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Itasca Pride festival will remain at Central School, Grand Rapids says

The Grand Rapids City Council listens to public commenters during its Monday, May 13, 2024 meeting at City Hall.
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ICTV
The Grand Rapids City Council listens to public commenters during its Monday, May 13, 2024 meeting at City Hall.

Two residents asked the city to cancel the event's reservation at the City Council meeting May 13, 2024, but the city says doing so would be discrimination.

GRAND RAPIDS — The city of Grand Rapids will not cancel a reservation for a festival organized by Itasca Pride on city property after two residents made that request.

The two residents spoke during the Monday, May 13, City Council meeting, but were outnumbered by a dozen others who spoke in support of the event.

The Itasca County queer community previously gathered at a Grand Rapids Human Rights Commission meeting after social media posts accused the event of not aligning with family values, including a Facebook event seeking to organize a “straight pride” march on the same day.

Grand Rapids resident Stephanie Lipscy is one of the organizers of the Facebook event that is now called “Protect the children from Pride/Drag show & Walk with Prayer.” She asked for the event to be moved to a private venue so it wouldn’t be visible to children, pointing to drag performances that will be part of Itasca Pride's festival.

“Minnesota State Statute 609.378 is against child endangerment, which is described as damaging to their physical, emotional or mental health, as well as any physical or sexual abuse,” she said. “This event would no doubt subject children to one or more multiple of the dangers listed.”

Stephanie Lipscy of Grand Rapids speaks at the Grand Rapids City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, May 13, 2024.
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ICTV
Stephanie Lipscy of Grand Rapids speaks at the Grand Rapids City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Drag has been a target of anti-LGBTQ+ advocates in recent years. In 2023, bills banning drag in public spaces or criminalizing bringing to drag shows were introduced in state legislatures across the county. Last month, a drag show at Central Lakes College in Brainerd was canceled because of a credible threat made toward its LGBTQ+ community.

Liz Branum, religious organizations liaison for Itasca Pride, spoke immediately following Lipscy and described the goal of the festival to the Council.

“It will be a place to share our art and culture in a way that is appropriate for the entire community,” Branum said. “And we want it to be a safe environment for everyone in attendance.”

Liz Branum, right, speaks at the Grand Rapids City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, May 13, 2024.
Contributed
/
ICTV
Liz Branum, right, speaks at the Grand Rapids City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Toward the end of public comment, Councilor Tom Sutherland asked if one of the event organizers could describe the events that would be part of the festival to help dispel any misconceptions. Itasca Pride Treasurer Karter Starling detailed the wide array activites. There will be drag performers, and Starling said they will be fully clothed and will not use obscene language.

“I mean I’m going to get the elephant out of the room. So fully clothed, just dancing sort of thing,” Sutherland said.

“Yup, it’s lip-syncing,” Starling replied.

The city posted a response to the public comment session on its Facebook on Tuesday morning.

“[Central School] has commonly been used as a gathering place for community events, demonstrations, and protests for generations,” it said.

The statement detailed the Supreme Court’s content-neutral limitations, meaning the city cannot consider viewpoint when deciding what can be done on public property.

“You may not agree with the beliefs of a specific group that is holding a community event, demonstration, or protest at Central School. However, it is a First Amendment Right under our Constitution that all be allowed to exercise free speech,” the post said. “The City asks that you respect all people’s rights regardless of your viewpoint.”

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.