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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 26, 2005

Group told they are too 'political' for parade

Kettering, Ohio--A group has been told that because they are mostly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, that they are too political, too controversial and too gay to be part of the Labor Day parade.

Diversity Dayton�s application to enter a float in Kettering�s Holiday at Home parade was rejected August 9, after the group was told, �We believe that your entry�s subject matter is tied too closely to �hot button� issues in the political arena� by the parade�s coordinator.

�As you may or may not know, we do not allow campaigning candidates into the parade, and we are taking a stand on these matters. This decision will not be reversed,� wrote Kathy Lewis, who signed the letter as �Parade Lady.�

Lewis is part of the Kettering Holiday at Home Foundation, a non-profit corporation organized in 1959 with ties to the YMCA, for the purpose of producing a Labor Day parade and other weekend activities. It is not officially part of the Dayton suburb�s government. According to its bylaws, the only requirement of groups approved to march is proof of liability insurance.

The foundation�s board of directors approves applications, according to Lewis.

Board president Don Tate answered all questions with, �I don�t have any comment,� but outlined his position in emails to Diversity Dayton organizer R.J. McKay.

McKay requested an application to join the parade in April. When he asked in June why he hadn�t been sent one, Tate emailed him with concerns that Diversity Dayton was associated with the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT political group in Washington, D.C.

Diversity Dayton is an online organization of LGBT people and allies that began as part of HRC�s 2004 effort to do grassroots organizing in smaller communities. HRC has since discontinued that program and Diversity Dayton has continued independently.

The parade application was submitted by Diversity Dayton with no reference to the HRC.

�I did a little research on the internet under �Human Rights Campaign� and found that that specific group appears to be national and pretty much represents equal rights related specifically to sexual orientation and preference,� Tate wrote to McKay.

�During our conversation, I thought I understood that your organization was promoting human rights in the broad context, not just that of the �Human Rights Campaign� organizations,� Tate continued. �At this point I am reluctant to approve for your participation. Again, my concern is the name of the organization. To some people, the name of �Dayton Human Rights Campaign� would be as much of a hot button as an organization name containing �Right to Life� would be to some others.�

Lewis said that such a group marched twice in past parades, but were banned because the second time, they surprised parade organizers with signs showing �grotesque� fetuses, which offended spectators.

Two days after Lewis� denial letter, Tate e-mailed McKay again:

�As a private non-profit organization, we can basically pick and choose who we let participate. As we discussed earlier, our primary concern is that Diversity Dayton is an organization very specifically made up [of] people in the gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. community and that is made very clear on your website. It is �diversity,� but only for a very specific group, not diversity in the broadest sense.�

�The make-up and purpose of your group makes it a �hot button issue� which in itself creates the public controversy,� wrote Tate. �I see your organization as a group who is saying we want to be who we are and want to be accepted by you and afforded the same rights anyone else enjoys.�

Tate called the decision �unfortunate,� adding that it is based �not on my personal opinion, but rather on my position as president of Holiday at Home and my duty to the organization I serve.�

Lewis said, �Last election cycle, in Ohio we voted on some amendment or something, I think it was about marriage, and that�s what makes [Diversity Dayton] political.�

Asked if Diversity Dayton indicated that they were going to be campaigning against the constitutional amendment, Lewis said, �Gay and lesbian rights are already a hot-button issue in Ohio� and that the mere appearance of the group would be political and potentially offensive to some.

Lewis particularly objected to the group�s description of itself on the application form, which reads, �Diversity Dayton is a local group of people dedicated to creating diversity and spreading equality for all people, especially those of the LGBTcommunity.�

�That�s it,� said Lewis.

The foundation approves participation by other civic and community groups with political messages, including churches and the Boy Scouts, though they don�t consider those messages political.

�Boy Scouts, Adventure Guides and Princesses, it makes no difference,� said Lewis.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Boy Scouts ban on gay or atheist members because it a �specific expressive purpose� of the organization.

�No one on our committee said anything about that,� said Lewis.

�You�re talking just about the [Boy Scout] administration,� Lewis continued. �If you talk to the little boys, they don�t know anything about that either.�

Another high court decision, however, gives the foundation the right to stop LGBT participation.

In its 1995 Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston decision, the court said gay groups could be kept out of a St. Patrick�s Day parade because the organizers have the right to their own political message.

McKay said he knows it is legal for parade organizers to keep his group out, adding that they are discussing the possibility of organizing a counter activity or informational demonstration along the route.

 

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