Pride – No Prejudice | Geauga County Maple Leaf

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As Geauga County gears up for its first Pride events, some Chardon Town residents aren’t thrilled with plans for a family-friendly festival in June 18 Square.

As Geauga County gears up for its first Pride events, some Chardon Town residents aren’t thrilled with plans for a family-friendly festival in June 18 Square.

The festival – which event organizers say will include face painting, dancing, ‘mom hugs’ and a wedding ceremony – has been attacked by a group of 18 churches whose pastors have spoken of a event they consider “obscene” at the Chardon on June 9. City council meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the group sent a letter to the city outlining two main concerns about the festival, which it considers to be “adult in nature”.

“Unlike other public events, such as the (Geauga County) Maple Festival, the content of the Geauga Pride event is ‘mature’ in nature. For example, the event includes a drag show. Yet at the same time, the event advertises activities to attract children, such as face painting,” the letter states. “Our children and grandchildren should not be at risk of exposure to lewd behavior and sexuality in such a public setting as the town square.”

Meg Carver, co-organizer of the event with Mary Briggs, said on June 14 that she was not surprised by the letter, but following its publication, the couple received an outpouring of support from from the community.

Additionally, the performers know the type of event and the crowd that will be in attendance and have tailored their performances to be PG-rated and suitable for all ages, she said.

“Drag is simply an expression of the art in the way one expresses oneself theatrically,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be anything explicit or non-family.”

Carver said the city was welcoming and supportive. Organizers have hired two off-duty Chardon police officers to provide security, and CPD will be actively monitoring the situation.

During the council meeting, Mayor Chris Grau anticipated routine business to read a prepared statement regarding the event.

“Chardon town square is a public space open to all without distinction of race, religion, gender, national origin, political affiliation or any other social or personal conviction. Groups can congregate and exercise their First Amendment rights openly and are protected by our Constitution,” Grau said, adding that no illegal activity will be permitted, but the city cannot regulate use of the plaza based on of the message of those who use it.

City Manager Randy Sharpe followed up Grau’s comments with a reading from the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

“The five freedoms it protects are speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition the government,” Sharpe said. “Together, these five guaranteed freedoms make the people of the United States of America the freest in the world. The right to assemble for peaceful public demonstrations, marches, rallies, and other assemblies, is the fundamental freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The public square

Gregory DiMeolo, pastor of Christ Community Church in Chardon and signatory of the letter opposing the event, was the first to take the microphone for public comment.

DiMeolo said he loved his city, but was very concerned as a citizen and a Christian about the upcoming event.

“I understand free speech, I understand the First Amendment, I love the Constitution. I believe this goes beyond free speech – it’s the promotion of what most would consider evil and ungodliness, to say the least,” he said.

DiMeolo’s comments were echoed by half a dozen others, including pastors who had signed the letter sent to the city, as well as some members of the public. Most speakers were concerned about behavior or activities that they thought would not be appropriate for children, with several emphasizing the laws in the books regarding public obscenity.

Dave Combs, a resident of East King Street, said he didn’t like his tax money being used to support this event in the city park.

“I’ve seen some of the online drag shows that are currently on at local libraries, schools,” Combs said. “I don’t like the possibility of what I saw being shown in our park and I consider it obscene.”

Chris Carlo asked General Counsel Ben Chojnacki what kinds of organized activities the city would refuse to allow and what requirements the city would have for groups to gather peacefully.

“If you open Pandora’s box like that, the question I ask myself, again, will be to which organization, which organized group of people are you ready to say yes to? Or what would you say no to, as long as people come together peacefully,” Carlo asked.

Before responding, Chojnacki took a moment to thank those who spoke for coming forward and engaging their First Amendment free speech rights by petitioning the city.

The city is authorized under the U.S. Constitution to enforce time, place and content-independent restrictions on how people exercise their First Amendment rights, he said.

Denying access to the public square based on the content of a group’s expression, however, would constitute a prior restraint of conduct, which would be a direct violation of that group’s constitutional rights and could result in a lawsuit that the city would lose. , did he declare.

“We won’t stop anyone from coming together based on what they’re doing,” Chojnacki said. “It means the (Ku Klux Klan), the Satanists, the Rulers of Law of America. They can all come to the town square and hold their meetings there.

The right to free speech goes beyond speech and includes expressive conduct, such as dancing, singing and celebrating, he said.

“The most sacred ground in America is the public square. It’s the marketplace of ideas, regardless of your religion and faith,” he said. “It’s the place our ancestors, the founders of the United States Constitution, defined as one of the essential places for people to express themselves.”

Before the close of public comments, two other residents came forward to talk about the event.

Elizabeth Giedt, a parent and grandparent, thanked the council for protecting the First Amendment rights of event organizers and — using the annual BrewFest event that takes place in the plaza as an example — advised people opposed to the event to stay at home.

“It’s no different than a beer festival,” she said. “I’m not going to take my kids or my grandkids to the Oktoberfest. If you don’t want your family to be downtown that day, don’t go.

Peter Burns, a 39-year-old resident of the city and a self-proclaimed “straight white man” who won’t be attending the Pride festival, said he had a simple request for the group.

“All I ask is that they clean up the park when they’re done,” he said.

Community support

On June 14, the city received another letter, this time from the Chardon Ministerial Association, written by the Reverend Chris McCann of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and co-signed by the Revs. Marilyn Matevia of Celebration Lutheran and Sam Greening of Pilgrim Christian Church.

The letter expressed support for the Pride festival, calling it a “historic first” for the community.

“We offer our support in response to the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has given us a ministry of reconciliation, to reconcile all things to God in Christ,” the letter reads. “In our ecclesiology, we embrace the firm conviction that God loves us without exception. …Without hesitation, we see this ministry extending to the confines of God’s creation. We support the LGBTQ+ community in all efforts to promote full inclusion in community life.

Carver said the negative response received by the city and organizers is one of the reasons for the event.

“We know there are people who are simply unaware or who may not fully embrace members of the Geauga County community, but that needs to change,” Carver said.

The purpose of the event, she said, was to honor, embrace and connect with the LGBTQIA+ members of the Geauga County community who live and work here every day.

“The whole point of Pride is to let people know, wherever they are on their journey, that they are safe and supported in this community by these businesses and these churches, and by these people,” said Carving. “That’s why we’ll have mom hugs and we’ll have a painting space, and we’ll have yoga and dancing and just a great time for people to come and be themselves, without judgement. To be honored, kissing and just connecting with each other.

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