In a move that contradicted a non-discrimination agreement signed with Provo offiicals only a day before, the organizer responsible for the city's annual Freedom Festival informed five LGBTQ groups that their applications to participate in the annual Fourth of July parade were denied.
On Wednesday, Freedom Festival Executive Director Paul Warner ignored the clause he agreed to only 24 hours before to not turn away groups from the parade based on ethnicity, religious belief or sexual orientation. For the second year in a row the organizers' decision to exclude certain groups sparked controversy, especially as the event relies on taxpayer funds.
Last year, the Provo-based LGBTQ youth resource center Encircle was initially approved to participate in the Freedom Festival. The night before the parade, that invitation was revoked.
Because the festival receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funding, the Utah County Comission proposed a non-discrimination clause for this year's event. Festival organizers agreed to those terms and a similar document was signed this week with the city of Provo.
In an email to Encircle's CEO Stephanie Larsen, the festival organizers said that the LGBT group was turned away because they did not "align with the parade's purpose, theme and rules."
Larsen said she feels the festival’s values of faith, family and freedom align well with her group.
"We would never want to take anything away from the freedom festival," Larsen said. "We just want to make it more accessible to all members of the community.”
Erika Munson with Mormons Building Bridges, another group that was turned away, said they were told their application was "not in keeping with the standards" of the parade. The group was not given any more details on why their application was rejected.
The groups Provo Pride, PFlag and Queer Meals were also denied entry.
The Provo mayor's office responded to this decision with a statement Wednesday evening:
"We were disappointed to read today that Encircle’s application to participate in the America’s Freedom Festival parade was denied," Isaac Paxman, Provo deputy mayor, said. "We think it would be wonderful if the Freedom Festival and Encircle would work together to see if they can come up with an entry that both the festival and Encircle can feel good about."
Encircle participants had been planning to march in the parade under the theme "I'll Walk With You," inspired by a Mormon hymn.
This story will be updated.