Participants don underwear in the 2012 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. This year, organizers are encouraging them to wear swimsuits instead. Those who don’t comply with the new dress code won’t be allowed on the parade route and could receive criminal citations. (Chuck Marcelo/Dallas Voice)

In a controversy that threatened to overshadow the 30th anniversary of Dallas’ gay Pride parade, some LGBT activists expressed outrage this week after organizers reminded participants about the need for the event to be family-friendly and said nudity and lewd behavior will no longer be tolerated.

Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, which puts on the parade, called the controversy “much ado about nothing” and said the reminder came from law enforcement, not his organization. But a co-commander over security for the Pride parade and festival did little to quell the controversy when he warned that those who violate indecency statutes in front of children can be charged with felonies.

Daniel Cates, an independent activist formerly affiliated with GetEQUAL TX, brought the controversy to many people’s attention when he posted a scathing critique on Facebook of the “new rules,” which he alleged were fueled by an “increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship[s].”

“The ‘queer’ is effectively being erased from our Pride celebration in favor of the most polished, heteronormative representation of our community as possible,” Cates wrote. “It should be noted that the rioters at the Stonewall Inn fought to break OUT of the damn closet! Our movement was built of sex positivity and our desire to BE WHO WE ARE! I urge you ALL to openly DEFY the Tavern Guild!”

Doughman said the guidelines are not new — pointing to longstanding state laws and city ordinances governing public nudity and lewdness. He said the warning was first issued in August at a meeting with representatives from all parade entries. As an example of behavior that has crossed the line in past years, Doughman said a dancer on a parade float had an erection and his underwear was wet so spectators could see right through it.

“It was a reminder at the meeting by the police department, that they’ve looked the other way for years and years and years, but public lewdness and nudity in public is not going to continue to be tolerated,” Doughman said. “It’s just a matter of discretion. You certainly can still express yourself, but unfortunately if your way of expressing yourself is to be naked or to be aroused in public, then it’s inappropriate, and I think most of the community agrees with that.”

Doughman said establishments with floats featuring dancers have been asked for them to wear swimsuits instead of underwear this year.

Jeremy Liebbe, a detective sergeant at Dallas Independent School District, will oversee 95 officers from DPD and DISD as co-commander of security for the parade and festival. Liebbe, who’s gay, said any floats in violation of indecency standards will be warned in the lineup on Wycliff Avenue prior to the parade. If they fail to comply before reaching the parade route, they will be removed from the parade and individuals may be charged with class-B misdemeanor indecent exposure. But Liebbe added: “If there’s an [exposed] erection and a child is present that could see it, it is a felony, and we don’t want to see that happen.”

“My goal at all of these events is to have zero enforcement action taken,” Liebbe said. “But there are some people over the years who’ve tried to push that line to see just how far we could go.”
Liebbe said no officers will be assigned to look for indecency violations in the crowd, and he compared the warning to the ban on glass bottles at Pride or a decision a few years ago to fence in the park during the festival due to alcohol-related problems.

“We’ve seen a trend,” Liebbe said. “We’ve had some issues in the past that have been brought to our attention, and our goal is to take a preventative measure. These are rules and laws that have already been in place. This is just the first year we have done an overt preventative reminder on this particular issue.”

Read more about the controversy in Friday’s Dallas Voice.