GLBT Pride Festival fighting Park Board on free speech issue

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April 11, 2011 // UPDATED 11:30 am - April 19, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Twin Cities GLBT Pride are at odds over the festival’s attempt to set up a “free speech zone” at Loring Park where groups opposing the festival’s message would be stationed.

GLBT Pride is seeking an exclusive use permit from the Park Board, but Park Board staff has recommended that the Board of Commissioners deny that permit and instead give the organizers the same non-exclusive permit they have had for the past 38 years.

The festival is held the last weekend in June. In 2010, Brian Johnson, a self-described born-again Christian, passed out Bibles and discussed his views against homosexuality. Organizers were unsuccessful in getting a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the Hayward, Wis. man.

Pride organizers wrote in their permit application: “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 to access and use the Pride Festival so that they do not advance a message contrary to the mission and message of Twin Cities Pride.”

But Park Board lawyers wrote in a memo that Loring Park is a public forum, and the government in a public forum “is strictly limited in its ability to regulate private speech.”

Pride wants to place the free speech zone near the dog park, and Park Board staff’s memo says that would not provide an ample alternative for expression.

Pride, under its usual permit, would still have the right to deny any group from setting up a booth, according to the memo. It could not, however, limit anyone from passing out literature or speaking to people.

The Park Board’s Administrative and Finance Committee is discussing the permit application at its April 20 meeting, which follows the regular 4:30 p.m. Park Board meeting.

To see the Pride’s application and the Park Board’s response, go to http://tinyurl.com/3fbq4ad.