Utah’s Freedom Festival gets taxpayer money, but they can’t discriminate against LGBTQ groups

Posted at 3:35 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-20 20:14:48-04

PROVO, Utah -- America's Freedom Festival can take $113,000 in taxpayer dollars for its annual event celebrating the Fourth of July, but it cannot discriminate against particular groups.

The Utah County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a new contract to help fund the massive parade and patriotic celebration -- with a new non-discrimination clause attached.

The issue came up when when LGBTQ rights groups complained they had been repeatedly excluded from participating in parades. Mormons Building Bridges told commissioners they had twice been excluded from marching in the parade with LGBTQ veterans and Encircle, a youth resource center, was not allowed to participate at the last minute after being initially allowed in.

"America's Freedom Festival has an exceptional opportunity this year to send a message that in Provo, everyone is welcome," said Kendall Wilcox of Mormons Building Bridges.

A number of LGBTQ groups and community residents spoke in favor of the clause. Tisha Olsen, a Marine who is also transgender, told the commission she fought in several wars for her country but has felt excluded from the Freedom Festival.

"We are a very diversified country, and that's what makes us strong," she said.

Throughout Tuesday's meeting, public comment was largely in favor of the clause. Some residents complained that the Freedom Festival should reflect the diversity of the area.

"Utah County is not what it was in the 1950s and I think it would be cool to see the parade show that change as well," one man said.

The lone opponent of it was a representative of the Utah Eagle Forum.

"It is inappropriate to force a parade that was founded on a traditional family and the things the family does to hold our society together, to provide a platform for a message of sexuality that is unrelated to the general principles of the parade," said Dani Palmer.

Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie said he wanted to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not spent to exclude people.

"By including this non-discrimination, we're ensuring those tax dollars are used in a manner that does not oppress the minority who may have been shut out, who have historically been shut out," he said.

Freedom Festival organizers told the Utah County Commission they would "concur" with the clause in the contract, but wouldn't exactly commit to including LGBTQ groups in the parade when questioned by FOX 13.

"We're saying, 'Hey, let's keep working through it,'" said Steve Shallenberger, a trustee of the Freedom Festival. "That's the beauty of America. Let's talk through this."

Shallenberger promised an announcement soon on the parade. Mormons Building Bridges said it intended to file an application to walk an LGBTQ veterans group in the July Fourth parade.

To ensure the Freedom Festival's compliance, the group said it also intended to ask Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi to get a similar clause in the city's contract with the event. Provo kicks in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind contributions to the annual event.