the need for the community to be inclusive.

Tisha Olsen, a transgender woman who served 22 years in the U.S. Marines, told the commission Tuesday that she supported the addition of the language to prevent discrimination in county-sponsored events at the Freedom Festival.

“Me and my brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community that have served our country have basically written a check to this country up to and including our life, for our freedom and for everyone else’s freedom here,” Olsen said. “And with that, that’s why I think it is very important that people not be discriminated against, and people not be pushed away, especially from things like the Freedom Festival.”

Kendall Wilcox, who spoke as a representative of Mormons Building Bridges, said the organization has twice applied for entry in the Freedom Festival parade to feature LGBTQ veterans, and twice been denied.

Wilcox voiced his support for the nondiscrimination clause and challenged the Freedom Festival to rethink its application of the First Amendment.

“Do these Americans not deserve a place in America’s biggest and best patriotic celebration?” Wilcox asked.

Last week, Freedom Festival executive director Paul Warner told the commission that, while the festival agreed with Encircle’s mission, allowing them to march in the parade might open up the door to allowing issues-oriented groups such as gun control advocates to also march in the parade.

On Tuesday, Freedom Festival board of trustees member Steve Shallenberger said the festival welcomed anyone who wanted to participate as a volunteer, but said there are challenges to running a parade.

“How do you run a parade with many different interests so it celebrates the Fourth of July and America?” Shallenberger said. “And that’s the challenge.”

Shallenberger also thanked the commission for being part of the process, and said that as the issue continues to be discussed, he has faith it will work itself out.

“We concur with the language that’s in this agreement and hope that it will be supported,” Shallenberger said. “And as we go forward, hopefully we’ll all be proud of our community so wherever we go, we’ll say that Provo, that Utah County, is one special place because all were included.”

Tosh Metzger, who serves on the board of trustees for Provo Pride, said he was happy with the commission’s decision, and now he’s looking beyond the county.

“Provo’s next,” Metzger said after the meeting. “I think Provo city needs to step up to the plate, and it’s time for them to also have a nondiscrimination clause.”

Katie England covers politics, the environment and courts for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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