Provo’s Freedom Fest adds non-discrimination clause; LGBTQ groups denied participation

The Utah County Commission has voted to add a nondiscrimination clause to its funding agreement with the Freedom Festival. (Photo: Freedom Festival)

(UPDATE) — Wednesday afternoon, Freedom Festival organizers denied Encircle and several other LGBTQ support groups access to participate in the parade.

Encircle's founder Stephenie Larsen said she was disappointed by the decision. She said she believed her foundation’s goals aligned with the festival’s mission statement.

Larsen told 2News she'd hear from representatives of four other LGBTQ+ support organizations — Mormons Building Bridges, Queer Meals, Provo Pride, and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — were denied participation. Equality Utah's executive director, Troy Williams, confirmed the reported denials.

Williams, said he was also disappointed with the decisions.

“It is staggering that Freedom Festival, at one moment, would issue non-discrimination policy, and then at the next moment deny access to LGBTQ Youth," Williams said in a phone interview with 2News Reporter Lisa Nico. "Freedom Festival should celebrate liberty and justice for all, not just for some.”

Williams said he did not intend for efforts for LGBTQ representation in the festival to stop at Wednesday’s ruling.

“We call on the mayor and Freedom Festival to reverse course and to truly walk their talk,” Williams said.

(KUTV) — The night before Provo’s 2017 Freedom Festival, Stephenie Larsen had to tell 200 kids and their families they were not going to be able to march in the parade.

“I cried. Not meaning to — but it was tough to tell them,” Larsen said.

Larsen said she was told the denial came because her LGBTQ youth support group, Encircle, did not adhere to the festival’s mission statement.

“That was hard," she said. "It felt like we were telling them that their community didn’t accept them and didn’t want them to be a part of the festivities.”

Provo's Deputy Mayor Isaac Paxman said the city considered this incident in reviewing its bylaws. Over the past year, the city has been working to change its Freedom Fest mission statement to include a non-discrimination clause, Paxman said. Doing so will also allow the festival will also be able to receive public funds.

In a statement, Paxman wrote:

What Provo has for the first time ensured, though, and we feel good about this, is that the parade can’t deny applicants based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, and so on. In other words, applying to be in the parade is now sort of like applying for the post office, in that you can’t get turned down for one of those reasons. These kinds of provisions don’t mean you’ll for sure get a job or be in the parade, but they do say you won’t be excluded on grounds the law has chosen to protect. We think the change makes good sense. And the freedom festival has embraced all of this. They are on board with it.

Adding the clause doesn’t necessarily mean Encircle and other groups like it, including Mormons Building Bridges, will automatically be allowed to join the parade.

Paxman’s message continued:

As far as what entries will be in the parade, that’s up to the parade folks themselves. Have we encouraged them to try to find ways to be inclusive of groups like Encircle? Yes.

This is a step in the right direction, Executive Director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams, agreed.

“Today was an important step forward for the Freedom Festival," he said.

He said he hoped to see the transgender community represented soon, as well.

The Freedom Festival, which takes place July 4, reportedly brings in approximately $9 million to the Provo community, including an estimated $115,000 in direct sales tax revenue.

Encircle and Mormons Building Bridges both say they applied to participate in the 2018 Freedom Fest during the application period. At the time of publishing, an update from Mormons Building Bridges was not immediately available.

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