Organizers meet with Council members, police to discuss anti-gay protesters
Planning for the 2007 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade is underway, and the management of anti-gay protests is at the top of the coordinators’ to-do list.
A parade coordinator met with representatives of the Dallas Police Department, the Office of Special Events and two City Council members last week to discuss the activities of anti-gay protesters at the Sept. 13 event. Protesters at last month’s parade and rally got closer to the events’ participants than ever before.
Flip Benham, a representative of Operation Save America, taunted participants in the parade as he stood on a sidewalk just a few feet away from the floats and marchers. He scolded Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez for being a lesbian and told her she was going to hell.
Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who represents the Oak Lawn area, said she and gay councilman Ed Oakley, who represents Oak Cliff, arranged the meeting after hearing about coordinators’ concerns. The meeting on Sept. 29 was the first of several planned to develop a strategy, she said.
Hunt said she hopes a plan can be developed to keep parade participants and anti-gay protesters from coming into direct contact.
“As far as the protesters go, one of the challenges is that if someone is on a public sidewalk it appears that they are legally permitted to protest there,”
Hunt said. “We have to talk to our legal department.”
Hunt said everyone involved in the meetings wants to ensure safety for the parade participants and spectators, as well as the anti-gay protesters.
“To keep some good space in there makes a little bit more sense to me,” Hunt said.
Hunt said it appears that anti-gay protesters were allowed to get close to parade participants this year because none of the police personnel providing security had ever overseen security at the parade before.
“I think what we need to do next year is to ensure we have some folks who have participated or to make sure there is clear communication about what is expected,” Hunt said.
Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said both parade coordinators and city staff called for the meeting because of concerns about safety. The aggressiveness of the anti-gay protesters, who used sound equipment for the first time, surprised everyone involved with the parade, he said.
“We’re trying to find out exactly where the boundaries lie and if there is any way they can be contained and if they have the right to do what they did,” Doughman said. “It’s still in the sorting out process. It has a lot to do with First Amendment rights and the right to protest is one of those.”
Doughman said the protests are unavoidable and to be expected with an event that has grown to the size the parade has over the past two decades. Some observers believe the parade has grown to about 30,000 or more participants and spectators, he said.
“That’s something we’re going to have to expect as the parade gets bigger and draws more attention,” Doughman said. “The bigger the crowd, the bigger the opportunity for protesters be seen and heard.”
Doughman said it is possible the protesters could be prevented from entering Lee Park during the rally because the city leases the park to the Lee Park Conservancy, which in turn rents it out for events.
Hunt said police officials and city staff are eager to resolve any problems.
“I think there is an understanding that this is an important event for our city, and we need to ensure that we have the highest level of cooperation between the police and parade organizers,” Hunt said. “We will continue to meet with them until we feel like we’ve got the concerns resolved.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 6, 2006.