Amy Hunter

Who Gets to Say What at Pride?

Filed By Amy Hunter | June 27, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Alliance Defense Fund, anti-gay propaganda, GLiB

Twin Cities Pride doesn't want Brian Johnson, his family and especially his message at their Pride Festival this weekend.

Johnson and his family hand out Bibles and preach that homosexuality is immoral—a message obviously upsetting to all of us open-minded, correct-thinking, ahem... First Amendment lovers. Can't have any of that messy freedom of speech stuff, now can we?

In actuality, the issue is not so much Johnson's opinion--or his right to espouse it. At issue is, when and where that opinion can be expressed.

A little more about this fight, after the jump.

Johnson and his family have in the past, rented a booth at Twin Cities Pride. Last year, Pride organizers decided not to rent to Johnson. He and his family continued to proselytize anyway and were arrested for their trouble--trespassing and disturbing the peace. This year, not only did Pride refuse to rent Johnson a booth, they sought a federal injunction as well, seeking to prevent him from distributing anti-gay literature or evangelizing within the boundaries of Loring Park where Pride Festival takes place. The Johnson family lobbied the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board for access to the festival, which draws up to 300,000 LGBT participants each year.

Pressure by Johnson and his attorneys from (James Dobson affiliated) Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) led parks and recreation officials to decide anti-gay activists should be allowed access to the festival. Minneapolis Parks Board chair, John Irwin cited First Amendment protections even though he disagreed with the Johnson's point of view saying, "I happen to wholeheartedly agree with the message of Twin Cities Pride. I'm gay myself. But I also believe in every person's right to free speech and expression," he said. "Asking the Minneapolis Park Board to exclude someone from a public space because they have a differing view is a dangerous precedent."

Pride organizers countered with the federal injunction, on grounds that they pay many thousands of dollars to rent the festival site and permit the event, thus making it privately controlled. In an ironic twist, attorneys for Twin Cities Pride cited 1995 Supreme Court case law from Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston to argue for private control of Pride Festival messaging. In that Boston case, parade organizers legally prohibited a LGB group from participation in the annual Boston parade. The courts ruled that a valid permit holder for a function has the right to deny access to individuals or groups whose message does not conform to that intended by the event's organizers.

Late Friday, Twin Cities Pride lost their bid for the injunction. Federal Judge John Tunheim stating in his ruling, (emphasis mine) "The court's task here is to balance these competing interests to the greatest extent possible—to enable all speakers to exercise their constitutional rights, and then to depend on reasonable and law-abiding people to stay within proper limits."

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation has found themselves in the awkward position of defending Johnson in Federal court, yet seemed pleased by the ruling. "There are no winners or losers in this case," commented John Irwin, Minneapolis PRB chairperson. "This case was about clarifying an individual's first amendment rights in a public park. Mr. Brian Johnson, or anyone, has the right to express themselves in Loring Park during Twin Cities Pride Festival. But no one has the right to disturb the peace or harass attendees."

Go figure.


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Jayne A Maynes | June 27, 2010 4:47 PM

I think the courts got it wrong this time. the Park is rented and the LGBT was permits as well. Mr Johnson and his family should have to pay the same fees and buy the same permits the LGBT has bought and paid for or not have the right to spread his hate. The park stopped being a public park when money for its use exchanged hands, At that point in time the park became the property of those holding the lease and the permits.

Strange how we have to pay and then allow someone to come sh** on us all in the name of free speech.

Dangerous precedent, huh? So now they've opened the door for groups like the KKK, Nazis, and even N.A.M.B.L.A. ( which has long been shunned by gay groups ) to be included. Private events should be forced to welcome them in the name of "free speech"- and closeted bigots will then be allowed to continue showing up & screaming at funerals.

I think this is different from the situation in Toronto (where Pride tried to keep Palestine activists out) because in Toronto it was the city putting pressure on Pride to kick out the Palestine activists. Here it's coming from the people who organized the event, and message control is part of their free speech rights.

Personally, though, if I were running the thing I'd let them go in and hand out a few fliers. They'll barely even be noticed and they'll get plenty of shout-downs from the participants. Sure, they're probably fanatical enough not to be persuaded, but it's not like they're going to kill anyone by flyering.

Alex I tend to agree with your last paragraph. I would go a bit further and surround their booth with people supporting the goals of the event organizers. I would do it without rancor or confrontation. Do it pleasantly and cordially accepting all offered materials they wanted to hand out. There is more than one way to neuter an opponent.

This happened I'm St Louis a few years ago. An evangilical church came inside the park where Pride Fest was taking place and began to flyer and pray over people. Police were called and they were told to flyer only on public sidewalks. The group didn't listen and the police arrested them. A lawsuit was brought against the city of St Louis and they lost. The city had to pay a few hundred thousand to the church for damages.

What is this world coming too? During the next Church revival in our big city park, we should get a few thousand queens and have them hand out condoms.

Crazy times we live in.

The Pride Committee should have the right to deny a booth rental to anyone they want, and should not have to explain why. They are, in fact, a business.

However, keeping them out of the park should be seen (as it is here in Atlanta) as a safety issue, for them and the people at Pride. The police say the protesters here in Atl cannot go into Piedmont Park during Pride for that very reason, 1st Amendment or not. It's up to the police dept to keep the peace, and they will do what they need to do to accomplish that. Of course, these are police officers in a Southern city, so that may make the difference.

Does either of the Twin Cities have an LGBT Liaison in their police departments? The community should be taking up the safety concerns with them.

Would I want to be thrown out of a public revival for speaking my piece? Of course not. Same thing. It's free speech.

I disagreed with the decision on the St. Patty's Day parade, so I might as well be consistent in my POV instead of letting the defendant prejudice my intelligence.

Good post, Amy. Nice balance of presenting sides.

Amy Hunter Amy Hunter | June 28, 2010 9:38 PM

Thanks for the compliment Bil :)

I'm really torn about this one. I do not agree with either decision, this one or, the Boston St. Pat's Day parade case, yet-both events were (are) privately permitted.

We, as a community want to be included in places we are not--some of which, on the grounds of private privilege and freedom of speech. I believe it is incumbent on us to carry ourselves with dignity, but most importantly; to behave beyond reproach.

Keeping the backstory in mind, I just couldn't shake the feeling that Twin Cities Pride simply did not want the inconvenience of this little man and his confused family at "OUR" event.

Rev. Donna Tara Lee | June 28, 2010 6:00 PM


If it is privately rented those that rent it should be allowed to rent booths to whoever they want. These damn bible people have to stick their nose into everything to prove their religion is right and all others are wrong. Lets go to their churches and disribute GLBTQ literature during their services.

Amy Hunter Amy Hunter | June 29, 2010 3:01 AM

Sounds like fun Reverend. Let's start with Westboro Baptist!