An LGBTQ+ group was banned from participating in an Iowa town’s Labor Day parade, reportedly at the behest of the mayor.
On Thursday, just days before the parade in Essex, Iowa, members of Shenandoah Pride say they received an email from Mayor Calvin Kinney on behalf of the city.
“Out of concern for the safety of the public and that of Essex Labor Day parade participants, the City of Essex has determined not to allow parade participants geared toward the promotion of, or opposition to, the politically charged topic of gender and/or sexual identification/orientation,” the email read. “This parade will not be used for and will not allow sexual identification or sexual orientation agendas for, or against, to be promoted.”
Essex City Council Member Heather Thornton told the Associated Press that the decision was made by Kinney, despite the fact that the parade’s organizers had unanimously approved Shenandoah Pride’s participation. Thornton said she disagreed with the decision but was told that the mayor had the authority to ban the group without a city council vote.
According to KETV, the city said it had received threats from a group opposing Shenandoah Pride’s participation in the parade. But the group’s co-founder Jessa Bears said that Shenandoah Pride had not received any threats directly. Thornton told the Associated Pressthat she was unaware of any threats.
Bears told KETV that she believes the decision to ban Shenandoah Pride came in response to their plan to have local drag performer Cherry Peaks ride in a convertible in the parade with the group.
On Saturday, the ACLU of Iowa sent a letter to Kinney and City Attorney Mahlon Sorensen urging the city to allow Shenandoah Pride to participate in Monday’s parade, calling the group’s exclusion a violation of the First Amendment.
Kinney has not commented publicly about the decision.
Bears told the AP that Shenandoah Pride wanted to march in the parade to “let people know there is a queer community in southwest Iowa that they can be a part of.”
“It’s just really about visibility and being in the community and showing, you know, we work and we go to school with everybody in the community, and just letting everyone know that we’re here,” Bears told KETV.
“I think the misconception is that, you know, it’s these gay people from these cities,” said Ryan Fuller, who performs in drag as Cherry Peaks. “We’re not from the city. We live less than 10 miles away from the town.”
While Shenandoah Pride ultimately did not march in the parade, they did set up a booth at the town’s Labor Day festival and gathered for the parade after members of the community reached out to invite the group to watch from their yards. Other groups in the parade carried Pride flags in solidarity with the group.
Despite feeling “shocked and angry,” Bears told the AP that the ban had actually done more for the group’s visibility than marching in the parade would have.
At the same time, KMTV reports that following coverage of the ban, Fuller received a death threat.