Mayor will not proclaim gay pride day; event will go on as planned

  • Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 11:59 p.m.

SALISBURY — Mayor Paul Woodson says he will not proclaim gay and lesbian Pride Day.

Salisbury Pride asked Woodson to declare June 22 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Day, comparing the annual downtown festival to other citywide celebrations of diversity, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and La Fiesta de Rowan.

Woodson told the Post he respectfully declined the request.

“My position regarding the request for a proclamation is the same as last year,” he said.

Last year, Woodson said Pride Day was too controversial and divided the city in 2011, when his predecessor, Susan Kluttz, issued a mayoral proclamation.

Some say Kluttz’s proclamation cost her the mayor’s seat five months later, when Woodson beat her by 35 votes.

Regardless of Woodson’s decision, the third annual event — PrideFest 2013 — will go on as planned from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fisher and Lee streets in downtown Salisbury.

Vice President Tamara Sheffield said Salisbury Pride is not a controversial organization and aligns with the city’s own mission statement and core values of providing safe environments with a focus on inclusion, diversity, fairness and equality.

In a press release, Sheffield called on Salisbury residents “to help us focus attention and raise awareness of the need for our great city to fulfill its mission of providing and upholding equality for all.”

“We are not a political organization,” she wrote to Woodson. “We do not take sides in political debate, which is evident from the wide spectrum of sponsors and vendors that have attended and supported this event for the last two years.”

Sheffield pointed to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, La Fiesta de Rowan and Let’s Get Connected Day as examples of the city’s commitment to other nonprofit organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion.

Thousands of people have attended past Pride events, which also drew protestors and required additional police. Dozens of protestors showed up in 2011, causing police to move the event to a private parking lot in 2012.

Eight protestors turned out in 2012. Participation was down from roughly 2,000 in 2011 to about 1,500 last year.

Police in January agreed to allow PrideFest to return to the street this summer, where the festival is more visible. The festival will be split between East Fisher Street and adjacent parking lots on South Lee Street.

Similar to the city’s vision statement, Sheffield said, Salisbury Pride wants to promote a positive business climate and economic opportunities for residents.

“We are not addressing personal convictions,” she wrote to Woodson.

Salisbury Pride hosts events throughout the year to promote tolerance and is committed to raising awareness, appreciation and celebration of Salisbury’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning residents, Chairman Brandon Major said.

“Salisbury Pride is an expression of that commitment which the city of Salisbury, local business community and citizens mutually share with us,” Major said in a press release. “Without their support, this year’s event would not be possible.”

Woodson’s guidelines say he will not issue mayoral proclamations in matters of controversy, political debate or personal conviction.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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