For the second year, Twin Cities Pride and the Minneapolis Park Board are in a tangle over whether Pride can exclude vendors who espouse anti-LGBT views during the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival in Loring Park. Pride wants to establish “free speech zones” in the park for anti-gay protesters, but so far Minneapolis Parks has balked at the idea.

Last year, Twin Cities Pride filed an injunction against anti-gay activist Brian Johnson of Hayward, Wis. In 2009, Johnson was arrested by Park Police after Pride organizers asked them to leave. At the time, Johnson’s wife told local media, “We believe [homosexuality] is a sin.”

A judge denied the injunction saying that Johnson was within his rights to protest Pride so long as he didn’t disrupt traffic or engage in unsafe behavior. But the judge also said that “free speech zones” could be a compromise.

Twin Cities Pride wrote to the Park Board saying, “Twin Cities Pride has a distinct mission and message, requiring the ability to determine the terms and conditions under which vendors, exhibitors and performers are allowed access and use the Pride Festival so that they do not advance a message contrary to the mission and message of Twin Cities Pride.”

Pride asked for special permitting so that those zones could be set up, but Park Board staffers, Assistant Superintendent of Development Services Don Siggelkow and Superintendent Jayne Miller, said it would not be a good idea.

There have never been free speech zones requested for any permitted event on Park Board property. At the 2010 Pride Festival the lack of free speech zones did not appreciably affect Pride’s ability to convey its message. Pride has not established to any reasonable standard that operating its Festival without free speech zones undermines its message. Staff recommends that the Board approve the resolution to deny the Exclusive Use Permit Request from Twin Cities GLBT Pride (“Pride”) for Loring Park on June 25 and 26, 2011 and approve a Conditional Non Exclusive Permit Request for The Twin Cities Pride Event at Loring Park on June 25 and 26, 2011 for the 39th Annual Pride Event.

Lawyers for the Park Board said that Pride can deny anti-gay protesters from buying a booth at the park and that free speech zones could violate the U.S. Constitution. “Pride also reserves the right to refuse to provide a booth for any person who does not support or affirm its message,” the lawyers wrote in a letter in early April. “Any person who refuses to support or affirm Pride’s message based upon the person’s First Amendment beliefs would be denied a booth.”

Based on that information, a resolution to deny Pride a permit allowing “free speech zones” will be voted on at the Apr. 20 Park Board meeting. “The request by Pride for exclusive use of Loring Park and to set up free speech zones therein is not consistent with the Park Board’s interest in protecting the free speech rights of individuals in parks open to the public,” the resolution states.

Dot Betzler, executive director of Pride, related her frustration with the Park Board in a latter last week. “Our predecessors fought against those who sought to shame the GLBT community into staying invisible – to deprive them of equality. Over the years, our GLBT Pride Celebration has sent our powerful message of GLBT pride, as opposed to shame,” she wrote. “In addition, it has provided revenue to the Park Board and to the local business community. We think Judge Tunheim’s compromise is not only constitutional, but also good fiscal sense. ”
Betzler continued:

“You may not be aware of this, but in response to our offer to implement this compromise, the Park Board’s lawyers have spent an outrageous amount of taxpayer money to fight and oppose us at every turn – yes, us  – GLBT Pride Twin Cities, the organization that the Park has partnered with for over 30 years to hold a successful celebration of GLBT Pride and movement for equality!”

Minneapolis taxpayers will be furious to find out that they have been paying to fight a lawsuit when the Park Board could have settled the case on the terms recommended by the federal judge who will decide the case. And yet, the Park decided to fight on, fighting every step of the way — spending more and more scarce tax dollars to do so.

The Column is a community-supported non-profit news, arts, and media organization. We depend on community support to continue the work of solid LGBT-centric journalism. If you like this article, consider visiting Give MN to make a contribution today.


  1. Pride just lost my volunteer work for this summer. ‘Free speech zones’? Is this really what the Pride organizers want…? I realize it’s a broad generalization, but while queer people and liberals so often extol the virtues of freedom of expression, equal protection under the law, and diversity, they’ll just as soon silence they people they disagree with. It’s a public park, and the park board and judge are right that a few protesters do not appreciably impact the Pride’s ability to convey its message.

    People preach hate and yell and protest against gays on public property everywhere, every day, and the police don’t throw them in ‘free speech zones’ just because queer people are offended. I’d argue anti-gay protesters harassing a small, isolated group of queer people walking down the sidewalk would be more dangerous and damaging than a single protester yelling against the entire collective attendance of Pride.

    The government requires a compelling interest to curtail free spech rights on public property, and this just doesn’t sit well with me. Anti-gay protesters deserve to exercise their right to free speech during Pride—no matter how aborrent that speech may be. If Pride really wants to discourage anti-gay protest, they should organize a line of beautiful and fabulous drag queens and drag kings, and have them all link arms to play Red Rover with the protesters. If that doesn’t make them haul ass outta there, I don’t know what will.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here