Public officials are trying desperately to make sure that Pine City’s LGBT community cannot use public signs to promote Pine City Pride.
Last summer, Pine City’s longstanding LGBT Pride event, “Pride in the Park,” rented an electric sign in front of the city’s public elementary school. The sign had been used by many community groups — churches, the Lions Club, and other civic organizations — for a small fee to promote community events.
But citizens complained about an LGBT event on the sign, and at its July 8 meeting, the school board passed a resolution stating, “Effective July 8, 2013 , any messages posted to either the electronic message board, bulletin boards, online, or other public displays by non-District personnel or relating to non-District events is prohibited.”
“We wanted to stay on point and not get into any potential controversy or political issues, whether that be religious activities or a variety of other things,” Pine City School Superintendent Wayne Gilman told the Pine City Pioneer in August. “We just didn’t want to be involved in that at all.”
The fracas even became an issue in the school board elections that fall.
In January, the Pine County Board began a discussion about placing a donated electric sign in front of the old county courthouse that would be available for the promotion of public events. But it’s being met with opposition because Pine City LGBT Pride might want to use it as they did with the old sign.
County Commissioner Mitch Pangerl said he opposed a county-owned sign because of what happened with the school district sign.
At the most recent county board meeting, Pangerl said it was “one bad apple that advertised on that sign” referring to Pine City LGBT Pride, according to the Moose Lake Star Gazette. “They (the school board) have had a lot of heated meetings,” Pangerl he said. “It turned into a pretty big ordeal.”
The Star Gazette caught much of the debate:
County Attorney John Carlson was asked for his input on the issue. He said the county could not discriminate against any group, saying, “It would then be the government supporting only one side of the message.”
“When the government becomes involved, how do you control the message?” asked Carlson. “Everyone would have access to that sign.”
Hallan said the county would not be the content filter on the sign and said “some had heartburn” when the gay pride picnic was advertised.
County Administrator David Minke said the issue was a difficult, complex conversation that needed a legal answer.
“Can you craft a lease (for a sign) that would withstand a court challenge?” Minke asked the board.
To date, Carlson said he has found no other county that has allowed a community sign on its land.
“Just one bad apple would wreck this whole thing,” Pangerl said.
“We would get right in the middle of the fight,” added Commissioner Matt Ludwig of Sandstone.
“At some point, someone will be offended on what is on the sign,” Minke added.
Carlson added the group asking him questions about it clearly wanted to promote the gay pride festival if a sign was put on county property.
“Some people would say don’t put it on. Others would say put it on,” Carlson said.
“They clearly want to put the gay pride festival on a sign on county land,” Carlson said.
Hallan said it was unfortunate that one group having a sign on the property for three days would offend others.
“That piece of property is in the center of the community and it’s a great place to have that sign,” Hallan said.
Similar sentiments were caught by the Pine City Pioneer:
“I’m opposed to it for the same reasons as the school board,” Commissioner Mitch Pangerl asserted. “One bad apple caused an uproar in the community,” he said, pointing out that he received more than 30 calls from residents who voiced their objections. Pangerl reminded commissioners of several heated school board meetings that attracted a lot of attention from the public and said the subject “turned into a pretty big ordeal.”
Hallan said he believes the county could enter into a simple lease agreement. He pointed out that the electronic sign at the Pine City Elementary School “worked fine for many years until the gay pride picnic” and “someone had heartburn with that.”
Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen notes that Pangerl is a “sanctity of marriage” kind of conservative activist.
Pine City Pride has been ongoing since 2005, and is one of the only rural LGBT prides in the country. It’s also been plagued by conservative Christian protesters in most years.