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For LGBT Groups, It’s Been A Bumpy Road To The Freedom Festival

Lee Hale
Encirle, a Provo-based center for LGBT youth, was initially accepted into the parade last year before that invitation was revoked last minute.

Provo's yearly Fourth of July parade, the Freedom Festival, will feature LGBT groups for the first time this year but the path to get there has not been easy.


Last year was supposed to be the first year the Freedom Festival included an LGBT group. Encircle, a Provo-based center for youth got the initial green light. But the night before the parade they were told they were no longer invited.

Fast forward to this June. Encircle and four other LGBT groups' proposals were rejected flat out. They were told they didn't meet the festival's standards.

"I think it was a bit jarring, very heartbreaking for the community," said Jordan Sgro, Encircle's chief program officer. "We really had hope that we would be admitted along with the other groups."

The rejection was especially jarring because it came after parade organizers signed two non-discrimination agreements with both Utah County and Provo City.

After vocal pushback from the community, and threats to the festival's public funding, both sides sat down to work this out.

"I wouldn't sugarcoat it and say it was easy by any means," Sgro said. "Emotions were high."

In the end, they reached a compromise. The LGBT groups agreed to increase their patriotic flare and in turn all five of them were allowed to march.

On Tuesday, Provo mayor Michelle Kaufusi released a letter calling on everyone involved with the parade to "be [their] best selves." She said that in the coming days the city council will welcome public input as they decide whether to keep funding the Freedom Festival.

"We're sorry that it's been hurtful for some of these groups," said Steve Shallenberger, a member of the Freedom Festival board of trustees. "We apologize for that. We'd never purposefully do that."

Shallenberger chalks it up to miscommunication but he says in future years that LGBT groups applying to participate in the parade can expect a much clearer, smoother process.

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