Nudity warning from organizers angers some activists, threatens to overshadow anniversary of Dallas’ Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings will be absent for the first time in three years and the lawn of the iconic Melrose Hotel will be closed to spectators as the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade marks its 30th anniversary on Sunday.
But all that was overshadowed this week by a warning issued to parade participants that nudity and lewd behavior will no longer be tolerated during the event.
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 dispute 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 issue 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 nudity and public 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 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 parade entries featuring dancers have been told they should wear swimsuits instead of underwear this year. Also gone from parade entries this year will be women with bare breasts and only “pasties” or tape covering their nipples, according to Jeremy Liebbe, co-commander of security for the event.
Liebbe, a gay detective sergeant for the Dallas Independent School District, will oversee 95 officers from DISD and the Dallas Police Department during Sunday’s parade and festival. He said any entries violating indecency standards will be warned in the lineup on Wycliff Avenue prior to the parade. If they fail to comply before reaching the 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 none of the officers will be assigned to patrol the crowd for indecency violations. He compared the warning about nudity and lewdness to the ban on glass containers at Pride or a decision a few years ago to fence in Lee 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.”
Kathy Jack, manager of BJ’s NXS, said dancers on the club’s float will wear board shorts instead of underwear this year, after the warning was repeated during a meeting of
Tavern Guild members last week. The Tavern Guild is an association of gay bars, including several that feature male entertainers.
Jack said she considered pulling out of the parade in protest of the new guidelines, but decided against it because of the young people who work for her.
“I think the parade is getting a little bit too corporate, and it’s not about the community anymore,” Jack said. “I talked to one of my employees, and he was telling me that last year was his very first gay Pride parade, and he couldn’t wait for this year. We’re doing it for them, but that’s the only reason why we’re doing it. I can’t justify them not having their day just because I don’t agree with the way the parade’s being handled.”
Lonzie Hershner, proprietor of the Tin Room, another bar that features dancers, said he doesn’t have a problem with the changes. Hershner said in response to the warning, he directed his employees not to wear “cock rings,” which are commonly used by dancers to slow blood flow away from the penis to keep it erect. Hershner said he was also considering purchasing matching pink neon spandex bicycle shorts for his dancers to wear during the parade.
“I put my two daughters on my float every year, so of course I’m not going to let them be over the limit for my own children,” Hershner said.
Doughman said nudity and lewdness aren’t the only violations that will see increased enforcement this year. He said police will also be cracking down on people who climb over the barricades and enter the street during the parade.
”People who cross the barricades will be removed from the parade route and detained,” he said. “It puts a huge insurance liability at risk when somebody does that. Only one person has to be hit to ruin the entire thing for everybody.”
Doughman also noted that the Melrose Hotel — a popular viewing spot — has decided to close its lawn to spectators due to heavy damage in the rain last year.
Meanwhile, as debate raged over the nudity issue, Rawlings’ office confirmed that he will be absent from the parade for the first time in the three years he’s been in office.
Adam McGough, a spokesman for the mayor, said Rawlings will be in New York City this weekend at a conference of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Rawlings will also be visiting West Point, N.Y., as part of an initiative to bring a football game to Dallas.
McGough said Rawlings absence has nothing to do with the controversy over a marriage equality resolution at City Council in June — which led some in the LGBT community to call for the mayor and certain other council members to be uninvited from the Pride parade.
“He is disappointed to miss it,” McGough said. “This has nothing to do with the controversy. This is just scheduling.”
Doughman said this week that only eight of 15 council members had RSVP’d to ride on the Tavern Guild’s float in the parade.
That number is lower than in recent years, but Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said she wasn’t alarmed.
Fink noted that several council members were newly elected in June, and the community hasn’t had a chance to build relationships with them. She also said she doesn’t put a lot of stock in RSVPs.
“We have to wait until Pride to see who’s on the float, because that’s really going to be where the proof is,” she said.
Doughman said council members who RSVP’d were Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Rick Callahan, Monical Alonzo, Carolyn Davis, Tennell Atkins, Sheffie Kadane and Philip Kingston.
Parade, 2 p.m. Sunday, Cedar Springs and
Wycliff to Lee Park, free.
Festival, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, Lee Park, $5.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 13, 2013.