PROVO — After an emotional, two-hour meeting between parade organizers and representatives from LGBT organizations, America’s Freedom Festival reversed itself and will let five previously denied groups join the July 4th parade.
“There were tears and sometimes raised voices and sometimes pointed fingers,” Erika Munson, a co-founder of Mormon’s Building Bridges, said of the closed-door meeting, “but this kind of discussion is what it’s all about.”
Generally, the five LGBT groups agreed they will display more red, white and blue and patriotic themes for the Grand Parade on the Fourth of July.
“We changed the color scheme of our entry to be more explicitly patriotic and we added some more patriotic verbiage just to hammer home that we’re all Americans and we’re all in this together,” Brianna Cluck of Provo Pride said.
“And our feeling is that wasn’t a compromise; that was always in the spirit of what we were trying to do,” Roni Jo Draper, a representative for PFlag Provo, said.
Munson said her organization — which was previously denied entry — will now have a float, with funding provided by committee member Steve Shallenberger.
“That’s a huge gesture that we’re honored to receive,” Munson said.
Shallenberger, the vice president of the trustees of America’s Freedom Festival, said he was “happy to help to pitch in.”
The float will include Mormons Building Bridges and Encircle. QueerMeals, another LGBT group, did not send a representative to Thursday's meeting, but Shallenberger said it is welcome to be a part of the parade.
Two other groups, Provo PFlag and Provo Pride, will now be a part of the parade's walking portion.
Shallenberger said of the progress made in the meeting: “Only in America.”
Consistently, both sides said communication was the greatest issue for reaching a compromise.
“We came in with a lot of hurt feelings, we came in confused as to why things happened in the order that they did, why we’re assured in meetings in May that the standards for being approved would be made clear to us and then they weren’t,” Munson said, but substantial progress was made by the time they left Thursday afternoon.
Before Thursday's compromise, in the wake of outcry over the LGBT groups being denied on Wednesday, the festival had announced that any of the 22 denied applications would be able to "adjust" their proposals by 5 p.m. Friday to follow more of the following:
• Applicants should be more clear about their contribution of the "celebration of the parade, America and the Fourth of July." The announcement used "carrying American flags, dressing in red, white, and blue, having a patriotic message" as examples.
• The parade does not want large groups of over 150 people.
• The group's signage and message should be about "celebrating America, not a group advertisement."
Festival officials also announced they would meet with any of the denied applicants at 3 p.m. Thursday, a meeting that neither Munson nor Shallenberger expected to go as well as it did.
"They're all going to be a part of it — it's amazing," Shallenberger said. "If you had asked me that this morning, I wouldn't have thought how that might've been possible — but that's what happens when people can come together."
The claims of discrimination came the same day Provo officials announced they had signed a new contract with America's Freedom Festival that included a nondiscrimination clause.
Draper and Cluck were cautious about saying whether or not discrimination against LGBT people was a deciding factor by the parade committee because they can’t know their intentions.
But from her point of view, Munson said it did.
“That’s what it looked like to us,” she said. “That’s what it felt like, that’s what we experienced.”
In an interview with the Deseret News Thursday morning, Freedom Festival Director Paul Warner reaffirmed that no one on his committee based their decision from an anti-LGBT point of view.
"We all have, in fact, just about everybody in the Freedom Festival, has some connection to somebody who's dealing with a gay issue," Warner said, "so it's not like we're all not impacted by this."
Warner said they all have family members that are gay and he has a niece who is "very much in that lifestyle," and some board members have board members that are "involved with it."
What he wanted to avoid, however, was divisive issues.
"We don't want the parade to become an issue parade. We want it to be a parade where everybody's grateful for the flag and not have to announce a particular advertisement for a car company or for something they're trying to push," Warner said.
A total of 22 groups were denied entry into the annual parade. Organizers said those proposals focused on "their special interests and agenda" instead of following the guidelines of the parade, which is dedicated to service members and local heroes.
Warner said that other entries either had American flags and specifically American issues or "they're horses, they're floats that represent just general things, they're not issues that are dividing people."
"We don't want the parade to be controversial, we don't want the people that are in the parade to be controversial — to the best of our ability," Warner said. "And its tough every year to make it so it isn't that."
Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi was among those who raised concerns about claims of discrimination early Thursday and released a statement following the two sides’ comprise in the afternoon:59 comments on this story
“I’m thrilled that the Freedom Festival and LGBT groups have been able to come to a compromise on parade entries. When I heard that they had been outright denied, I said that we can do better. This feels better,” Kaufusi said. “Thanks to all who helped this compromise come about, including Paul Warner from the festival and the leaders of the applicant groups.”
Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie tweeted Thursday that he intended to try to pull county funding from the festival because of the controversy. Following the two sides' compromise, Ivie tweeted again:
"I was critical of them this morning glad they proved me wrong," he said.
Provo and Utah County provide some funding for the festival run by a nonprofit organization. Utah County donated $100,000 earlier this year.