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Provo Freedom Festival’s Public Funding Questioned After Barring LGBTQ Group

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Organizers of Provo’s annual Freedom Festival are under fire after disinviting a LGBTQ group from marching in its 4th of July parade — and at least one lawmaker wants to pull the festival’s public funding.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis started an online petition this week calling on fellow lawmakers to discontinue financial contributions to the America’s Freedom Festival.


“To force state taxpayers to participate and support this board, which is clearly over the line, is morally reprehensible,” he said.


The festival had initially OK'd the new Provo-based LGBTQ youth center, called Encircle, to march in its parade. It later reneged on that invitation, notifying them the day before that they couldn't be included because the parade doesn't allow advocacy groups.


Stephenie Larsen, executive director of Encircle, disputes that label, citing their 501(c)(3) status.


“Our purpose is to love and support these kids,” said Larsen. “The suicide rate in our community is horrible. And I think we often times turn a blind eye to it, and the reason why Encircle is there is we are trying to save lives.”


America’s Freedom Festival, a private nonprofit, puts on the annual Independence Day parade in Provo as well as patriotic-themed activities throughout the summer.


Utah’s legislature has given the festival an increasing sum of money for the last three years, including $100,000 in April. The city of Provo and Utah County also contribute.


Freedom Festival’s organizers did not return requests for comment.


But state Sen. Curt Bramble, whose wife is on the festival's board and who has long been involved with the group, said he thinks there should be consistency in the parade’s vetting.


“When there is public money involved — yes it’s a private organization — but I think they need to be a little sensitive to making certain that they aren’t excluding groups based on something other than the standards of the parade,” he said.


Bramble said he’s willing to sit down with both sides to mediate if necessary. Encircle’s Stephenie Larsen said she hopes for this, too.


“We hope that if we are respectful within the community, and we let these people understand and get to know who these individuals are, we hope that slowly we can change hearts,” she said.


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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