Second Conway,
Ark., gay pride parade to follow different route

This year's gay
pride parade in Conway, Ark., scheduled
for Sunday, will follow a different route from the
event staged in 2004, according to city
officials, because last year's parade was marked by
protests and arrests and there are fears that this year's
event poses a "credible threat potential" for the community.
Organizers aren't pleased. "We feel it is
blatant discrimination to not allow us the same route
that we had last year," Robert Loyd said. "I think
they're afraid that people will start to accept us. There
will be more community spirit, more diversity and understanding."
But city officials said Thursday the route was
changed from downtown for safety reasons after three
arrests were made related to last year's parade. Two
former radio station personalities faced felony charges for
allegedly distributing a sexually explicit DVD to a minor,
and a cattle farmer spread three tons of manure along
city streets in protest of the parade. The city said
in a statement that its goal this year is to separate
protesters and marchers.
"These are not disinterested parties but highly
motivated people who passionately hold polarized
positions. Reducing involuntary interactions is
necessary based on this event having a more credible threat
potential than other parades in the city of Conway,"
the city said in a statement. "Security and logistical
concerns must be taken into greater consideration."
Conway mayor Tab Townsell said in a statement
that a boost in commercial businesses downtown and the
anticipated increased size of the event also prompted
the route change. "We are taking every effort to ensure that
the civil rights and safety of all concerned are protected
and upheld," Townsell said. "We invite the use of our
public spaces as host to the full expression of
everyone's American freedoms." Conway officials said
police worried the city would be held liable for any
injuries or damages that occurred during the parade. After
the parade this year, the city plans a debriefing
session to find ways to improve handling the event.
"The city's response next year will not be
predicated so much on this year's route, logistics,
and staffing but from what we can glean from our
experiences over the past two years," the city said.
Loyd's partner, John Schenck, said Thursday that
organizers support having a designated protest area.
Though they are upset about the change, he said, they
will march down the new route. "We are law-abiding
citizens, and we will do what they told us to do," Schenck
said. "We're not happy, but we'll do it." Schenck said
the group would take up their issues with the mayor's
office later.
Last year the couple said they received death
threats and hate mail before the parade. But things
were quiet this year until the mayor changed the
route, they said. "We are human, and we have the exact
same rights as any other group," Loyd said. "We are
relegated to second-class citizens again. It's just
wrong on all levels." (AP)

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