A local LGBTQ pride group was excluded from a southwest Iowa town's Labor Day parade, apparently by the city's mayor, who cited safety concerns.
Shenandoah Pride planned to have a small group walking with a banner and a drag performer riding in a convertible, with candy, popsicles and stickers to hand out in the parade in Essex, Iowa, said Jessa Bears, a founding member of the group. The parade was part of a four-day festival in Essex, which has about 720 residents.
Ryan Fuller, who planned to ride in the convertible as his drag identity Cherry Peaks, said he received an email Thursday from the parade's organizer notifying him of the decision.
Fuller told The Associated Press Essex Mayor Calvin Kinney spearheaded the decision, with no motions or city council vote. Council Member Heather Thornton, who disagreed with the move, said “it was the mayor himself,” and added she was told he had the authority and didn't need a council vote.
Kinney did not immediately respond to an email from the AP regarding the decision. The AP's phone calls to City Attorney Mahlon Sorensen went unanswered.
Bears said the decision left her feeling “really shocked and angry, then just very sad and motivated to get the word out,” she told the AP. “This ban has done more for our visibility than the parade alone ever would have.”
Shenandoah Pride sought to be in the parade to “let people know there is a queer community in southwest Iowa that they can be a part of,” Bears said.
The groups that organized the festivities “fully supported their efforts and (are) just as upset as everyone else that they were excluded,” said Thornton, who is on the board of the club that had unanimously allowed the pride group to join the parade.
The ACLU of Iowa sent the city attorney a letter Saturday urging the city to let the group participate. The letter included a Thursday email from the mayor that cited safety of the public and parade participants in not allowing “parade participants geared toward the promotion of, or opposition to, the politically charged topic of gender and/or sexual identification/orientation." Thornton said she knew of no threats.
Despite the parade decision, Shenandoah Pride did have a vendor booth at the festival, which Bears said was well received.
A stranger offered their yard for Shenandoah Pride for the group to watch the parade, and a few floats had pride flags in solidarity, Bears said.
“Overall, regardless of the very dark shadow over the day, I'd say it was a pretty positive day,” she said after the parade.
Fuller said community members offered their yard as space for group members to watch the parade, and some people planned to wear pride shirts in the parade to show solidarity.
The group had canceled its convertible for the parade, Fuller said. "An apology would sure be nice,” he added.