Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2003 12:00 AM ET
Two coordinators of the Idaho Falls Annual Heritage Festival in Idaho Falls, Ida., resigned
Wednesday after the mayor requested that the festival no longer include gay, religious, or political booths. In a letter to the mayor, festival chairman Glenn Rodgers and principal coordinator LaDonna Foster said they could not serve in the volunteer positions as long as the mayor tried to restrict participation. "From our perspective, your decision to discriminate is reprehensible, un-American, and totally unacceptable," Rodgers and Foster wrote.
Mayor Linda Milam objected to participation by Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Southeast Idaho AIDS Coalition, and the Gays and Lesbians Alliance. But Milam said she was not discriminating, only trying to return the festival to its original focus on ethnic heritage. The Mayor's Cultural Awareness and Human Relations Committee took over sponsorship of the 13-year-old festival several years ago when participation dropped so low that it was nearly canceled, Milam said.
It was still called the Ethnic Heritage Festival, and the mayor's committee was created to focus on ethnic and racial issues, Milam said. Asked if she opposes gay people, Milam said, "No, absolutely not. I'm not against anybody."
More recently the festival focus expanded, and the name was shortened to Heritage Festival. But, Milam said, "the mayor's committee has taken a very careful stance to not become involved in religious issues. Last year there were complaints because political groups set up booths, and I said, 'Let's not have the good that this festival can do get lost in trying to be so broad that it loses its original intent."'
While the festival was supposed to be restricted to ethnic groups this year, gay and lesbian advocacy groups set up a booth as did religious groups, including Buddhists, Baha'is, and the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. John Schroeder, who volunteered at a booth sponsored by the AIDS Coalition and two gay and lesbian groups, said his booth fit the heritage theme: "We tailored the message to gay and lesbian heritage in Idaho. We had wildflower seeds and pots, and anyone who wanted could plant the seeds. We explained that the wildflowers would be many different colors and that diversity makes a beautiful bouquet."