A city in Tennessee, a state at the forefront of anti-LGBTQ+ laws, has been roiled by plans to hold a Pride celebration in June. But, with the backing of the town’s Republican mayor, the event will go forward after a contentious battle with city leaders.
The Franklin Board of Aldermen had been tied 4-4 until Franklin Mayor Ken Moore voted Tuesday to allow the Franklin Pride festival to proceed.
A battle between organizers and critics had been brewing for weeks. Franklin Pride Festival, which launched in 2019, was up for consideration for a special event permit. But, in the wake of last year’s drag performances at the festival, conservatives aimed their ire at the event.
Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law last month a bill that would restrict drag performances in the state. A federal judge has put a temporary restraining order out blocking the law from being enforced.
Outraged citizens in Franklin expressed their anger by strongly condemning the Pride event and LGBTQ+ people in general. In addition, following a recent shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville, some have called for the Pride festival to be canceled. According to police, the gunman who killed six students and staff members was transgender.
On Tuesday, Franklin leaders listened to more than 100 comments, many of which quoted scripture and expressed their faith in Jesus, while others just asked for fairness.
Moore says the festival at Harlinsdale Park can take place under the First Amendment. Citizens need “to learn who our neighbors are in Franklin,” he said.
“The same first amendment that we’re talking about tonight for religious groups also applies to the Pride group. They do have that opportunity to express themselves and they have the opportunity if they want to apply to use our parks. I’m going to vote to approve the event,” Moore said.
He said that during a meeting with applicants, he told them, “You’re underneath the microscope. I don’t know why you want to have the event.”
He said that he told them that if attendees view something they think is out of line, they’d call the police.
“If an act is inappropriate, they’re going to stop the event,” he added.
As part of his vote, Moore included a warning that lent credence to some of the false concerns on the right that drag queens sexualize children.
“If you violate the trust we are placing in you right now,” he said, “then I will work as hard as I work every single day to make sure that event never happens in Franklin again.”
The permit covers a six-hour event in Harlinsdale Park, Alderman Matt Brown, who voted to issue the permit, said. He noted there would be no drag shows at the park on that day, and only people who wanted to attend the event would go because of extensive signage telling the public of the event, The Tennesseanreports.
Alderwoman Gabrielle Hanson voted down the permit. Organizers, according to Hanson, did not have the trust to host the event at a city park again.
“There’s not a filter there of appropriate versus not appropriate,” said Hanson. “And I know they do really good things for the gay community and for families that are going through those challenges. I’ve cried over a lot of the emails I’ve gotten from families whose children go down this path and they are helpless and challenged, and they are looking for community.”
As another opposition to the permit, Alderwoman Beverly Burger questioned the validity of the marketing materials promoting the event as family-friendly.
“If it was so family friendly, why are we here tonight?” Burger said.
“We are charged to vote objectively and it’s based on past behavior and experience from last year,” she added.
There will be no charge for the free event on June 3.