Q: Some friends and I are really interested in having a gay pride parade in our city this summer. We went to local officials to get a permit for the event, but we were told that the city would not let us hold the parade or display our banners and flags ( as they do for other parades ) because the event might "offend" some members of the community. Is there anything we can do?
A: Pride season is definitely an exciting and high-energy time, one which promotes and celebrates solidarity among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) members of the community and their allies.
Pride parades are also important to outreach and advocacy groups that serve as resources for the LGBT community, providing key opportunities for them to connect with the community in an affirming and welcoming atmosphere. Businesses can also benefit from participating, opening them up to new customers and strengthening local support.
While these are all key reasons your city should host a Pride parade, there is also an important legal reason: equal protection. Your city is required to grant you access to the same city resources that are made available to other groups hosting similar public events. The city cannot deny you a permit for your Pride event, or refuse to put up banners and signs promoting it, if the city allows these things for similar events hosted by other groups.
What it all boils down to is that as a matter of law, government officials may not pick and choose who is allowed services based on point of view. This is not a popularity contest. You have a constitutional right to equal protection, and thus you have a constitutional right to hold your Pride event.
In 2008, Lambda Legal served as co-counsel in Central Alabama Pride, Inc. v. Larry Langford, representing an Alabama organization, Central Alabama Pride ( CAP ), that has held a gay pride parade in Birmingham every year since 1989. But in May 2008, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford announced that he would neither sign a proclamation nor provide a permit for gay pride based on his religious beliefs that do not "condone that lifestyle choice." The mayor went so far as to forbid city workers from attaching Pride banners on city poles. CAP filed a complaint against the city in August 2008. Ultimately the city settled and was ordered to pay legal fees in excess of $40,000 and establish nondiscriminatory regulations for the approval of hanging banners on city property by city employees to announce upcoming public events.
While the law is clear, ensuring it is followed is often an uphill climb. Lambda Legal is working every day to make sure that LGBT people everywhere are treated with respect and dignity.
If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, contact Lambda Legal's Help Desk at 866-542-8336, or see www.lambdalegal.org/help.
Hayley Gorenberg is the Lambda Legal deputy legal director.